Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his British counterpart Theresa May differed over issues related to student visas and expansion of trade, even as both countries vowed to continue dialogue in these areas and even announced a joint working group on trade.

The issue of granting more visas to Indian students, which have halved to about 20,000 annually from 40,000, was one of the key points of discussion between the leaders, which was extended to about 90 minutes, sources told BusinessLine .

During the meeting, May tried to link the issue of ‘illegal’ Indian immigrants with Modi’s demand for more student visas. She said the UK was willing to offer more visas if India agreed to bring back some of its nationals who had overstayed.

Earlier, while inaugurating the India-UK Tech Summit with May, Modi highlighted that “education is vital for our students and will define our engagement in a shared future”.

After the meeting, May said the UK will consider relaxing the visa numbers for Indian students “if at the same time we can step up the speed and volume of returns of Indians with no right to remain in the UK.”

Meanwhile, to attract more investments from India, May offered special registered visa services only for Indian businessmen who wish invest in Britain, which is facing an uncertain future after the Brexit vote. The UK also extended an offer for the Indian government to nominate top business executives to the Great Club, a visa and immigration service. May, however, was not able to meet the top Tata Group management to discuss the firm’s plans to sell its British unit.

Working group on trade

The objective of May choosing India as her first destination for a bilateral visit outside the EU was to clinch a free trade agreement. Britain has been pushing all its trade partners to begin talks for a comprehensive trade pact, so that once it exits the EU, the pacts can be implemented with immediate effect.

However, India is learnt to have rejected the idea and has instead agreed to set up a joint working group on trade. This was decided in a separate meeting between UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox and Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

May also announced that new £900 million Masala bonds would be issued in London to finance India’s infrastructure plans. Also, both leaders announced the establishment of an India-UK Sub-Fund under the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund, which will seek to leverage private sector investment from the City of London to finance Indian infrastructure projects. India and UK on Monday also signed two MoUs on intellectual property and ease of doing business.