UK: Row over highly-skilled Indian migrants

By Rashmee Roshan Lall

Highly-skilled Indian migrants to the UK have categorically rejected fresh claims by the British government that its changes to visa rules were not retrospective and that it ever promised migrants the right to settle here. 

Just days after Lord Hunt, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Ministry of Justice insisted that his “government does not accept that the rules changes have been applied retrospectively” and that “significant transitional arrangements are in place” for aggrieved highly-skilled migrants, representatives of an estimated 30,000 affected Indians branded the promises a “sham”.

The minister, who was replying to points raised by British Indian peer Navnit Dholakia, who is deputy leader in the House of Lords of the third main party, the Liberal Democrats, promised that “significant transitional arrangements are in place to enable those who are making an economic contribution to the UK, but are unable to meet the new points test for extension applications, to stay in the UK”.

Hunt added that “these arrangements include the provision for applicants who are in employment to vary their application to one for work permit employment”.

“The UK Government has always been adamant and never accepted any criticism on the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) changes whether from the Joint Committee on Human Rights or Commission for Racial Equality and Equality and Human Rights Commission,” said Amit Kapadia, executive director of the campaign group HSMP Forum Ltd.

HSMP Forum Ltd has taken the government to court over its allegedly unfair changes to immigration rules. Kapadia added that the minister’s comments were of a piece with his government’s obdurate behaviour so far.

Kapadia pointed out that the joint parliamentary committee on human rights had confirmed the retrospective nature of visa rule changes when it said in a scathing report, “We are not persuaded by the government’s argument that the changes it has made to the HSMP do not have a degree of retrospective effect. In our view it overlooks the fact that people who have made the UK their main home, as they are required to do under the HSMP, have done so on the basis of clear statements by the Government that they would be granted a further extension of their leave if they met certain criteria, and then be eligible for permanent residence if they met certain other criteria”.

The report issued by a cross-party group of 12 parliamentarians, went on to say, “In those circumstances, changing the relevant criteria to be met by those who have already made their home in the UK on a clear understanding of the criteria that would be applied to them in the future is, in our view, indisputably retrospective in effect. The government could have made the changes apply only to new applicants to the HSMP, in which case the changes would have been purely prospective. By choosing to apply them to migrants already in the UK on the HSMP, they are giving them a degree of retrospective effect.”

But the minister told Dholakia that his government did “not intend to amend the immigration rules as suggested by the Joint Committee on Human Rights”, prompting the peer to respond with stinging criticism. Dholakia said the minister’s explanation was “less than convincing”.

Meanwhile, at least two other migrant support organisations joined the affected HSMP visa-holders in condemnation of Britain’s alleged attitude to non-European migrant workers. Mikhail Spivakov coordinator of Voice of Britain’s Skilled Immigrants (VBSI), said the government’s “vindictive” attitude over the last few years suggested that “skilled law-abiding professionals are much easier to kick out than illegal migrants…(and) the numbers will look better anyway and the (UK) government will be able to pretend to the voters that it is ‘tough on migration’.”

Added Dr Ramesh Mehta, president of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), which won non-European doctors the right to apply for jobs here on a par with Europeans, “the government policy on immigration comes across as a knee jerk reaction rather than sound long-term policy”.

Mehta said it was a matter of concern that the “British government is favouring EU countries at the expense of Commonwealth nations”. (Times News Network)

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