LONDON: The plight of hundreds of highly-skilled Indian professionals caught up in a row over their right to live and work in Britain was taken up by cross-party MPs in a Westminster Hall debate in the UK Parliament this week.
Labour party MP Ruth Cadbury made an impassioned plea on behalf of her Indian constituents in west London who had been denied their indefinite leave to remain (ILR) by the UK Home Office on "spurious" grounds.
"They are all from India and are highly qualified, well paid and well-respected IT professionals.
They came to answer this country's skill shortage "a shortage that has not gone away," Cadbury, MP for Brentford and Isleworth, said during the debate yesterday."Those without the right of appeal cannot work, cannot take up the offer of promotion, cannot rent a flat and may lose their driving licence.
"Even those with pending appeals or judicial review applications who can work are losing jobs because nervous employers have asked them to resign. Many cannot travel to see family and cannot explain to their family why they cannot visit them," she said.
The debate entitled 'Immigration Rules: Paragraph 322(5)' was called by Cottish National Party's (SNP) Alison Thewliss to highlight the problems being faced by foreign teachers, doctors, lawyers and engineers under Paragraph 322(5) of the immigration rules.
The discretionary clause is intended to expel terrorists from the UK, but MPs warned it is being "abused" to deny residency rights to professionals over minor and legal amendments to their tax records.
"None of those whom I have spoken to have any issues which would cause them to be considered a threat to national security," Cadbury said.
"A substantial number of refusals appear to be predicated on nothing more than the individual making an honest mistake " and as far as HMRC [Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs] are concerned, when the correction has been made, the case is closed. Some of the sums involved in these corrections are only a few pounds, and often this was several years ago," she noted.
UK Home Office minister for immigration Caroline Nokes countered the claims made by MPs on behalf of their constituents, mostly Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals.
She informed the debate that the first phase of a review of the issue affecting those who had entered the UK on a Tier 1 (General) visa had looked at 281 uses of Paragraph 322(5) and found it had been used correctly in all cases.
Nokes said the second phase, assessing a further 1,671 cases, was still under review and until then all such cases remain suspended.
"This process is leaving hundreds in further limbo," said Aditi Bhardwaj, coordinator of the Highly Skilled Migrants Group which was lauded by many of the MPs for bringing the issue to light through lobbying and four major protests outside the UK Parliament in the last few months.
The crisis involves professionals from countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh entitled to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) or permanent residency status after a minimum of five years' lawful residency in the UK.
While the Tier 1 (General) visa they used was discontinued in 2011, former applicants were eligible to apply for ILR until April this year if they made up the required number of points on their application.
However, legal experts noted a pattern of many such applications being turned down by Home Office caseworkers citing clause 322(5) of the UK Immigration Act, a discretionary rule aimed at denying convicted criminals and terrorists the right to live in the UK.
The Home Office questioned the "good character" of these professional over apparent differences in their declared earnings to the UK tax department and the Home Office, resulting in hundreds facing potential deportation unless their appeals are accepted.
Nokes told MPs during the debate that an operational assessment of the Tier 1 (General) route in 2010 found that 29 per cent of Tier 1 migrants were in low-skilled jobs and the employment of a further 46 per cent was unclear.
She confirmed that a policy of "rigorous checks" was brought in following the assessment.
"I want to be really clear: we do not have a policy of refusing people for making minor tax errors.We give applicants the opportunity to explain, and we take their explanation and all available evidence into account," she said.
However, the professionals caught up in the row and contesting ILR refusals by the Home Office have claimed they were not given a fair chance to explain honest mistakes.