The Home Office has finally agreed to give a working visa to Shuchita Sonalika, the UK director and head of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), after a year of refusing to allow her to take up her post in London.
“I am pleased to share that a temporary solution has been worked out, and a work visa has been granted to me on an exceptional basis, thanks to amicable intervention at the highest levels and strong support from both Indian and UK governments,” Sonalika said from Delhi.
“I have just picked up my visa and I plan to be back in London starting January 17,” she added. “Certainly very pleasant news to kick off 2016!”
The Home Office’s refusal to grant a working visa to Sonalika did not make any sense to the British High Commission in Delhi, the Foreign Office in London and the Confederation of British Industry.
All tried without luck to persuade the Home Office to change its stance, especially as part of the CII’s remit was to bring in much-needed Indian investment into the UK.
In fact, India remains one of the few bright prospects for the British economy in 2016. The chancellor, George Osborne, said last week that this year will be a “mission critical” year for the UK economy.
In a high-profile economic speech in Cardiff, he warned against complacency about the strength of the recovery at a time when Britain faces a “dangerous cocktail” of instability and threats ranging from slowdown in China and unrest in the Middle East to volatility in oil prices.
Indian companies thinking of investing in Britain do not want the UK to leave the EU. This is because nearly all of them see Britain as a convenient base from which they can expand into Europe without paying additional tariffs.
That David Cameron’s diaspora champion, Priti Patel, is known to be in favour of “Brexit” is bound to cause problems for corporate India and for British Indian business houses.
Sonalika told Eastern Eye: “2016 has been declared as the UK-India Year of ‘Education, Research and Innovation’ – our work plan will thus focus on these central themes, which would yield mutual benefit for Indian and UK economies.”
“In promoting bilateral business and investment, we will continue to support the ‘Make in India’ campaign to help British companies invest in India as well as CII’s RoadtripUK initiative, which helps enhance regional engagement for Indian companies in the UK, exploring business opportunity and investing in several regions.”
Welcoming the visa given to Sonalika, the CII’s director general, Chandrajit Banerjee, pointed out that she had been given “permission to stay in the UK in an ‘exe-mpt’ category, on an exceptional basis as an individual”.
Expressing his reservations, he commented: “Being an individual solution, rather than an institutional mechanism, we would continue to press for a sustainable alterative for CII’s continued presence in the UK. However, as a temporary solution, this exception comes as a very welcome step. We applaud this gesture from the UK government.”
For a year now, Sonalika’s chair in the CBI headquarters in Cannon Street in the City has been mainly unoccupied. Sonalika, who was promoted to London from her last post in the US, will probably need an entirely new wardrobe.
Her clothes and personal belongings have been gathering mould in a shipping container at a British dockyard, thanks to the Home Office’s refusal to give her the requisite visa.