British political leaders welcome HSMP ruling

April 9th, 2008 - 4:40 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Gordon Brown
By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, April 9 (IANS) Leaders of Britain’s main opposition parties welcomed a High Court ruling granting tens of thousands of mostly-Indian migrants the right to live and work in Britain amid a call Wednesday for the government to take back those who had already left the country. “It is unfair that skilled workers who have made a commitment to this country should have the rules of the game changed after they have been welcomed,” said David Davis, home affairs spokesman for the Conservative Party.

“We warned the government repeatedly that retrospective changes to HSMP were both unfair and potentially illegal. We called on ministers to suspend the retrospective application of the rules while their legality was determined by the courts,” he added.

A London High Court Tuesday ruled that retrospective changes made to the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) visa rules by the immigration department were illegal, unfair and an abuse of power.

It also rejected a request to appeal the verdict, but the department can go directly to the Court of Appeal - a possibility that Amit Kapadia, executive director of the pressure group HSMP Forum described as a “further wastage of tax payers’ money”.

“We also strongly argue that those who were forced to leave the United Kingdom because of the unlawful changes should be allowed to re-enter under the old rules,” he added.

Hundreds of migrants and their families have left Britain already as a result of the changes.

Under the new rules, 49,000 immigrants - most of them from India - who had come to Britain on HSMP visas between 2004 and 2006 would have to re-qualify to live and work in Britain under a new Points Based System.

But a majority of them - up to 44,000 - feared they would not qualify under the stringent new criteria, including salaries of at least 40,000 pounds ($80,000), according to the pressure group HSMP Forum. The British government disputes the figures. It says only 1,300 migrants would be affected.

Chris Huhne of the Liberal Democrats said: “The ruling makes it clear the government’s decision to change the rules for highly skilled immigrants already working in this country was not only deeply unfair but also completely illegal.

“The government must now recognise that you cannot invite people to come here to build lives and careers under one scheme and then simply move the goalposts,” Huhne added.

The ruling by judge Sir George Newman is being seen as a blow to the Labour government’s attempts to curb immigration into Britain - a country that is already treaty-bound to accept immigrants from the 27 member-states of the European Union, including many east European countries.

Although the Conservative Party has welcomed judge Newman’s ruling, it has made immigration its main political issue since Gordon Brown became British Prime Minister in June 2007.

Immigration is expected to remain on top of the political agenda in the run-up to the next general elections, due by the summer of 2010.

The government is yet to decide whether to appeal the HSMP ruling with Immigration Minister Liam Byrne saying: “This is a very straightforward case, which affects just 1,300 highly-skilled migrants.

“Did we give migrants a big enough warning that the rules could get tougher while they were here? We said ‘yes’, others said ‘no’. That’s why it was right for a judge to take a look at this case, and I will now decide whether to appeal against his ruling.”

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