Ahluwalia: Restricting entry of foreign students’ families will harm Britain, warns PIO entrepreneur Sukhpal Ahluwalia

Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia is a London-based entrepreneur and his inspiring journey of arriving in the Union Kingdom as a refugee in 1972, after his family was forced to flee the regime of dictator Idi Amin in Uganda, to becoming the founder of a business which is now Europe’s biggest distributor of auto parts, is similar of that of many others of Indian origin.
However, what sets him apart from most other successful entrepreneurs of Indian origin, is the fact that Ahluwalia has recently raised his voice against the British government’s potential plan to restrict the number of foreign students, including Indians, and their families, from entering the UK.
Ahluwalia has conveyed to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that strategies to restrict the number of visas for relatives of students who study subjects “least beneficial to the economy”, limiting the number of dependants allowed, and only allowing dependants of postgraduate students into the UK, with a preference given to PhD students, will be detrimental to British businesses because it will limit the talent pool available to them.
Ahluwalia’s reaction comes amid reports that Prime Minister Sunak and UK’s home secretary Suella Braverman, are increasingly concerned about the number of families joining foreign students in the UK while they study.
“The UK government is doing several positive things for the country, but they are getting it wrong on immigration at the moment – and someone needs to stand up and warn them against the risks. The specifics of the policy are worrying, but it is the overarching direction that is most concerning. These policy announcements and rumours send the wrong message to the rest of the world: that the UK is closed for business and unwilling to welcome even the most intelligent and skilled immigrants,” Ahluwalia, also an angel investor, told the Times of India in an exclusive interview.
Ahluwalia, who is an investor with business interests in India and the UK, finds immigration to be an issue close to his heart, partly because of his own early experience as a refugee and also because he deeply believes in the value of immigration. “Immigrants have played a significant role in the success of my businesses over the years, and I know that they are hugely valuable to British businesses and the UK economy. I can understand their desire to build better lives in the UK and give back to the country that has offered them these incredible opportunities,” he said.
Ahluwalia argues that plans by the British government to restrict visas to the families of international students will lock mature students out of UK universities if they have spouses or children, regardless of their economic value and skill set, as many students decide not to study in the UK if it requires separation from their family. He asserts that this will have a major knock-on effect on British businesses that are already facing skills shortages, and damage the UK economy in the long term. “This announcement rumour also coincides with a severe skills shortage in Britain that has been plaguing businesses for years. It is now at a point where it’s becoming critical for the economy’s health. Yet, with policies such as these, the government risks locking out some of the most important future employees,” he said.
Commenting on his move to speak up for overseas students, a large percentage of whom are from India, Ahluwalia said that he still considers himself an Indian entrepreneur. “I am Indian at heart. I want to use my experience to strengthen the relationship between the UK and India, and the exchange of university students is a massive part of that. Whether the students stay in the UK to work or not, the British culture they eventually take home with them and the Indian culture they share with their classmates is invaluable,” he said, adding that overseas students are some of the most driven, determined and entrepreneurial people that he has encountered. “They come to the UK universities with fresh perspectives and a broader view of the world that enriches the education of their peers, and simply through forming relationships with British students, the connections between our two countries are strengthened.”
“Equipped with this deep understanding of the UK, it also puts them in the prime position to be involved with long-term trade and exchange between the UK and India – something which will benefit both the countries in the future,” he said.
And backing up his views, on the value added by international students to the economy, is a study by UK’s Higher Education Policy Institute in 2021 that found that just one year’s intake of international students helped contribute £28.8 billion to the nation’s economy.
Recollecting his own journey, Ahluwalia says he went to work at shops in London’s Petticoat Lane Market in his spare time. Occasionally, he remembers sneaking out of the market to go to local car parts dealer Euro Car Parts for an hour or two. “I had a passion for cars and would talk about them with anyone who would listen. After a few years, I learned that the business was in trouble, and I knew this was an opportunity to get my foot in the door. I managed to secure a small loan and bought the business,” he said. When he sold his business to LKQ Corporation, the company employed 3,500 staff members across 89 locations.
Over the years, Ahluwalia has travelled to India often and met his wife and married her in New Delhi during a visit. “In the last few decades I have managed to reconnect with my Indian identity. In 2009, I became a trustee of the Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha charity, which supports and educates children without homes. And in 2013, I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to complete the holy pilgrimage to Amritsar. It was one of the most meaningful and memorable experiences of my life,” he said.
In 2011, Ahluwalia founded Dominus, a property development and real estate company which is now run by his three sons. “Over the years, Dominus has worked across residential and hospitality projects, but today we have a focus on student accommodation. In fact, today, we have one of the largest pipelines of student accommodation projects in the UK,” Ahluwalia said.
Supporting Indian causes remains close to his heart. “In 2021, I had the pleasure of being involved in the Justice for Every Child campaign led by the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, and I look forward to doing more for the community when I return,” he said.

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