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Immigration Matters 2007 ‘Round Up’ Report | Immigration Matters

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The year of two thousand and seven was not exactly a vintage one for UK migrants, as the Home Office and newly formed Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) relentlessly clamped down on immigration and will almost certainly exceed the 2006 removal figure of over 22000 people.

The year started with two new Eastern European countries joining the EU.

On 1st January 2007 Bulgarian and Romanian citizens were given the right to move and reside freely in any EU member state. However, unlike the previous accession countries like Poland, Bulgarians and Romanians were not given the automatic right to work in the UK.

In the same month we reported that rulings laid down by Immigration Judges at appeal tribunals were being flouted by Entry Clearance Officers (ECO’s) in British High Commission posts. Would be migrants who had won entry clearance appeals at the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT) are still kept waiting for months.

In February, the then Home Secretary John Reid started his immigration crackdown, not on the real criminals and people traffickers, but easy targets such as working migrants and employers who accidentally fall foul of the rules. The Home Secretary announced the new Borders Bill, which is now law, including proposals for compulsory ID cards and fingerprinting for foreign nationals.

In March thousands of highly skilled migrants (HSMP) took to the streets 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 backdated rulings in 2006 and discriminatory policies.

We also reported on plans to abolish the domestic worker concession, first introduced in 1998 by the Blair Government, and the newly formed the Migration Impact Forum set up to investigate the wider social impact of immigration in the UK.

April saw the cost of some Work Permit visa fees doubling, with Indefinite Leave to Remain fees rising to £750. A new “Britishness” test was introduced for people applying for ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’ or permanent residency.

Thousands of migrants took to the streets in London in May to celebrate immigration and call for an amnesty for illegal immigrants and overstayers. Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor concelebrated a multilingual Mass for migrants, followed by a rally in Trafalgar Square.

In the same month a new immigration crackdown, this time aimed at employers, was announced and while six MP’s laid down a motion calling for an amnesty for illegal immigrants we also reported that the Home Office had virtually stopped issuing Senior Carer Work Permits.

The Work Permit story continued to run in June when Immigration Matters broke the story that the Borders and Immigration Agency (BIA), had stopped issuing Work Permits for Senior Carers.

Immigration Matters followed up the story with the news that the Border and Immigration Agency had put all Senior Carer Work Permit Applications “on hold”, pending new policy guidelines.

On 15 June Immigration Matters launched the Save our Carers (SOS) campaign, urging people to write to their MP’s and sign our on line Prime Ministers Petition. The petition was signed by over 2400 people and MP’s were inundated by Senior Carers, Care Home owners and even patient relatives.

In yet another Immigration Matters ‘exclusive’, we revealed that the Home Office had held secret talks with the UK’s biggest care provider, Southern Cross, informing them that their overseas Senior Carer Work Permits would not be renewed.

Southern Cross, which owns over 500 Care Homes and employs more than 40,000 people, told affected staff (holding less than a five year Work Permit) that when their Work Permits expire they will be “dismissed from the company and will have to make arrangements to leave the country”.

This story led to a chain of events, eventually forcing the Government to grant a concession to Senior Carers in order to prevent a staffing crisis.

Following a series of meetings at the Philippine Embassy, Philippine Ambassador Espiritu issued an unprecedented statement of support for the thousands of Filipino Senior Carers affected by the BIA’s decision not to renew Work Permits.

An action group ‘The Alliance’ was formed to spearhead the Save our Carers campaign.

The major trade union, ‘Unison’ also threw their weight behind the campaign calling on the Government to take “urgent action” to prevent mass deportations.

On 12 August Immigration Matters reported that the Government would give existing Senior Carers a “reprieve”, allowing employers to renew their Work Permits under new minimum salary conditions.

By 13 August the Home Office finally announced new guidelines on Senior Carer Work Permits, signalling a dramatic turn around of events. Transitional arrangements were put in place for existing Senior Carers extending their Work Permits, provided their employers complied with the new minimum salary of £7.02 per hour.

The concession was a rare victory for migrants, but the battle was not over. Leading Immigration Advisers, Bison UK, were quick off the mark, successfully obtaining a large number of Work Permit extensions, but not everyone was happy with the minimum pay imposed by the Government.

Many of the larger employers, such as Southern Cross and Barchester, refused to increase Senior Carer pay to £7.02 per hour, pointing that they would have to increase salaries across the board wiping millions off their bottom line.

In September, Southern Cross Chief Executive Philip Scott said that up to one thousand non-EU Senior Carers employed by Southern Cross would be forced to leave the UK, unless the Border and Immigration Agency backed down on minimum pay ruling.

New Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced plans to force migrants to learn English and Professor David Metcalf was named Chair of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), will provide evidence to ministers on where the economy needs migration.

Whilst Senior Carers were being sent home, in October Immigration Matters reported that Ministers had planned a controversial back-door amnesty scheme to regularise the stay of 450,000 cases of failed asylum seekers.

The rising numbers of students had lead to more and more entry clearance refusals. Immigration Matters were pleased to report an Appeal Success Story for an NVQ student refused a visa in Manila.

Also in this month Gwyneth Dunwoody MP launched an astonishing attack on the Home Office over its shambolic and incompetent handling of Senior Carer Work Permits during a 30 minute Parliamentary Debate.

The outspoken MP was to prove influential in persuading the Government to rethink its position on the inflexible Senior Carer guidelines, later filing an Early Day Motion on behalf of the beleaguered overseas workers.

November was not a good month for the Home Office when it was revealed 5000 security guards had been working illegally in Britain, including one allegedly guarding the Prime Minister’s car.

The UK Borders ACT received the Royal Assent in November. A new UK Border Agency will incorporate the BIA, which has only been in existence for a matter of months, UK Visas, and Customs at ports.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced tough new measures to “stamp out illegal working” with fines of up to “£10000 for each illegal worker”, just days after it was discovered that illegal immigrants were working in Government offices as security guards.

Immigration Matters exclusively reported that ‘Buying a New Care Home Could Mean Changing every Work Permit, highlighting massive problems for owners and overseas workers when businesses change hands.

In December the Home Office announced proposals to use a new Government Bill to simplify immigration law. The move follows a consultation on plans to replace all the Immigration Acts since the early 1970s with a single piece of legislation.

The new Immigration Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech, forms part of the biggest immigration policy overhaul in history, including the introduction of the points based system in 2008.

New proposals to reduce the length of tourist visas from 6 to 3 months and a £1000 ‘bond’ for family sponsored visits were announced this month by the Home Office as part of a new public consultation.

The year ends with some good news for Senior Carers for Senior Carers. After months of campaigning and lobbying, the BIS is set to offer a lifeline to the thousands of overseas Senior Carers who have lost their jobs due to the Border and Immigration Agency’s “minimum salary” requirement on Work Permit renewals.

They are widely expected to drop both the minimum £7.02 “going rate” salary requirement for Senior Carer Work Permits, and the ‘Skills Requirement’ for Work Permit holders who “joined the scheme at the beginning of 2003”.

Sources inside the BIA have revealed to Bison UK that if Senior Carers switch to another employer the new stringent skills criteria, which effectively blocked job movers forcing hundreds to leave the UK, will be waived.

On 27 December the ever busy Home Office unveiled a new marketing campaign today aimed at businesses which employ illegal workers.

Businesses employing illegal workers face £10000 fines and even prison sentences, the Home Office warned.

If the events of 2007 seem dramatic for migrant workers, 2008 will make this year look like a walk in the park. In a few months time the Government will start implementing the biggest overhaul of the immigration system in 50 years.

The first phase of the new Points Based System will be rolled out in the spring of 2008 with Implementation of Tier 1 for Highly Skilled and Investors (Brains and Money) and sponsor registration for employers in preparation for Tier 2.

The autumn of 2008 will see the Implementation of Tiers 2 and 5 for Skilled Migrants (e.g. Nurses and IT Workers) and other schemes such as Youth Mobility.

Commentators, such as Keith Vaz, MP, say the points system “discriminates against those who want to come in from outside the EU” and that the country will still suffer shortages of labour.

The points system has not yet been ‘fine tuned’, but it does appear to have a definite bias towards the highly skilled and wealthier migrants.

The Government should not lose sight of the benefits immigration brings to the UK – £2.5 billion, according to the Home Office. In order to remain a powerhouse economy and vibrant society, the UK needs immigration to fill the labour gaps. Not just the “brains and money” of the Tier 1, but also carer workers, chefs and restaurant staff!

All that remains is for me, on behalf of all the Immigration Matters team, to wish you all a very happy and prosperous New Year.

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