The agreement came as Boris Johnson and Indian premier Narendra Modi held virtual talks on a long-term “2030 roadmap” to build ties between the countries on trade, defence, health, climate change and science.
But an “enhanced partnership” on trade and investment agreed in the talks looks set to be trumped by negotiations on a fully-fledged free trade agreement due to reopen between the EU and India within days.
Under the Migration and Mobility Partnership signed by home secretary Priti Patel and Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, 18-30 year-olds will be able to apply for new young professional visas allowing them to work or study in the other country for up to 24 months.
The move comes in response to long-standing calls from New Delhi for more access to work in the UK, and forms part of the post-Brexit shift to a points-based system designed to allow entry to those with sought-after skills, rather than simply on the basis of residence in the EU.
The Home Office said the agreement will also “enhance and accelerate the processes to return Indian nationals with no legal right to stay in the UK” and ensure greater co-operation around organised immigration crime.
The new visa is expected to increase numbers of students coming from India to study in the UK from last year’s 53,000 – nearly a quarter of all international student in Britain.
Ms Patel described the agreement as “an important milestone” on delivering her pledge to attract the “best and brightest talent” to the UK while clamping down on those who are abusing the system.
“This landmark agreement with our close partners in the government of India will provide new opportunities to thousands of young people in the UK and India seeking to live, work and experience each other’s cultures,” said Ms Patel.
“This agreement will also ensure that the British government can remove those with no right to be in UK more easily and crackdown on those abusing our system.”
Today’s talks replaced the prime minister’s planned visit to India, which was cancelled due to the escalating Covid crisis in the south Asian country, which has seen cases rise to more than 350,000 a day within the past few weeks.
Mr Johnson said they would deliver a “quantum leap” in the UK-India relationship, as Britain became the first European country to be granted “comprehensive strategic partnership” status by Delhi.
The 2030 Roadmap will expand the UK-India health partnership, including by firming up international supply chains for critical medicines, vaccines and other medical products.
And it envisages increased co-operation between British and Indian universities on research in areas like health, emerging technologies and climate science, as well as common work on measures to tackle climate change and preserve nature.
The UK’s Carrier Strike Group will visit India later this year to undertake joint naval and air force training exercises.
Mr Johnson said:“The UK and India share many fundamental values. The UK is one of the oldest democracies, and India is the world’s largest. We are both committed members of the Commonwealth. And there is a living bridge uniting the people of our countries.
“In the last week the British people have stepped up in their thousands to support our Indian friends during this terrible time in a demonstration of the deep connection between the UK and India.
“This connection will only grow over the next decade as we do more together to tackle the world’s biggest problems and make life better for our people. The agreements we have made today mark the beginning of a new era in the UK-India relationship.”