Posted on February 2, 2007

India Warns Britain Over ‘Unfair’ Worker-Immigration Laws

Central Chronicle, Jan. 31, 2007

India has cautioned Britain that it would be the “loser” if its immigration laws are not liberalised to allow freer movement of workers from the sub-continent nation.

“Short of permanent immigration, we are asking for freer movement of personnel who can render services abroad,” Finance Minister P Chidambaram told The Times.

His comments come as many highly skilled Indians—entrepreneurs, scientists, doctors and IT specialists—find it impossible to stay in Britain since changes to a migrant programme in November.

The changes to the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme (HSMP), which was applied retrospectively, lays greater emphasis on earnings and education than work experience.

“Many knowledge workers could go abroad for three months, six months or a year and add to our exports, but they are constrained by a very restrictive visa regime and local tax laws,” Chidambaram said.

Indians are the largest national group affected by the new rules.

“If a qualified professional from India is denied entry and that place is taken by a less qualified person from, say, Eastern Europe, surely the UK is the loser,” he said.

A strong believer in free trade, Chidambaram, 61, pledged that India would “play more than our part” in the revival of the stalled Doha round of WTO talks.

“We believe that the opening up of trade has helped India considerably. In fact, a significant proportion of our growth is coming from external trade. Exports last year were $103 billion,” he said.

“We wish to remain engaged with the rest of the world and take advantage of a rule-based multilateral trade system,” Chidambaram said, but asked the US and Europe to come to terms on agriculture and present a credible plan to reduce subsidies.

This alone, he said, would inspire confidence among the developing countries. The last round in Cancun failed on one agricultural commodity. “It would be a pity if history repeats itself.”

The report said that ahead of his 2007-08 budget speech next month, Chidambaram is heeding warnings from the International Monetary Fund not to let the Indian economy overheat.

Growing at more than 8 per cent for the past three years, GDP growth was 9.1 per cent in the first half to September. It is the world’s second-fastest-growing economy after China and is predicted by some analysts to become the second biggest.

“If investment to GDP is about 35 per cent, we should be able to sustain a growth rate of pretty close to 9 per cent,” he said.