An India-UK bilateral agreement on returning illegal immigrants could not be signed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited London this April because of a range of concerns such as the fear of mass deportation, a consent clause and possible security breaches, officials said. According to British authorities, who have been pressing consistently on returning such Indian citizens, the largest group of illegal migrants in the UK is from India, numbering between 75,000 and 1,00,000.

Latest data show around 5,000 Indians voluntarily returned to India in 2017 and around 700 were deported. An Indian official, familiar with the proposed pact, said issues such as a consent clause, security concerns and fears of large-scale deportation have to be resolved before an agreement can be reached.

The consent clause is whether a person’s approval is sought before the process to ascertain his or her nationality is started. India wants this clause, which will give relief in certain cases, but the UK is not keen as this would effectively be making an exemption for a person staying illegally in Britain. India is worried that a large number of Indians can be sent back “without any humanitarian consideration that’s shown to economic migrants or irregular migrants who could be in the UK today and in another country the day after,” another official said. During discussions over the proposed memorandum of understanding (MoU), the UK assured India that the agreement is merely codifying the existing immigration rules and it has similar pacts with Nigeria, China, Pakistan and Ghana — countries with a large number of citizens living illegally in Britain.

Another India official, who requested anonymity, said the UK contended that the MoU will streamline the migration process. For instance, it envisages that if the returnee has an Indian passport, the verification should take place in 17 days and if he or she is without a travel document the process of verification should be done in 70 days. In other words, the MoU would be facilitating the return of illegal migrants within a stipulated time. Once the nationality of the person is ascertained to be Indian, the country’s missions should issue an emergency travel certificate.

The external affairs ministry didn’t formally responded to HT’s queries on the stalled UK pact.

A government official, who doesn’t wish to be named, said: “We can’t comment on the specifics as the pact is still being discussed.” According to a spokesperson of the British high commission in New Delhi, the UK looks forward to further discussions with India on the MoU. “Hope it will be ratified and implemented soon.”