Pedestrians take a selfie as they arrive to attend a community reception for Narendra Modi, at Wembley Stadium in London image for representation only) | Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
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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.

Infographic by Arindam Mukherjee
Infographic by Arindam Mukherjee

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.

Also read: As Modi govt drums up NRC report, deportation numbers paint a different picture

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.

Also read: Modi govt has a new crisis on its hands and its origins lie in the Supreme Court

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.

‘Economic factors’

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.

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9 Comments Share Your Views


  1. What a idiotic article from the leapfrog wing morons ! Do you have any brains? How is this related to Assam illegal immigrants issue? Every country want to safeguard its border and India its doing its own job. Pathetic way to put a graph where India stands in the top , shame on you.

  2. These Indians staying abroad illegally are equally responsible n should be deported back to India. In respect of the illegal immigrants in India, we are still a developing economy, n will not be able to cater to their needs which will lead them to become disgruntled and commit crimes. So on d question of illegal immigration, d same should be stopped everywhere.
    At the same time, India should build international pressure on Myanmar to ensure d repatriation of these immigrants

  3. In stead of putting some thousands of Indians on the same level as millions of Bangladesi immigrants , you Say clearly that your publication wants to millions of Bangladesi illegal immigrants to be stay in India . Just only to get votes of them .

    You people can go to any extend just for your ego and damage modi .

  4. Why should Jyoti Malhotra worry about Indian staying in USA. It is UK problem. They will take action if they need to do so. There is no comparison with illegal refugee of Assam will Indian staying illegally abroad. These journalists are not worth reading

  5. It is job of a government in every country to track illegal Immigrants. it is not foreign government’s job to do that. Therefore Bangladesh is right in writing off illegal Immigrants from Bangladesh, so should India. But neither should raise the issue if illegals are mistreated, as according to them there are no illegal Immigrants from their country.

  6. Many years ago, when the Shiv Sena was in power in Maharashtra, a party functionary took me to a transit camp in Bandra, meant for people whose buildings were being reconstructed, and told me, Dekho, yeh sab Bangladeshi hain. It was the height of summer, there were women in burqas, children close to them. My heart melted, as they must have been in their oppressive clothing. If we can export our huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, to Britain and America, we should not mind some imports from Bangladesh as well, part of the same process of globalisation.

    • We don’t need people who will later ask for a separate nation.if bangladeshi had to come to india why bangladesh was created. Britain is free to send the immigrant back to india. The number is in thousands only but Bangladeshis are in crores here.My hard earned money is only for indians.there are scores of muslim country why dont they take them. The one who provides shelter to traitors is a traitor too.

    • Mr. Ashok your heart melted for them but not for Buddhist chakama who were so much oppressed in Bdesh that they have to move to India.
      Again the height of hypocrisy you all are comparing the Indians who had gone to UK and US on valid visa and passport and overstaying and Bdeshis who came illegally to India.


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