The UK and Welsh economies could fall behind competitors unless tough visa restrictions for foreign students and entrepreneurs are not lifted, the Indian Honorary Consul for Wales, Raj Aggarwal has warned.
Speaking at an event at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff last night to celebrate the Hindu festival of Diwali, Mr Aggarwal said the restrictions particularly on Indian students would allow other nations to gain advantage over Wales. He said Wales and the UK needed to strengthen trade relations with India in light of Brexit.
Mr Aggarwal said that as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, India offered huge opportunities for Welsh firms and institutions.
Prime Minister Theresa May, who was recently in India on a trade mission and is under increasing pressure to offer concessions to Indian students and skilled workers in order to secure a post Brexit trade deal. Mrs May is taking a hard stance on visa applications which Mr Aggarwal said would make Wales a much less likely destination for top Indian students.
Mr Aggarwal said: “There are currently more than 2,000 Indian students studying in Wales. They contribute more than £150m to the Welsh economy and following their studies they can’t help but fall in love with our country and become true ambassadors for Wales.
“Today’s students are tomorrow’s business and political leaders. They are true ambassadors and not migrants. We need to broaden our relationship and I am concerned about the unintended consequences of regulations, such as UK visa limitations on overseas students. This deprives our top class established universities of an excellent source of revenue and international recognition.”
For the evening The Wales Millennium Centre was lit up in the colours or the Indian Tiranga flag and the event included performances from dancers at the Debbie Chapman dance school, amazing food from the different states of India, and was attended by Indian business leaders and the First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones. (pictured with Mr Aggarwal).
During the speeches at the start of the event Mr Aggarwal pointed to a huge drop of 50% of Indian student enrolment to UK institutions in the past few years, despite the fact that two-thirds of India’s population, some 800 million, are under the age of 35.
He added: “Countries like Germany, Australia, Singapore, Canada, and even China, are taking advantage of this oversight and this is hurting us already and will get worse in the future.
“I do not think that anybody has an issue with clamping down or closing substandard higher education institutions. In fact I would encourage the government to be more decisive and to this immediately, but to prevent foreign students attending our world class universities is a fatal flaw.”
“India has a target to up-skill 150 million people by 2022. This is an opportunity and a challenge for Welsh institutions.“
Mr Aggarwal said; “I can see Cardiff and Wales at the forefront of this growing global trade boom and Cardiff is set to join the top three most affluent and cosmopolitan cities in the UK.
And in a message to Indian investors and entrepreneurs in the audience he added: “Now is the right time to invest in Cardiff and you will not regret it.”