Highly skilled people in the UK who were forced to abandon their careers due to a legally flawed government decision are living in destitution and at risk of deportation as they continue to wait for justice years on, a new report warns.
Hundreds of NHS workers, accountants and other skilled individuals who have lived in the UK for up to 17 years were threatened with removal and forced to leave their jobs for making legal amendments to their tax records, after the Home Office applied a section of immigration law designed to remove people who pose a threat to national security.
A damning Court of Appeal judgment in April 2019 ruled that the department’s decision to refuse leave-to-remain applications from these individuals was legally flawed, and that the applicants had not been given a fair opportunity to dispute the charge.
But the report finds that despite the ruling, nearly two years on, dozens of cases have “fallen through the cracks”, with many still given no opportunity to appeal the accusations – leaving them unable to work or access public services, leaving them and their families in severe hardship.
The research, published by Migrants’ Rights Network and based on two surveys with 67 and 63 respondents and interviews with individuals affected by the policy, found that the Home Office had not re-assessed its initial decision to strip at least 70 of the individuals affected of their rights.
The charity said the findings showed the Home Office had not yet learnt the lessons from the Windrush scandal and demonstrated how the “criminalisation” of highly skilled Commonwealth migrants of colour was “endemic” in its enforcement of hostile environment policies.
A survey of 67 highly skilled migrants who were refused and still do not have leave to remain found that 45 per cent said they were destitute, homeless or unable to pay rent and one-third (34 per cent) were experiencing food insecurity.
One man, who asked not to be named and has lived in the UK for 15 years, said his family had been forced to sell what little valuables they had left and were in a “cycle of debt”, only managing to stay afloat due to the generosity of friends and local food banks.
Despite these difficulties, he said he and his wife were proud members of the NHS volunteer responder team and had been continuously volunteering for the NHS and care sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Another affected migrant, Shahriar, said the stress-related health issues he and his family had developed from Home Office decisions meant they were no longer a “normal family”.
He said that, like many migrants in his position, he was paying for 30-month leave to remain visas for his wife and two children so they could remain in Britain – but that the cost of doing so had left the family with “nothing but crumbs”.
Another, Hasmukh Panchal, said he “wished that the Home Office execute him instead of carrying on with its delays and mental harassment techniques”, while Amarnath Pendyala said he had “not smiled heartfully" since he was refused indefinite leave to remain four and a half years ago.
Three-quarters (76 per cent) of highly skilled migrants with no leave to remain surveyed have children in the UK, and at least three quarters of those children are aged 10 or under; half are aged six or under. These children are not eligible for citizenship, even if they were born in the UK.
The majority (94 per cent) of highly skilled migrants surveyed are in debt due to legal fees and the cost of living while pursuing their cases to prove their innocence, with some struggling with more than £60,000 of arrears, according to the research.
The report calls on the Home Office to “immediately review and repeal” its decisions to refuse indefinite leave to remain where no criminality has taken place, saying the use of rule 322(5) – usually applied to criminals, terrorists and those deemed a national security threat – was a “wholly disproportionate tool” to use to meet immigration objectives.
“The Home Office’s inhuman policies towards these highly skilled Commonwealth migrants of colour, who were brought in to help boost the UK economy, have not achieved the policy objectives sought: to reduce net numbers of migrants in the UK,” the report states.
“Pushed into destitution, homelessness and with serious stress-related illnesses, local authorities and the taxpayer are picking up the bill while nearly all stay in the UK resolute to fight their cases. With serious debt restricting them from pursuing their cases in the UK or leaving the country, even if they wanted to, they remain in a state of paralysis.”
Katharine Thane, senior advocacy officer at Migrants’ Rights Network and author of the report, said leaving this group in “legal limbo” for non-criminal acts showed that the UK had “not yet learnt the lessons from Windrush” and called for “urgent reconsideration” of these policies.
“The policies have made it impossible to build a life in the UK – and local authorities are picking up the bill to now support these families to survive,” she added.
Salman Faruqui, founder of the campaign group Highly Skilled UK, said the Home’s Office’s “callous” approach to the cohort was “a terrible injustice in one of the most civilized and wealthiest countries in the world”.
He added: “The highly skilled have been forced into poverty and to live like prisoners. Some are not able to meet their children’s needs or buy basic things such as milk, nappies and school supplies.
“This is not a way to treat any human being, let alone those who were once deemed the ‘brightest and the best’ and have done their best to contribute to betterment of the UK.”
Borders minister Minister Kevin Foster said in a statement: “To equate these cases to Windrush is wrong and inflammatory. In 2019 the court ruled our use of these immigration rules was appropriate and we were justified to expect a full and convincing explanation about glaring discrepancies between their visa applications and their tax records.
“Our review found 88 per cent of those refused under 322(5) claimed in their visa applications their earnings were more than £10,000 a year higher than was shown by their tax records – these are not small mistakes in tax records.
“The majority of the cases have either been concluded or are being actively reconsidered – the courts timescales are beyond our control, but we are working to resolve these outstanding cases fairly and as quickly as possible. Those awaiting the outcome of their application are not destitute, they have been granted permission to study or work while their cases are reconsidered.”