Campaigners opposing the government’s changes to the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) have won their High Court battle.
A judge ruled this morning that changes made by immigration minister Liam Byrne in November 2006 were unfair because they meant foreign workers already in the UK under the programme were effectively required to reapply under the tougher rules.
Campaigners have estimated that up to 40,000 foreign workers could be forced out of the country by the changes, with many already sent home.
Opposition MPs, an immigration judge and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have all previously said the changes were unlawful.
The court ruled that migrants and their families had a legitimate expectation to stay in the country on the old rules. The Home Office argued that the system was open to abuse and needed toughening up.
Under the programme introduced in 2002, non-EU workers such as doctors, engineers and financiers were originally given UK entry for a year. They could apply for a two-year extension, then a further three years before applying for settlement.
Amit Kapadia, executive director of campaign group HSMP Forum, welcomed the decision, but attacked the Home Office for its stance throughout the dispute.
“The department was obsessed with defending its decision and was not open to any reasoning. We had no other recourse but to approach the judiciary and we are glad that our trust in the democratic system has finally been restored,” he said.
The Home Office said it might appeal the decision, despite the judge indicating he would not support that. A spokesman told Personnel Today: “We are considering whether to appeal. Until we make a decision it is business as usual.”