External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has that he took up with Australian authorities the issue of visa backlog, particularly related to students seeking to return to educational institutions in the country following the COVID pandemic, and was assured that the problem would be resolved by the year end.
Jaishankar, who is on a two-day visit to Australia, said this on Tuesday during an address to the Indian community here.
“And I want to tell you that it was something that I took up with different ministers when I was in Canberra. We have a particular problem that students are facing,” he said.
The minister said that he was assured that the situation has improved and about 77,000 Indian students are back in Australia.
“But you all know that the numbers should be and could be much higher and I was assured that by the end of the year the visa backlog, particularly in respect to students, would be cleared,” he said.
“It’s not just students because there’s a community there are also family reasons for people to travel. I think there’s an appreciation today of the importance of resuming tourism in a big way,” he said.
He expressed hope that this is “one of the big disruptions of the Covid era that we will be able to put behind us in the coming year.” The Indian community in Australia continues to grow in size and importance, with the population of about seven hundred thousand. India is one of the top sources of skilled immigrants to Australia. Approximately 105,000 students presently study in Australian universities. After the UK, India is the second largest migrant group in Australia in 2020.
Jaishankar said two issues — partnership on mobility and mutual recognition degrees and qualifications — would be transformational for the bilateral relationship.
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Partnership on mobility “means that Indian skills and talents that are in demand in Australia will have a legal framework, an agreed methodology by which they move from one country to another,” he said.
Now, India is reaching such agreements with a lot of countries like Japan, the UK and France.
“We are close to concluding one with Germany. And we, I think we’ve done some preliminary work in this with Australia. So I’m very much hoping that that is one area where we can see rapid progress because we know that in many domains, there are skill shortages in Australia,” he said.
“If people are moving from one country to another from one economy to the other is the issue of mutual recognition of degrees and qualifications. So that too, is something which we are working on,” he said.
He said there was also an interest reiterated during his visit for Australia to open a consulate in Bengaluru.
“It is something which we look forward to. And I very much hope that we’ll be able to open additional consulates in Australia in the near future. And that I think is also something which is a very practical point of interest for the community,” he said.
He also spoke about the impact of the pandemic on India.
“Every country in the world has gone through a tough time in the last three years. You know there is no country, not one which has not been deeply affected by Covid. Today, what is important is which country is coming out of covid in a better way, in a faster way, having learnt the lessons of it, having used that period really to reassess itself and to reinvent itself and prepare for a post-Covid world,” he said.
“India is today very strongly on a recovery path,” Jaishankar said.
“We have dealt with Covid with a great deal of determination with a lot of fortitude but also with a vision and in many ways with a great deal of foresight. This period has first of all seen a massive upgrade in India’s health infrastructure.
“What normally would have taken us decades to do actually happened due to Covid in a matter of a few months,” he said.
The minister also shared how digitisation transformed India.
“We are able to deliver public services in India on a scale that you cannot even imagine. It is happening only because today we have the digital backbone and the leadership. Prime minister’s vision of how to apply technology for good governance that is today yielding results on the ground.
He said one of the central planks of India’s Covid response was to ensure that, unlike 100 years ago when the Spanish flu came when more people died of hunger than they did of flu, this time around nobody will die of hunger.
He said the government’s initiative to get everyone a bank account helped it to transfer money to the beneficiaries during the Covid.
“Because today there is a digital backbone where you know the beneficiaries are identified, they are known, they are certified, they are monitored,” he said.
He said it shows “once in a century events can be tackled if you have good governance, if you have strong leadership, the support and good wishes of the people.” He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the vision that India become a modern, developed nation in the next quarter century.
“It means better infrastructure, it means better human resources. It means investing in people in different ways. it means dealing with health, correcting gender discrimination and gender imbalance,” he said.
“India has come through a test like everybody else but we have come through it with a great deal of resolve but have also utilised this period to bring about very major changes in India. Those changes in India today position us very much better for what can be done,” he said.
He told the Indian community that now they will see an India which is much more connected to the world and which will be more relevant to the world.
He said last year alone India’s exports are the highest ever Now the world will see an India which will look at the world with greater confidence, which will engage much more in different fields and which will fulfill its global responsibilities on the big issues of the day like climate change, terrorism, and pandemic, he said.
“It is the country whose global footprint will increase,” he said.
“In all of this we obviously look for good, reliable, comfortable partners” and Australia today would surely be among those. But to advance all of this we ultimately need your support,” Jaishankar concluded.