Following months of lobbying against changes made to the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme (HSMP), the British government has agreed to review the new migration rules that have jeopardised the personal and professional lives of thousands of people from India and other non-European Union countries.
The review was announced in London on Tuesday evening by Immigration Minister Liam Bryne at a high level meeting attended by representatives of the Indian and other high commissions, lords, MPs and affected professionals.
The meeting was organised by Keith Vaz, Labour MP of Goan origin. After presentations and narration of problems caused by the changes, Bryne said he would "review and reflect about the changes".
Representatives of the Indian High Commission recalled that the issue had been raised by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and others during Chancellor Gordon Brown's recent visit to India. The high commission has been actively taking up the HSMP cause with the British government at various levels.
Vaz said: "When you hear of the families affected, job prospects ruined and of children living in an atmosphere of insecurity you realise that the government must make every effort to secure the future of these people."
"Britain's reputation as a fair, globally-minded country is at stake. If we are to continue to benefit from the work of highly skilled migrants we must be able to prove that we operate on a basis which is clear, transparent and balanced."
The vast majority of the 49,000 HSMP visa holders currently in Britain have been affected by the changes, according to Amit Kapadia, coordinator of the HSMP Forum, a group formed to campaign against the changes.
The changes include a new points-based system for qualifying and continuing stay in Britain under the programme. This has been made applicable even to those HSMP holders who entered the country under different criteria. Most of them do not qualify under the new points-based system and face the prospect of uprooting their personal and professional lives and returning to their countries of origin.
The Indian High Commission said in a statement at the meeting: "Given the genuine human dimension of HSMP status, Indian nationals, who have already entered the UK since 2002, we would urge the British government not to implement the new points based system retrospectively."
Over 20 HSMP visa holders who had been affected by the changes narrated the problems caused. One of them was Debansu Das, an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management.
He told the minister: "I studied where people are selected after undergoing a stiff competition among millions of participants and UK companies make campus recruitments. But due to the unfair points based system for further extension, I and my family are now struggling for our further visa extension."
Andrew Dismore, chairperson of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and MP, also pointed out to Bryne that the changes were against human rights Article 8 and unlawful according to human rights laws. The changes also violated laws relating to racial equality, according to the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE).
The CRE recently wrote to the immigration authorities: "We are concerned that the new measures will result in indirect discrimination against ethnic minorities in the workplace. The majority of people currently in the UK through the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme are from South Asia, Africa and non-EEA countries."
Bryne was also briefed on the recent suicide committed by a Bangladeshi HSMP dependent due to the unfair new rules. Those present at the meeting included MPs and Lords such as Damian Green, Julian Lewis and Lord Ahmed, representatives of the high commissions of Nepal and Nigeria and the Immigration Law Practitioners Association.
After the meeting, Kapadia said: "We are hopeful that the minister would take into consideration the impact the retrospective changes has made on the lives of HSMP holders and their families.
"We will wait to hear on the ministers review of the change. We hope after seeing the impact the change has made, the minister will do a rethink on the retrospective change."