MPs extend support as Indian migrant doctors protest, petition Blair
Jan 11, 2007 - 8:52:18 PM
London, Jan 11 - Braving strong winds and heavy rains, nearly 2,000 highly skilled migrants from India and other non-European Union countries Thursday protested against recent changes in immigration rules and submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The migrants arrived here Thursday morning from various parts of Britain, and were joined by leading figures of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats parties including Keith Vaz, Damien Green, Andrew Dismore and Lord Dholakia.
After the demonstration at the parliament square, representatives of the migrants submitted a 1,000-page petition containing signatures of those affected as well as a petition to an official of 10, Downing Street.
Amit Kapadia, organiser of the demonstration, told IANS that the turnout was 'pretty good' given that it was a working day and weather was inclement across Britain. He said the migrants would now wait for comments from Blair.
'We will continue our protest and also pursue the legal option,' he said.
At the demonstration, MPs extended their support to the migrants' cause and termed the new rules announced last year as unfair. The rules should not be implemented retrospectively, they said.
Nearly 49,000 migrants have been affected by the changes to the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme -. The new rules were introduced without warning Nov 7. They require HSMP migrants to re-qualify and introduce new tests including earnings requirements and academic qualifications.
Migrants from India are the largest single country group allowed into Britain under the programme. According to Kapadia, 85 percent of migrants under the programme come from Asia.
The HSMP migrants are the third group to be adversely affected by changes to immigration rules announced in 2006, the other two groups being doctors from India and other non-European Union countries, and migrants with Work Permits.
For the doctors, permit-free training was abolished, making it difficult to secure employment in the National Health Service. Doctors of the Indian origin have challenged the changes in a judicial review. A judgement is expected later this month.
For the migrants with Work Permits, the qualifying period for settlement in Britain was changed from four years to five years, which affected the family, housing, education and plans of thousands of people. This change too is expected to be challenged in court.
The doctors and migrants have protested the changes on the grounds that they were put into effect retrospectively, without consultation, and amounted to changing the rules from the time the migrants had first entered Britain.
Damian Green said: 'Everyone agrees that Britain benefits from highly skilled migrants. The government's decision to change the rules so that people who are already here and want to stay are now disqualified is both unfair and wrong-headed.
'It is unfair because the people involved have made a commitment to this country which is being flung back in their faces. It is wrong-headed because it sends a signal to highly skilled people around the world that Britain is an unreliable place to work -.
'Conservatives want an immigration policy which is tough and thoughtful. The current government is talking tough but acting stupidly. It has failed to control our borders, so it is lashing out at precisely the people who benefit our economy. This is another in the growing list of disasters from John Reid's Home Office.'
So far, sustained lobbying by migrants with their MPs and petitions to the Home Office has not led to reversal of the changes. The highly skilled migrants from India have also appealed to the Indian government to intervene.
Kapadia said: 'The whole issue with these new rules is that people are being asked to re-qualify for their visa extension through a points-based system - rather than the initial promise of extension on economic activity alone.
'This new PBS expects us to gain more points on higher salaries and on younger age. Both of them are very difficult as higher salaries in the UK are not possible due to the duration of visa which we are issued - due to which we are considered for contract or temporary jobs by employers and employment agencies and not for jobs of permanent nature wherein higher salaries are possible.'
The Immigration Law Practitioners' Association - has called upon Liam Bryne, the immigration minister, to suspend the changes, but this has been rejected. The ILPA has said that it is 'unfair and unreasonable' to change the rules retrospectively, which would force talented and skilled individuals to leave Britain.
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