by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
July 22, 2010
LONDON, England, July 18, 2010 -- With the soaring popularity of the South Asian food, "masala tikka" and "chapati" have become English words in the United Kingdom. The aroma of Indian food has given a new ambience to the cities and towns of the former colonial power, and helped more than 9,000 Indian and Pakistani restaurants flourish.
Today they are found in every nook and corner of the country, suffusing the bland atmosphere of hamlets and castles more accustomed to the odor of unembellished beef and pork. And most chefs in these restaurants, naturally, are from the land of daal, paratha and papadam - India.
But now, immigrants say, billions of dollars they've invested are at risk with the imposition of a new immigration cap by Britain's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. And much more than an aroma is at stake in what has become a heated national debate, much as illegal immigration has stirred the melting pot of America in recent years.
Home Secretary Theresa May has said that immediate restrictions imposed by the government will limit the number of workers entering Britain from outside the European Union to 24,100 before April 2011 - some 5 percent less than authorities permitted last year. Beyond restaurants, Indian and other migrants also make significant contributions in the information technology, health care and education sectors. It is estimated that together, such immigrants foster the British economy with $125 billion each year, and another $18 billion is stirred in by international students.
Aroused by the government's move, immigrants are joining political parties and business and industry groups, and forming new coalitions of their own to oppose the interim immigration cap, saying it is adverse to the interests of the United Kingdom and will negatively affect business. "We do not think any sort of cap would work out. It would be unworkable," said Amit Kapadia, executive director of the HSMP Forum, which campaigns for non-European Union immigrants in Britain, when the cap was imposed.
India's influential commerce and industry minister, Anand Sharma, who came to Britain to express his displeasure, met Prime Minister David Cameron in London and expressed India's concern about the imposition of a new immigration cap.
"I told them that any new regime has to be investor-friendly and must not come in the way of free movement of businesses and professionals. We were assured that our concerns would be taken into account," Mr. Sharma was quoted as saying after the meeting.
Indians make up the largest portion of the migrant population in Britain. There were more than 660,000 migrants from India in 2009, compared to 502,000 in 2004, government statistics show.
Charles Kennedy, a senior leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, challenged the Universities minister, David Willetts, during question time in Britain's House of Commmons, the lower house of Parliament.
"Given the government's policy on a cap on immigration," he said, "you will be aware Universities UK and many others right across the sector are worried about the impact this will have."
Kennedy explained that 10 percent of university staff in the country come from outside the European Union. He added that this accounted for 2,500 staff in Scotland alone.
"What can you do with colleagues in the Home Office to mitigate the impact of this policy on the tertiary sector?" he asked the House.
Universities UK, which represents more than 100 British institutions of higher education, has warned that curbing the number of skilled non-EU workers that can be employed in the UK "would disproportionately harm the university sector, hampering institutions' abilities to compete internationally" for top talent.
At the professorial level, 7.5 percent of staff is non-EU nationals, and at senior researcher/lecturer level, 14.1 percent are non-EU nationals. Among university lecturers, 26.3 percent are non-EU nationals.
"Introducing this temporary limit is necessary to ensure that we don't get a rush of people trying to come through into the UK before that permanent limit is put in place next year," British Home Secretary Theresa May told the BBC Radio 4 programme.
"What we have as an aim is indeed to bring immigration down from the hundreds of thousands that it became under Labour to the tens of thousands that it used to be," Mrs. May said. "There are various ways in which we do that."
Meanwhile, probably reflecting the world's economic woes, net migration to Great Britain was 142,000 in September 2009, down from 160,000 in the previous 12 months.
Most non-EU migrants in the skilled Tier 1 and Tier 2 categories come to Britain to fill posts requiring special skills that cannot be filled locally. Will taking such drastic measures affect UK businesses, and in turn affect the economy. It is said that about 25 percent of doctors working in the Britain are foreigners.
During the recent parliamentary election campaign, the Liberal Democratic Party had opposed the idea of imposing caps, but accepted the idea as a condition of joining the government.
Much of the concern expressed by Britain's public about immigration is about migrant workers from European Union nations. Migrants coming from outside the EU zone tend to be highly-skilled.
In a statement, Mr. Kapadia said "The British public seems to be misguided that these measures are for overall immigration in the UK. This is not true; these measures are focused on a small segment of migrants, in this case coming from outside Europe. This will have no impact on the large base of migrant workers coming from EU countries."
Responding, Mr. Kapadia said, "What we feel is there should not be any knee-jerk reaction just to show that the government is tough on immigration. The government needs to keep in mind the possible consequences which will be faced by employers due to such unfair measures."
Post-graduate study has been a major attraction for international students who come to Britain. The British Council, an international organization for cultural relations and educational opportunities, estimated that more than $18 billion is spent by the country's international students.
Rules governing post-graduate study allow international students to work for a stipulated time after successful completion of their course with an accredited university. The new interim cap will ensure a significant fall in that revenue, many say. Social work, the National Health Service, the hospitality industry, IT and higher education - and the restaurant business - will be seriously affected by the immigration caps.
Social care is mostly run by migrant workers who fall below the standards required for work permits. Mandy Thorn, vice-chairwoman of the National Care Association, was quoted as saying, "We are very concerned that this could affect the ability of health and social care providers to offer appropriate services and to develop new ones to meet other parts of the government agenda, such as supporting people out of hospital."
Niki Coppard, director of Human Resources at the Lloyds Pharmacy Group, was quoted in local media reports as saying, "Typically, we have a greater reliance on overseas pharmacists in difficult-to-recruit areas of the country, such as the southwest. A cap will have a significant impact on both recruitment and manpower planning in these areas."
Business leaders and professional groups representing sectors from doctors to IT consultants warned on July 16 that a cap on the numbers of skilled immigrants will damage the economic recovery and lock Britain into a cycle of slow growth for the sake of a political "gimmick."
The new government imposed a temporary limit on the level of skilled migrants entering Britain from outside the European Union. That will allow a 12-week consultation on a permanent cap designed to meet the Conservative Party's election pledge to reduce net immigration annually to "tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands," a goal stated by Prime Minister David Cameron.
But critics said the interim measure, which comes into force next month, is part of a wider problem that threatens to constrict British employers' recruitment of staff. The effect remains to be seen, but if the government implements such drastic measures it is going to cause a lot of unhappiness among migrants who work hard and pay taxes and UK businesses, Mr. Kapadia said.
Mr. Kapadia says consultations should take place with stakeholders to assess the impact of such measures. Otherwise, he said, any such unsubstantiated measures with procedural defects will be reviewable in the courts. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, when they were in the Opposition, stiffly opposed such retrospective legislation offered by the then-Labour government in 2006, Mr. Kapadia said.
"We believe any measures if at all should only be taken after proper and independent consultation with stakeholders who will be affected by such a decision," he said.
"We feel the UK economy is not ready for such measures. These measures should be postponed until and unless UK fully recovers from the economic crisis," Mr. Kapadia said.