100,000 Indians take British government to court

March 1st, 2008 - 6:02 pm ICT by admin  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, March 1 (IANS) Likening the British government to Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, 49,000 mostly Indian professionals and their families are to get a court hearing next week over their bid to block changes to the terms of their stay in Britain on the grounds of human rights and race relations. The High Court will March 5 hear the challenge mounted by the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme (HSMP) Forum to a November 2006 government order that made retrospective changes to the criteria under which skilled non-European Union immigrants were allowed to live and work in Britain.

As of Saturday, skilled immigrants who are already in Britain under HSMP visas will have to prove that they are earning at least 40,000 pounds a year and were below 32 years of age when they applied for their visas - conditions that were not originally listed.

A new Australian-style Points Based System (PBS) kicked in Saturday in what the government called the biggest shake-up in British immigration laws in decades.

HSMP visa holders who started coming to Britain in 2002 now have to reapply under the PBS and have to score a minimum 75 points - awarded on the basis of salary, age, qualification and ability to speak English - in order to be allowed to stay on and work in Britain.

“Our barristers would be arguing that the Idi Amin style changes are both unfair and unlawful,” said Forum Executive Director Amit Kapadia, referring to the late dictator who expelled tens of thousands of Asians from Uganda in 1972.

Having left India and raised their families in Britain, members of the HSMP Forum argue that the retrospective nature of the changes is a violation of human rights - a view that has the backing of the British parliament’s influential Joint Committee on Human Rights.

The forum also argues that the 40,000-pound earning criterion is discriminatory because ethnic minorities tend to find it more difficult than Whites to obtain jobs with high salaries.

The majority of the HSMP Forum’s members - covering a range of professions from IT to accounting and medicine - are Asians and Blacks, Kapadia said.

Of its 49,000 members, 30,000 are Indians. When families are taken into account, the overall number is about 150,000 with Indians accounting for around 100,000. In addition to Indians, ethnic minorities in the forum include Chinese, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Nigerian and other Black African members.

The changes have been heavily criticised by the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equality and Human Rights Commission for breaching the country’s race relations act.

“It is ironic that a government which boasts itself as champions of human rights around the globe is actually playing with the lives of thousands of skilled immigrants and their families by changing the rules retrospectively. We hope the highly respected UK judicial system will do justice,” said Chandrasekar Elangovan, a member of the forum’s executive committee.

Kapadia said the changes constituted an abuse of government power.

“The very concept of the HSMP scheme has been changed by the Home Office from that of work and settlement to a temporary workers scheme to exploit immigrants.

“We have provided the court with lots of evidence of hardship faced by Indians and other non European Union immigrants and their families due to the discriminatory and inhuman changes imposed by the Secretary of State for the Home Department,” he added.

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