Thousands of highly skilled migrants from India and other non-European Union countries took to the streets this week in protest against recent changes in immigration rules.
Leading Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats figures, including Keith Vaz, Damien Green, Andrew Dismore and Lord Dholakia came out in support the action against what they see as discriminatory policies.
Following the demonstration in parliament square outside the Houses of Parliament, representatives of the migrants submitted a 1,000-page petition to 10 Downing Street.
Amit Kapadia, organiser of the demonstration, said the migrants would now wait for comments from Prime Minister Blair.
“We will continue our protest and also pursue the legal option,” he added.
Up to 50,000 migrants are adversely affected by the changes to the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme (HSMP). The new rules were introduced without warning Nov 7 (see “New HSMP Rules – Even Bill Gates Wouldn’t Qualify”). They require HSMP migrants to re-qualify under new tests including earnings requirements and academic qualifications.
Indian migrants are the largest single country group allowed into Britain under the programme. According to Kapadia, 85 percent of migrants under the programme come from Asia.
The rule change is the latest in a series of government crackdowns on working migrants. Overseas Doctors and Work Permit holders have also been hit by backdated rulings in 2006.
Damian Green the Conservative Member of Parliament for Ashford and Shadow Immigration Minister said:
“Everyone agrees that Britain benefits from highly skilled migrants. The government’s decision to change the rules so that people who are already here and want to stay are now disqualified is both unfair and wrong-headed.
“It is unfair because the people involved have made a commitment to this country which is being flung back in their faces. It is wrong-headed because it sends a signal to highly skilled people around the world that Britain is an unreliable place to work.
“Conservatives want an immigration policy which is tough and thoughtful. The current government is talking tough but acting stupidly. It has failed to control our borders, so it is lashing out at precisely the people who benefit our economy. This is another in the growing list of disasters from John Reid’s Home Office.”
Based on past experience, sustained lobbying by migrants and petitions to the Home Office rarely leads to a reversal of policy. The highly skilled migrants from India have also appealed to the Indian government to intervene.
Kapadia said: “The whole issue with these new rules is that people are being asked to re-qualify for their visa extension through a points-based system (PBS) rather than the initial promise of extension on economic activity alone.
“This new PBS expects us to gain more points on higher salaries and on younger age. Both of them are very difficult as higher salaries in the UK are not possible due to the duration of visa which we are issued (1, 2, 3 years) due to which we are considered for contract or temporary jobs by employers and employment agencies and not for jobs of permanent nature wherein higher salaries are possible.”
The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA) has called on Immigration Minister Liam Bryne, to suspend the changes, but this has been rejected. The ILPA has said that it is “unfair and unreasonable” to change the rules retrospectively, which would force talented and skilled individuals to leave Britain.
The HSMP is meant to be the flagship scheme for the Home Office and a forerunner for the new ‘points based system’ currently being introduced. If top-drawer highly skilled people are being treated like this, what chance do other migrants have?
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