21-Jun-2018

Indian migrants want work rights restored as UK reviews skilled visas

LONDON May 31: Hundreds of highly-skilled Indian professionals are calling on the UK government to restore their right to work and other benefits until an ongoing review into their pending visa applications is completed.
 
The UK Home Office had announced the review earlier this month after it emerged that around 1,000 doctors, lawyers, engineers and entrepreneurs from countries outside the European Union (EU) on a Tier 1 (General) visa were being denied residency rights over reportedly minor, legally acceptable corrections in their tax returns.
 
In a letter to the House of Commons' Home Affairs Select Committee last week, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed that cases "falling foul" of the so-called Clause 322(5) of the UK Immigration Act which pertains to an applicant's "character and conduct" have been put on hold until the review is completed.
 
"We urge the home secretary to restore the work rights and access to health benefits of the applicants affected by this crisis while they await the outcome of the review. They have been undergoing immense hardship, which needs to be addressed urgently,” said Aditi Bhardwaj, the coordinator of the Highly Skilled Migrants group.
 
Javid's letter reveals that between January 2015 and December 2017, 238 applicants challenged the Home Office refusal of an application for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the Tier 1 (General) category in the UK courts through a judicial review, of which 189 were against a refusal on 322(5) grounds.
 
These migrants, most of whom are from Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds, lose their right to work and access to state-funded healthcare while their application is pending.
 
"Those who have lost their ILR must have it restored and the government must compensate those who have lost their jobs and livelihood and been reduced to destitution,” said Lord Dick Taverne, a Liberal Democrat peer in the House of Lords who has been leading a parliamentary campaign in favour of professionals affected by the issue.
 
He described the Home Office review into the cases, expected to be completed by next week, as a “great victory for justice”, adding that it should mark an end to the “hostile climate for immigrants” in Britain.
 
In Sajid Javid's letter dated May 25, the minister also reveals that his department has identified 19 individuals who were refused ILR and subsequently made “voluntary departures” from the UK.
 
One of them has since been issued with a visa to return to the UK, having applied under a different provision of the UK's immigration rules.
 
"This is just the tip of the iceberg as we are certain there are more than 19 people who have been forced to leave due to these unfair refusals by the Home Office. We hope the review will highlight the true nature of this scandal,” said Bhardwaj, whose group has been working with legal experts and politicians to help these professionals and their families.
 
Besides a series of protests outside the UK Parliament, the group succeeded in collecting over 32,000 signatures on an online petition demanding the Home Office uses Clause 322(5) for what it was designed to do, “protect us from terrorists, not deport our doctors, teachers, scientists and lawyers”.
 
The crisis involves migrants from outside the EU who were entitled to apply for ILR or permanent residency status after a minimum of five years' lawful residency in the UK.
 
While the Tier 1 (General) visa they used was discontinued in 2011, former applicants were eligible to apply for ILR until April this year if they made up the required number of points on their application.
 
However, legal experts noted a pattern of many such applications being turned down by Home Office caseworkers citing Clause 322(5) of the UK Immigration Act, a discretionary rule aimed at denying convicted criminals and terrorists the right to live in the UK.
 
The Home Office questioned the “good character” of these professionals over apparent differences in their declared earnings to the UK tax department and the Home Office, resulting in hundreds facing potential deportation unless their appeals are accepted.
 
"We've heard of a series of cases of highly skilled workers, employed in our public services and senior jobs legally for many years, now being told to leave apparently due to minor tax errors.
 
So, it is welcome that the Home Secretary is now reviewing all those cases and putting decisions on hold,” said Labour party MP Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee.
 
The influential parliamentary committee has been conducting an investigation into “wider systemic issues” in the UK Home Office ever since the Windrush scandal of Caribbean immigrants being wrongfully deported from the UK emerged last month.
 
“A review into the specific HMRC [Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs] related Tier 1 issue is ongoing,” a UK Home Office spokesperson said.