by Chiranjibi Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
January 7, 2007
CHANGE IN VISA RULES ANGERS SKILLED BRITISH IMMIGRANTS
LONDON, Jan. 4, 2007 -- Thousands of highly skilled professionals and entrepreneurs from around the globe will be forced out of the United Kingdom following the introduction of "unjust" Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HMSP) rules in November, immigrant leaders say. The retroactive change in rules has raised questions about the credibility of a country known throughtout the world as a haven of democracy and justice, they add.
About 50,000 highly skilled migrants and their family members will be affected by the new rule. The immigrants, most of them computer, medical and media professionals, engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs were brought into the United Kingdom under the program since 2002.
"This is unjust and completely against the spirit of the previous rules, which guaranteed the extension of visas if we are economically active, have not claimed public funds and adhered to the rules and regulations," said Babu Ram Banstola, an animal science expert from Nepal.
"We planned to settle down in the United Kingdom and gave up everything back home but the changes shattered our plan and the future of our children, said Banstola, who came to Britain under the program last year. "The UK government broke down the agreement made with us", he said. "How can we trust them in the future?" he asked.
"We have different feelings about the UK now. We had thought this is a country of democracy, justice and rules of law, but now we realized that this is a country, which betrays in the midway destroying the career of a person," Banstola said.
His feelings are shared by the ruling Labor party Member of Parliament Martin Safler. "The government can change rules, but the new rules should be for the new applicants, not for the previous applicants," he told a group of professionals at his residence in Reading on Thursday. "You might not have come here if the rules were changed midway," he said.
Other MPs, lawyers and the public have also supported the HSMP visa holders' demand that the retroactive rules should not be implemented to those whose application was approved before November 7 - the date the new rules were announced.
The highly skilled professionals were selected under a 65-point system based on their educational qualifications, work experience, achievements in their fields, earnings, spousal education and age. The immigrants agreed to make the United Kingdom their main home and could apply for permanent residence after five years there. They also agreed not to live outside the United Kingdom for more than six months during the five years.
They were required to be conomically active, not taking public funds and to adhere to the rules and regulations of the United Kingdom under the conditions set for the renewing their visas.
The change in the immigration rules shattered the dreams of some immigrants, who had pledged to make United Kingdom their home when applying for the program.
The retroactive rule, which was promulgated in November and came into effect from December, has increased the point to 75 even to renew the visa of those who have already entered into the United Kingdom under the program. Under the new rules, points are calculated only on the basis of education, age and earnings and English language test has become mandatory.
"We respect the decision of the UK, but the retroactive rules should not be imposed on us," said Anand Bhandari, a highly skilled migrant from Nepal. Bhandari, a former official of Nepal's government who came to the United Kingdom last year with the hope of getting a good education for his daughter.
"I sold my house and property, resigned from the job and came to the UK with the hope of starting new life," said a medical doctor from Nigeria who lives in London. He is working as a care assistant - a position well below his professional standing - and declined to provide his name.
"Employers in the UK were not ready to offer me a job, as I had no UK experience and my visa was only for one year," he said. "I had hoped to get a job in my profession after my visa extension in January, but the new rules destroyed my life", said the senior medical professional.
"For me UK was a nation of democracy, justice and human rights, but I realized that is not in reality," he said. "I have given up my senior prestigious position and friendly social life back home. My property was given away at no price and I forced my wife out of her socially respected job to accompany me here."
The government said that the new rule is in the interest of the United Kingdom.
"I am satisfied that these changes strike the correct balance between the need to address the needs of the highly skilled migrant program applicants with the need to carry out policies which are in the interests of the UK," Liam Byrne, Immigration Minister is quoted as saying.
The highly skilled migrants say that they respect and abide by the government's rules, as most of them are highly-placed professionals and entrepreneurs back home.
"We have also felt the need of effective management of immigrants in the context of international terrorism, especially after 9/11 terrorist attacks in the USA and 7/7 bombing in the London underground," said Dinesh Doshi of India.
"We are ready to cooperate the government from our side for the management of immigrants, but we should not be imposed upon by the unjust rules of a country of justice and democracy."
The migrants have started a group called the HSMP Forum to campaign against the new rules. More than 1,000 migrants have joined within a short span of time and have collected a sufficient amount of money to file a lawsuit against the retroactive immigration rule.
"We are in the initial stage, we will launch massive campaign," said one highly skilled migrant. "The UK media, public and political parties have also supported our campaign to get justice."
Representatives of the group are scheduled to meet Prime Minister Tony Blair and hand over their petition to review the rules. A demonstration is also planned in front of the Parliament next week to ask the government to withdraw its decision. Similar demonstrations were held last month.
Some of the migrants whose visas were rejected by the Home Office under the new rules are preparing to file cases in British courts. The HSMP Forum has also prepared a legal challengeto challenge the government.
Highly skilled migrants in the HSMP Forum come many countries, including the United States, New Zealand, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, South Africa, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, China, Egypt and Pakistan,members said.
Over half of the skilled migrants are said to be from India, the biggest democracy and possibly the most important emerging economy in the world. The campaign against the retroactive rules could harm the image in India of the United Kingdom, long a beacon of hope in the developing world, the migrants warn.
A review of the rule is in the interest of the British government to save it from being seen as a country implementing "unjust and unfair rules" against highly skilled migrants, who have significant achievements in their fields that can be beneficial to Britain in the long run, these visa-holders believe.
Longtime AR Correspondent Chiranjibi Paudyal is in Britain as a highly skilled immigrant.