Like thousands of others, Shwetal Shah and C. Kesavan came to the United Kingdom as students from India. Shwetal did a one-year masters degree in international marketing from Glasgow and in September 2015 got a job as a business consultant despite a tough job environment for foreign graduates. Kesavan specialised as an audiologist from the prestigious University College, London, and in 2011 joined the National Health Service.
Both of these specialised workers will have to leave the country — Kesavan in January 2017, and Shwetal in 2020 — under an immigration rule that will take effect on April 6. Under this rule, skilled workers from non-EU countries who come into the country on Tier-2 visas will face deportation after five years unless they can show minimum annual earnings of £35,000.
Previously, after five years on a Tier-2 work visa, the individual could apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (or ILR) in the U.K. The income threshold used to be £20,800 – around £5,000 less than the average UK salary.
All that will now change.
A possible 40,000 skilled workers — teachers, business and IT professionals, health sector workers and charity workers, a majority of them from India and South Asia — who have been living and working in the UK, paying their taxes and contributing their skills and earnings to the economy will be affected by the new rule.
Foreign nurses are for the moment exempt from this rule as the profession is listed under the shortage occupation list. However, nursing can be taken off the list once the shortage of nurses is met. (According to information obtained by the BBC under the right to information law, today there are 23,443 nursing vacancies in England, Wales & Northern Ireland.)
There has been a major backlash to the rule, with a petition against it to the government quickly gathering over 100,000 signatures, the number needed to ensure a discussion on the issue in the House of Commons. The opposition has coalesced under the Stop35K campaign.
“I love my work and don’t want to leave,” said Shannon Harmon, an American charity worker who is affected by the rule. “Britain will lose skills massively and people will be deterred from working here.”
The Migration Advisory Committee set up by the government has predicted that in the next 10 year this measure will cost the UK £761 million. The order is set to increase the price of healthcare, education and business start-ups.
“It is a stupid rule,” said Ms. Shah, who will have to leave the UK in four years under the rule. “I have established myself and my built my career. I was aware that it would be difficult for me to find a job, but the authorities never publicised the income threshold rule.”
For Mr. Kesavan, the prospect of starting life from scratch is particularly hard. He points out that the £35,000 does not include income from overtime or a second job. “It is not right. I have paid my taxes and not taken any state benefits. My course cost me £17,000 plus living expenses, and after six years in this country, I am being asked to leave.”
The Home Office claims the rule will “break the link between work and staying in the UK permanently” and boost employment for UK workers.
“These reforms will ensure that businesses are able to attract the skilled migrants they need, but we also want them to get far better at recruiting and training UK workers first,” the Home Office said in a statement.
This is an unrealistic expectation, according to Don Flynn, Director of Migrants’ Rights Network. Employers will not replace foreign skilled labour with local skilled labour. Rather, they will employ foreign skilled labour again, “creating a roundabout,” he told The Hindu.