Tens of thousands of skilled Indian migrants were celebrating their legal victory on Tuesday as a court upheld their right to live and work in Britain - a country that had sought them out before abruptly changing its mind.
The landmark judgement by the High Court in London upheld a challenge mounted by the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) Forum against the British immigration department and ruled that new HSMP visa rules were unfair and an abuse of power by the government.
Judge Sir George Newman also rejected the immigration department's request to appeal the ruling, but the department is entitled to go directly to the Court of Appeal. The Home Office said it was yet to decide whether to appeal.
In his judgement Newman said the terms of the original visa allowing doctors, engineers, IT specialists and other professionals to work in Britain "should be honoured and that there is no good reason why those already on the scheme shall not enjoy the benefits of it as originally offered to them.
"Good administration and straightforward dealing with the public require it. Not to restrain the impact of the changes would, in my judgment, give rise to conspicuous unfairness and an abuse of power," Newman added.
Britain introduced the HSMP scheme in 2002 in order to plug a skills shortage in key areas of industry but changed the rules in 2006 when faced with an influx of migrants from eastern European countries as a result of the enlargement of the European Union - migrants Britain was treaty-bound to let in.
However, making the changes retrospective meant that some 49,000 HSMP visa holders who had come to Britain between 2002 and 2006, most of them highly skilled workers from India, would have to requalify under a new Points Based System.
The HSMP Forum argued that the new system was unfair because it makes it mandatory for applicants to have earned at least 40,000 pounds in the previous year and awards more points to younger applicants.
The Forum said a majority of its members would fail to requalify, which could mean some 44,000 visa-holders and their families, a total of some 100,000 migrants, having to leave Britain after having settled down here.
Forum executive director Amit Kapadia, expressing "relief" at the verdict, said the legal challenge was mounted only after all other avenues were exhausted.
"The immigration department was obsessed with defending their decision and were not open to any reasoning. We had no other recourse but to approach the judiciary and we are glad that our trust in the democratic system has finally been restored," he said in a statement.
Over the last two years, migrants have campaigned through MPs, petitioned Prime Minister Gordon Brown, held noisy protest demonstrations on the streets of London and met the immigration minister in the House of Commons.
The Forum won the backing of the parliamentary human rights committee and the Commission for Racial Equality - Britain's apex race body - which said the new rules were a violation of human rights and equality laws.
Among those celebrating the verdict was Sanjeev Sachdev, a 42-year-old Mumbai IT worker who came to Britain from Saudi Arabia in 2004 but would have to requalify in order to continue living here with his wife and two children aged 11 and seven.
"This is fantastic news," Sachdev told IANS.
"I was on the brink because my visa was expiring at the end of April, and I knew I wouldn't have requalified because I live in Birmingham, where salaries aren't as high as in London.
"I can't be happier than I am today."