In a further tightening of immigration rules, Britain on Tuesday announced the latest of several changes this year that have affected highly skilled migrants from India and other non-European Union countries.
The changes have drawn considerable criticism from Indians and others who are already in Britain under various employment categories. Several of them say the changes make them feel unwelcome and will force them to consider moving elsewhere.
Further tightening of immigration rules are expected for non-EU nationals due to the migration to Britain of thousands of nationals from countries that have recently joined the EU.
In April, thousands of Indian doctors were affected by the abolition of 'permit-free training', which had earlier allowed them to take up employment in the National Health Service without a work permit. Doctors of Indian origin have gone to court against this change, and the hearing for a judicial review is expected to take place in December.
Moreover, thousands of skilled migrants and their families from India and elsewhere have been affected by another change announced in April - increasing the qualifying period for permanent settlement under the work permit scheme from four years to five years.
The affected migrants under the work permit scheme have formed a forum called the Voice of Britain's Skilled Immigrants. After lobbying with MPs failed, solicitors associated with the forum have now approached the court to consider a judicial review of the 'four-to-five years' change along with the doctors' case in December.
On Tuesday Immigration Minister Liam Bryne announced major changes in the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme (HSMP). Indians have been among the largest groups to come to Britain under this scheme ever since it was introduced in 2002.
As of Tuesday evening, the programme has been suspended until December 5 to manage the transition to the new arrangements. Under the programme, applicants will need to be able to collect the necessary points under new categories while applying.
The earlier categories of 'spouse skills' and 'significant achievement' have been abolished. Moreover, no points can be claimed if the applicant is over the age of 33, reflecting the government's focus on allowing young highly skilled migrants into the country.
The revised HSMP criteria will now allow applicants to score points against the following criteria: qualifications; previous earnings; prior experience in Britain as a student or employee; age; and participation in an MBA scheme.
Another major change announced is the introduction of the mandatory English language requirement. All applicants to the HSMP - new as well as those who are already in Britain and who seek extension to stay - will need to demonstrate their proficiency in English.
Other changes include new rules to deal with forged documents and verification of documents submitted with HSMP applications; abolition of the facility of non-EU doctors who come here to sit for qualifying tests such as PLAB to switch to HSMP under the General Practitioners Priority provision.
The points based system for managing migration was launched in February this year and forms a central strand of the Home Office's review of immigration announced by the home secretary in July.
The changes to immigration rules have been partly prompted by criticism of the Tony Blair government's immigration policy. The criticism gained sharper focus when John Reid, who reviewed the functioning of the Home Office after taking over as home secretary in May, announced that it was "not fit for purpose".
Outlining the changes in parliament, Bryne said, "These changes will ensure that the HSMP remains one of our flagship immigration schemes. And I am confident that they will help us to maintain public confidence in our immigration system, and to make the case for managed migration where it is in the interests of Britain."