Skilled Migrant Rules Unfair To 49,000 In UK, Say MPs

Immigration rule changes that have left 49,000 highly skilled migrants who have settled in Britain facing the possibility of deportation are “unfair and unlawful” and should be dropped immediately, according to a report from MPs and peers published today.

Parliament’s joint committee on human rights says the changes made last November to the Home Office’s highly skilled migrant programme, which was introduced in 2002 to attract “the brightest and the best”, were applied retrospectively to people who had settled in Britain.

“The changes to the rules are so clearly incompatible with article 8 – the right to respect for home and family life – and so contrary to basic notions of fairness, that the case for parliament immediately revisiting them is overwhelming,” says the report.

The rules were tightened by the immigration minister, Liam Byrne, last November amid claims that the scheme, which is designed to attract doctors, scientists and computer specialists, was being abused with some who qualified taking low-skilled jobs once they got here.

But the changes also included making it more difficult to earn the right to settle permanently in Britain for those who had already arrived.

Andrew Dismore, chairman of the joint committee on human rights, said: “These changes are patently unfair – truly a case of moving the goalposts during the match. What is being proposed is to cheat on the deal through which people have legitimately
made their decisions over their life and livelihood here in the UK.”

He said the government was entitled to introduce the changes for future migrants to protect its economic interests, but it was not right to pull out the rug from under those who had already given up lives, homes and jobs elsewhere in the world.

Estimates of the impact of the rules on those who have come are varied. The MPs and peers quote an estimate from the Highly Skilled Migrants Forum that 90% of the 49,000 migrants now face being told to leave the country. Other estimates put the number as low as 6,000.

However, a Home Office spokesman said it was anticipated that the “vast majority” of those on the programme who made an economic contribution would be able to extend their stay in Britain either under new rules or special transitional arrangements. “The changes were needed to ensure that tougher checks on foreign workers are carried out both here and abroad to guard against the risk of abuse and make sure those on HSMP visas are actually doing highly skilled work,” said the Home Office spokesman.

The report was welcomed by shadow immigration minister Damian Green: “The underlying problem is that the government has lost control of the immigration system, so has been reduced to making superficially tough gestures. In this case, this posturing has backfired because it produces such an unfair result.”