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UK government migration scheme to boost tech ties with India

The UK has agreed to allow thousands of young Indian professionals to work for two years in the UK as part of a migration exchange

The UK government is tapping into the Indian tech industry by giving thousands of Indians the opportunity to work in the UK for two years, as well as creating a tech envoy in the Indo-Pacific region.

Through the migration scheme, which was marked during foreign secretary James Cleverly’s visit to the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, up to 3,000 young Indians and the same number of Brits will be able to work in each other’s countries for two years.

On a visit to India, Cleverly was discussing trade opportunities for the two countries. The government said the UK-India trading relationship was already worth £34bn, having grown by £10bn in the past year.

The migration programme means tech professionals from India will be able to take up roles in the UK. Indian universities produce huge numbers of tech graduates and the country’s IT services suppliers, including giants such as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Infosys and Wipro, provide services to large businesses in the UK.

In 2017, India’s high commissioner to the UK at the time, YK Sinha, said any future trade agreement the UK agreed with India would require the UK to relax rules on the movement of Indian professionals to work in the UK.

At the time, he said: “I’m not talking about unfettered access or unrestricted travel, I’m talking about the movement of professionals – doctors, technicians and engineers. I think both sides will benefit from this exchange, and obviously it has to be a two-way exchange, not just one way.”

Cleverly said: “India is a hugely important partner to the UK, and the deeper ties we are forging now will help to grow the UK economy and boost our industries for the future. This landmark migration scheme will enable the brightest and best in both our countries to benefit from new opportunities.”

A tech skills shortage caused by fewer people coming to the UK since Brexit could be reduced by attracting more IT professionals from India, but because the scheme is for young people it could also reduce opportunities for UK graduates beginning their careers in IT.

In the past, UK IT professionals have claimed that businesses using migration programmes to hire lower-cost staff from India make it impossible for them to compete. There are also accusations that Indian staff brought to the UK are trained to do certain roles remotely when they return to India so they can replace more expensive UK staff.

Peter Schumacher, CEO of management consultancy The Value Leadership Group, said: “India has the largest pool of educated English speakers across all disciplines.”

He added that the UK did not currently attract the best Indian students to its universities because strict rules mean Indians can’t work in the UK after their studies.

According to Cleverly, the tech envoy for the Indo-Pacific region will “maximise the tech expertise of both countries”. This is the second such tech envoy announced by the UK, with the first appointed to the US in late 2020.

One prize that Indian IT suppliers could target in the UK is public sector contracts. Indian IT service providers have huge contracts with the UK’s biggest enterprises, but are relatively small players in the public sector.

According to Tussell, which analyses government spending data, India’s biggest IT supplier, TCS, made £30.9m sales to the UK public sector in 2017, and this figure increased to £52m by 2019, before the pandemic slowed things. There is huge potential for growth in the UK public sector for TCS and other Indian services firms.

For UK businesses, there is an opportunity to tap into India’s fast-growing economy through services to large enterprises.

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