The Home Office was accused of creating chaos in the lives of up to 200,000 skilled workers and their families this week through a “vindictive” change in immigration law.
As reported by Immigration Matters (www.immigrationmatters.co.uk) in April, legal migrants, including nurses, senior carers, doctors, dentists, engineers and teachers, must wait a year longer before they can settle permanently in Britain. The sudden change was brought in at the end of March giving people little time to react.
Campaigners say that their lives have been disrupted by a Home Office decision to make retrospective the increase from four to five years that legal migrants must work in Britain before they can settle permanently.
Many of my own clients have already been affected and were forced to reapply for work permits again in order to take them over the five year period. The Home Office charges £153.00 for a work permit application and £335.00 for Further Leave to Remain. Members of the London Chinese community staged a protest at the changes this month and 33 MPs have signed a Commons motion expressing anger at the policy.
Cynthia Barker, of Bison Management UK, accused ministers of being unfair to thousands of hardworking migrants by changing the rules. “What about the people who thought they would be able to stay in Britain after four years?” she said. “They have worked and paid their taxes without taking state benefits, and now when they should be able to apply for residency they are shown the door.”
She added “These rules should not apply retrospectively and should only be applicable to people arriving in the UK after April 2006”
Mike Higgs, a senior immigration adviser, thought the rule changes could be open to a legal challenge. In April the government was forced to suspend controversial rules to prevent “sham marriages” by immigrants following a high court ruling that they breached human rights laws.
Damian Green, the Shadow Immigration Minister, called the change unfair and vindictive.
He said that those who wanted to take out a mortgage or send their children to British universities without paying international fees would be hit, even though they paid taxes and intended to settle in Britain.
Mr Green said: “Those who have been working here and paying taxes for a long time and who intend to stay here, people who are already contributing to the community and wish to contribute more, regard the change not only as a blow but as a hostile act by Britain.
“There will be bewilderment at the fact that the Government have chosen to make life more difficult for precisely the highly skilled migrants who they say they want to attract here in ever-increasing numbers.”
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said that the introduction of the new time limit was brutal.
“I have come across a large number of families who, if the measure proceeds, will need to change their plans, leave their work or studies, sell their homes and take their children out of school or university because they have received no warning that the rules have changed, or that the understanding on which they entered this country has summarily changed,” he said.
“The measure seems to fly in the face of the basic fairness, transparency and predictability that anybody who is resident and working in this country expects and deserves.”
The Home Office, which has “building a safe, just and tolerant society” in its statement of purpose and values, said that nobody would be forced to leave Britain because of the changes.
Liam Byrne, the Immigration Minister, said: “Anyone with valid leave to remain who is continuing in employment or earning their living or investing in the UK still qualifies to remain here and should have no difficulty completing their fifth year.”
He added: “The measure prevents no one from carrying on what they were doing in the UK. They are simply being asked to carry on for one more year.”
All very well if your current work permit and leave takes you over five years, but people who need to renew for a further year will still have to apply and obtain another work permit as well as further leave to remain.
Renewing a work permit is becoming increasingly difficult (“Renewing a Work Permit is Not a Formality” www.immigrationmatters.co.uk) as the Home Office requests more and more information. Employers still have to justify why they “need to retain this person beyond the period originally granted” on the work permit application form and are often asked provide detailed staff lists and hierarchy charts. In other words, there is no guarantee and little comfort for those forced to jump through yet more hoops to stay in this country.
The government appears to be making things difficult for non EU nationals in the wake of the massive migration of over 350000 people from Eastern Europe.