The UK says there are between 75,000 and 1,00,000 illegal Indians in the country, India claims the figure is around 2,000.
New Delhi: The BJP-led Centre that claims credit for the completion of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) aimed at detecting illegal immigrants in Assam seems to be turning a blind eye to the issue of thousands of Indians who are staying illegally in several western countries such as the UK or the US.
In April, during his visit to the UK, Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused, at the last minute, to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the return of illegal immigrants because Indian authorities differed with London’s definition of an “overstayer”.
The government had cleared the MoU at home before it was proposed as a centrepiece of around 24 pacts that were signed between India and the UK during Modi’s visit to London for the Commonwealth Summit.
India, UK lock horns over number of illegals
The UK authorities say there are between 75,000 and 1,00,000 illegal Indian immigrants in the UK. India claims the figures are far fewer, around 2,000.
In the US, the figure is 5 lakh people as of 2014, according to data collected by the Pew Research Centre in 2016. The report also points out that India sends the fourth largest number of illegal immigrants to the US, after Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala.
According to an Indian diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the home secretaries of India and the UK had even hammered out a “package deal” in May 2017, agreeing that the Indian government would take back illegal immigrants if Indian students were given clear benefits in the UK university system on a par with China and other foreign countries.
But in June, India was left out of such a streamlined UK university process. UK secretary of state for international trade Liam Fox had then directly linked India’s absence on the list to Delhi’s refusal to resolve the question of “overstayers” or illegals.
“This is a constant conversation we need to have with India. There is always a demand for easier norms, but we cannot look at that without addressing the issue of overstayers,” Fox told journalists during India-UK Week mid-June, according to a PTI report.
A sensitive issue, even in UK
The issue of illegal immigration is a sensitive one in the UK, like in India, and has even cost a home secretary, Amber Rudd, his job. The UK was recently been embroiled in the so-called ‘Windrush’ scandal, in which hundreds of Jamaicans were deported to where they came from because they had no immigration papers. This, notwithstanding the fact that several thousands of them had lived in the UK for many decades.
According to the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, about 13,000 illegal Indian immigrants fall in this category of the Windrush generation. About 6,580 Indians were deported from the UK in 2016, it said.
Meanwhile, the India-UK spat over illegals refuses to go away, despite the fact that junior home minister Kiren Rijiju had signed an MoU on returns of illegal Indians within 30 days of their detection by British authorities.
The MoU that was to be signed by PM Modi in April reduced the number of days from 30 to 15 — a clause that was rejected by the Indian side.
Indian officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said 15 days was too short a time for verification of documents, especially as information had to be sent back to states.
A spokesperson from the British High Commission in Delhi said, “We continue to discuss finalising a memorandum of understanding on returns and hope that this will be ratified and implemented as soon as possible.”
The MoU, initiated by the UK minister of immigration and Indian minister of state for home affairs in January…paves the way for a quicker and more efficient process for documenting and returning Indian nationals who are in the UK illegally,” the spokesperson added.
The truth, as always, lies in between. Indian officials conceded that they are not terribly worried about Indians immigrating to western countries, arguing that most of this is due to economic reasons.
An India diplomat said, “When we were confronted with Indian illegals, we would request an interview with them in private. Then we would ask this so-called illegal immigrant, in Hindi or some other Indian language, if he or she wanted to stay in that country or not.”
“If they said yes, we would then shrug our shoulders with the authorities of that country and tell them that processes back home would take much longer, and that it would be better to integrate them here itself,” the diplomat added.