As Modi, Tata Play Hard to Get, May’s Indian Outreach Falters

In a double blow to her three-day visit to India, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May failed to arrange a meeting with senior figures at Tata Group and clashed with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi over migration rules.

As Modi appeared alongside May at a technology summit in New Delhi, he called on Britain on Monday to support more Indian students who want to enroll at universities in the U.K.

“Education is vital for our students and will define our engagement in a shared future. We must therefore encourage greater mobility and participation of young people in education and research opportunities,” he said.

The long-running disagreement between India and the U.K. over restrictions on student visas were likely to be escalated by Modi’s comments, as May sat beside him on stage. The number of Indian students enrolling in British universities to fall by 50 percent due to May’s policy of requiring students to return home after their courses end, which dates back to her time as home secretary responsible for immigration.

By holding out the prospect of visa reforms as part of a “strategic dialog on home-affairs issues covering visas, returns and organized crime”, speaking later in a press conference alongside Modi, May sought to bridge the divide.

“The U.K. will consider further improvements to our visa offer if at the same time we can step up the speed and volume of returns of Indians with no right to remain in the U.K.,” May said. She added that the Indian government is invited to nominate business executives to a “bespoke visa and immigration service.”

May earlier told reporters traveling with her that her migration rules are working well.

“We have a visa system for countries outside the European Union which ensures that the brightest and the best are able to come to the United Kingdom,” the U.K. premier said. “The figures show that we issued more work visas to India than, I think, the U.S., Australia, Canada and China put together.”

As she seeks to pave the way for deals with countries outside the EU after leaving the bloc, the dispute over migration could be a sign of the difficulties ahead for May. She risks antagonizing countries she will need as trade and investment partners but at the same time she sees controlling Britain’s borders as key to satisfying the voters who backed Brexit in the June referendum.

Even as Tata’s 4,000 workers at a steel plant in Port Talbot, south Wales, face an uncertain future, separately, May told reporters she was unable to arrange a meeting with senior figures at Tata. The company announced a plan to sell all or part of its British business in March.

“I had hoped to meet the key people from Tata while I was in India. Sadly, the schedules don’t allow for me to do that on this particular visit but there are regular contacts between the government and Tata Steel,” May said on Sunday at the start of her trip.

May announced Indian plans to list four “masala bonds” totaling 600 million pounds in London by the end of January and more than 1 billion pounds ($1.2 billion) of business deals would be signed during her visit, May said seeking to highlight positive elements of her trip.

(Adapted from Bloomberg)

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