London, December 5
Groups representing skilled professionals and students from India on Tuesday expressed concerns over a lack of clarity around the UK government’s latest visa crackdown, branding the ban on family dependents as “unfair”.
UK Home Secretary James Cleverly tabled a five-point plan in Parliament on Monday that would see overseas care workers banned from bringing family members and skilled professionals having to meet a much higher minimum salary threshold of GBP 38,700.
While the Health and Care visa will be exempt from this hiked salary requirement, it remains unclear how the category would operate for Indian medics in future.
“We will be writing to the Home Secretary urgently to seek clarification; we hope that this does not include doctors and nurses because if it does, we can assure the Home Office that the number of doctors and nurses coming to UK from India will be nil,” said Dr Ramesh Mehta, founder of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) – the UK’s largest representative body for nearly 80,000 doctors and 55,000 nurses of Indian origin.
“But even if the changes apply only to care workers, it is extremely unfair if they are not allowed to bring their family. For anyone to provide a satisfactory and good quality care service, they can’t be separated from their own family,” he said.
BAPIO, which works proactively with the National Health Service (NHS) to help address the state-funded system’s “desperate need” for quality doctors and nurses from India, warned that it would be forced to withdraw the voluntary support if the new rules clamp down on family rights.
There is also an element of doubt if the Home Office intends to revoke an exemption for professionals under the Health and Care visa from paying the compulsory Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), which Cleverly confirmed would be increasing from the current GBP 624 to GBP 1,035.
“We’ve just announced the biggest ever cut in net migration. No Prime Minister has done this before in history. But the level of net migration is too high and it has to change. I am determined to do it,” said British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, with reference to the latest set of visa changes which the government claims could cut migrant numbers by 300,000.
Under the Skilled Worker visa route, dominated by Indian professionals over the years, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) cautioned that the hike in the minimum salary threshold from GBP 26,200 to GBP 38,700 could have “unintended consequences” for the UK economy.
“The world is looking at highly skilled Indian professionals, especially in IT, engineering and research. Given the UK’s increased salary threshold for foreign skilled worker visas, such Indian professionals would almost certainly choose other economies and this would discourage Indian companies doing business in the UK, since such companies employ both British and Indian professionals,” said FICCI Secretary General Shailesh Pathak.
“Thus far, Indian professionals have contributed their expertise to address critical skill shortages in the UK. This may not continue in future, which would be unfortunate for the British economy’s innovation and economic growth,” he said.
For international students, another visa category dominated by Indians, there are concerns over a new review by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) of the Graduate route visa allowing graduates to stay on for up to two years after their degree to gain work experience.
The National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK, which had incessantly campaigned for such a post-study visa, called on MAC to engage with the group on this “number one requirement of Indian students” and focus on tackling unscrupulous agents mis-selling the scheme.
“At a time when other countries like Canada and Australia have improved their in-study and post-study working offers for students, and when we in the UK are struggling with inflation, low levels of productivity and huge skills gaps which our international graduates can rapidly fill and help increase economic growth, it is mind boggling that once again we are entering into a massive period of uncertainty on what we are actually offering international students,” said Sanam Arora, founder-chair of NISAU UK.
“Already this year enrolments from India are significantly down following restrictions on being able to bring dependents which in itself is harsh and I know universities in the UK are really struggling as a result,” she said.
The Indian National Students’ Association (INSA) UK said it would be taking up the changes with UK authorities to ensure “fairness” for Indian students.
“In the UK, Indian students are being unfairly targeted because of party politics. While Indian students have a number of options for higher education, UK universities are dependent on foreign students’ funds to stay afloat financially,” said INSA UK President Amit Tiwari.
The Home Office said changes removing the right for international students to bring dependents unless they are on postgraduate research courses and removing the ability for international students to switch onto work routes before their studies are completed will come into force for courses starting in January 2024.
The Sunak-led Conservative government is under pressure to bring down record-high immigration statistics as it heads into a general election year in 2024.
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