Published On: Mon, Feb 18th, 2013

Britain to relax visa rules for Indian investors! -Cameron

Eurofighter typhoon Jets up for sale...

Eurofighter typhoon Jets up for sale…

David Cameron hopes to table ‘even more attractive offer’ during visit to subcontinent, accompanied by largest trade delegation ever.

Eurofighter Typhoon jets are among the British-backed products David Cameron hopes to persuade India to buy. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Britain is to relax visa rules for Indian investors as David Cameron uses a trade visit to the subcontinent to ensure the UK does not lose out to European competitors in one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

As he prepared to fly to Mumbai with the largest trade delegation ever taken by a British prime minister to any country in the world, Cameron said he hoped to table an “even more attractive offer” on visas during his trip.

No 10 has faced intense pressure from business leaders to relax visa rules, which have been toughened as the government seeks to limit the number of non-EU migrants to the tens of thousands.

In an interview with the Hindustan Times, the prime minister said that Britain runs its largest visa operation in India. Officials process 400,000 applications a year, of which only 10% are rejected.

But Cameron acknowledged that the system may be deterring Indian investors from coming to Britain and indicated that he will announce changes to the system during his three-day visit to India, which begins in Mumbai on Monday. The prime minister, whose first official visit outside Europe in 2010 was to India, said: “I’m determined to ensure that the service we offer to Indian businesses encourages them to come and invest in Britain. We have more visa application centres in India than any other country and we offer a wide range of bespoke visa services to travellers.

“But I think there’s more we can do here and that’s an area where I hope we can put an even more attractive offer on the table during this trip.”

The prime minister’s remarks follow intense lobbying by business leaders and by ministers such as Vince Cable and David Willetts, the universities minister, who is accompanying Cameron to India. They have voiced fears that overly restrictive visa rules could place Britain at a disadvantage in India, which is on course to be the world’s third largest economy by 2050.

The competition for business in India, which is expected to spend $1tn (£645bn) on infrastructure over the next five years, was highlighted last week when François Hollande, the French president, paid a two-day visit to India. Britain is hoping to persuade the Indians to consider buying Eurofighter Typhoon jets after Hollande and Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, failed to finalise a $14bn deal to buy 126 French Dassault Rafale fighters.

The prime minister, who is on course to meet his pledge to double trade between Britain and India between 2010-15, is trying to outsmart the French by taking a trade delegation of more than 100 representatives from multinationals, SMEs, the universities and the arts. The delegation includes defence manufacturers such as BAE Systems, which helps make the Eurofighter jet, EADS UK, Rolls Royce and Thales UK.

Cameron will show he remains unbothered by a row last year after heopened a JCB factory in Brazil owned by the Tory donor Sir Anthony Bamford. JCB is part of the business delegation to India.

Downing Street has identified eight areas where British business strengths match the growing demand in India. They are infrastructure; financial services; innovation and research; industry, with a particular focus on advanced manufacturing; energy; health, where $143bn is due to be spent; education; and vocational skills.

Britain believes the business opportunities are limitless in India, where 40% of the population will be classified as middle class over the coming decades. But the prime minister acknowledges that, as India’s former colonial ruler, Britain has to tread with care and cannot take its links with the subcontinent for granted.

“We cannot rely merely on sentiment and shared history with our trading partners,” he said before flying out. “We have to get out there, make the case for Britain and open doors for British business.”In his interview with the Hindustan Times, the prime minister confessed to a love of curry. “I like a pretty hot curry. And while I’m very proud that we’ve got some curries here in Britain that we’re exporting back to India, I’m also hoping to sample some of India’s finest during my trip.”

Cameron also said he would use his flight to India to catch up on the latest Bollywood films. “Bollywood … is something I’ve yet to really discover but there’s plenty of flight time in the next few days to catch up on that.”

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