PRESSURE MOUNTS IN BRITAIN FOR REVIEW OF VISA RULES
By Chiranjibi Paudyal
American reporter Correspondent
LONDON, England, Jan. 16, 2007 -- The British government is under pressure from opposition parties, ruling MPs and some 50,000 highly skilled immigrants in the country to change a rule regarding visa that was imposed retropcatively in December on workers from around the globe.
Some 1,000 skilled migrants mounted a peaceful demonstration in front of Parliament last week demanding a review of the rule. "Home Office, keep your promise,"the immigrants chanted, reminding the UK government's immigration rule.
"We follow rules - do you keep your promises?" one large banner at the protest read.
The British government's immigration rules formerly guaranteed extensions of visas if the immigrant was economically active and had not made a claim for public funds such as food or financial asistance.
A petition containing the signatures of thousands of immigrants, their dependents and supporters was also handed over to Prime Minister Tony Blair through his secretary at 10 Downing Street on the same day. The petition demands the review of immigration rules imposed on those who have already entered Britain.
"This is not the end of our protest; this is in fact the beginning [of protests] against the unjust rule of the Home Office, which clearly stated that the change in the immigration rules would not affect [migrants] once the application is approved," said a spokesman for the migrants, who asked to remain anonymous.
The United States has a similar program for skilled workers called the H1-B visa program; it, too, is difficult to obtain but does not lead directly to citizenship.
More than 49,000 professionals, including scientists, engineers, medical doctors, media professionals and entrepreneurs came to Britain under the Highly Skilled Immigrant program (HSMP) since 2002. They were granted visas under a system that required them to qualify with 65 points, with points given for categories including education, work experience, professional achievement, age and the level of education attained by any spouse.
However, the retroactive change in the immigration rule in November and implemented last month increases the point to 75 and qualifying points are now calculated only on education, earnings and age.
The skilled immigrants come from across the globe, including many from Nepal, India, South Africa, New Zealand, the United States, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China. More than 50 percent of the immigrants are said to be from India, and two thirds are from Asian nations.
The opposition Conservative and some ruling Labour Party MPs have supported the cause of the immigrants and say that the new rules should not be applied to those who have already emigrated to the United Kingdom. Labour Party Member of Parliament Martin Salter urged Immigration Minister Liam Byrne to reconsider the earlier decision and exempt existing HSMP workers from the rule change.
"I intend to raise this matter with the Prime Minister at a future meeting of the Parliamentary Committee," he wrote in a letter sent to Byrne. A copy was sent to skilled immigrants.
"Many of these people have given up a comfortable existence in their countries of origin to contribute to the UK economy and permanently settle here," he added.
The skilled immigrants are often highly placed senior officials and well-to-do business leaders in their native countries. The prospect of a democratic system with safeguard for human rights, the opportunity to gain a good education for their children, regular employment and business opportunities have drawn immigrants under the visa category.
For instance, Krishna Neupane was Executive Director of Nepal Agro Forestry Foundation (NAF), a non-governmental organisation, before migrating to the UK in April 2005. Once he decided to come to Britain, Mr. Neupane resigned from the influential post and sold his properties. His wife Nirmala also resigned from her job
as a librarian to join him in the UK, and lost her pension rights by doing so. Mr. Neupane spent his life savings from Nepal to settle down in London and now pays more than $15,700 per year in tuition for his son, Kiran, who studies at the University of Reading.
Despite his Masters degree in science and more than 20 years' senior-level work experience, Mr. Neupane does not qualify under the new rule. His earnings at Marks & Spencer is less than US$30,000 dollars a year. Under the new rule, he must earn at least US$60,000 to qualify.
"This is unjust and a complete breach of agreement," he told The American Reporter. "We strictly adhered to the rules and the Home Office should keep its promise," he saiod, echoing the slogan chanted in front of Parliament.
The immigrants are hopeful that review of the retroactive rule will lead to its revocation. They say that a democratic country like Great Britain ultimately will not impose such an "undemocratic" rule on people who chose it as their new home not anticipating that the rule would be changed.
"Immigrants can be forced out but what will be the image of the UK around the globe?" asked one immigrant. Salter, a Labour Party Member of Parliament, said the retroactive application of the rule raises this is questions about the very trustworthiness of his nation. "You would not have come to the UK if rules were changed midway," the MP said, frankly objecting to the new rules. "For me this is a question of trust," Salter added.
The anger of immigrants has seethed to the front burners in British politics. Britain's Times of London quoted Amit Kapadia, a skilled migrant from India, as saying, "Why should I live with this uncertainty and unpredictability?"