London: Peers from Britain’s House of Lords have backed Indian professionals caught up in a visa row over their right to live and work in the UK, terming the government’s treatment of skilled workers from countries outside the European Union (EU) as a “national scandal”.
During a debate on ‘Immigration: Hostile Environment’ in the House of Lords yesterday, Lord Dick Taverne, a Liberal Democrat peer said, “This treatment is a national scandal every bit as outrageous as the treatment of the Windrush immigrants. A monstrous injustice is being perpetrated by our government in our name.”
“If it is not remedied, the Home Office will not only be breaking every canon of a civilised society, but ignoring one of the most basic tenets of the rule of law – the golden rule that someone is assumed innocent until proved guilty,” he said.
Lord Taverne has been leading a parliamentary campaign in favour of professionals affected by the issue of their indefinite leave to remain (ILR) being denied as a result of an immigration clause aimed at terrorists and criminal convicts.
“Their only error is one that half a million British taxpayers make every year. Native taxpayers amend their tax returns without facing any penalty – not even a fine – but the Home Office treats migrants who do as terrorists,” he told the House.
The Lords debate came just a day after a similar debate in the House of Commons, where MPs from across party lines in the UK highlighted the plight of hundreds of teachers, doctors, lawyers and engineers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh being caught up by Paragraph 322(5) of the UK’s immigration rules.
Lord Taverne traced the history of the government’s policy change over the issue. Originally errors in tax returns were dealt with under paragraph 322(1) of the UK Immigration Act, but then the onus was on the UK Home Office to prove dishonesty.
“So in its determination to increase the number of deportations and intensify the hostile climate for immigrants, the Home Office switched to using another rule – sub-paragraph (5),” he said.
Some Indian-origin peers also added their voice of support during the debate, including Conservative party’s Lord Ranbir Singh Suri who urged home secretary Sajid Javid to address the adverse impact of the government’s “hostile environment” policy against migrants.
“A serious rethink needs to happen at the highest levels of government about this policy and its future implications,” he said.
Lord Bhikhu Parekh, from the Labour party, said immigration scandals including that affecting Caribbean migrants from the so-called Windrush generation had “tarnished Britain’s reputation”.
In response, UK government minister in the Home Office Baroness Williams stressed that the Tier 1 (General) visa applications being refused ILR were directly as a result of a “clear pattern of abuse”.
She said: “Where employment circumstances do not add up and applicants claim to have been working in a full-time low-paid manual job while simultaneously earning very high amounts from self-employed work for which the evidence is weak, we must consider Paragraph 322(5).
“…and refuse the application where the evidence shows that the individual has not played by the rules and their character and conduct is such that they should not be granted settlement in the UK.”
The UK government is currently undertaking a review of the cases of permanent residency refused under Paragraph 322(5) of the UK Immigration Act.
The crisis involves professionals from countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh entitled to apply for residency after a minimum of five years lawful residency in the UK.
Legal experts have noted a pattern of many such applications being turned down by Home Office caseworkers citing the discretionary rule aimed at denying convicted criminals and terrorists the right to live in the UK.
While the government maintains the refusal is a result of dishonesty on the part of applicants and claims of higher than actual earnings, the applicants have accused the government of heavy-handedness in not allowing them to explain lawful tax rectifications.