immigration minister Damian Green has written to his Labour counterpart Liam Byrne asking the government to suspend changes to the programme made in November 2006. Campaigners have estimated up to 40,000 migrants could be forced out the UK as a result of the changes.
The move comes a week after the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) wrote to the head of the Border and Immigration Agency warning that the changes breached race laws and were discriminatory. The CRE gave the government a deadline of 5 July to address its “substantive concerns”.
In the letter, Green wrote: “[The Conservatives] believe it is unfair that skilled and useful workers who have made a commitment to this country should have the rules of the game changed after they have arrived here.
“Since the CRE has raised a new point about the failures in consultation before these changes were introduced, I would ask that all measures affecting those who were already in the UK when the changes came into force should be suspended while the legality of the changes is tested.”
Amit Kapadia, director of campaign group the HSMP Forum, said: “Political parties, immigration lawyers and other bodies have insisted the retrospective rules are unfair and unjust and should be reversed, but the government is not listening.”
The changes made in November 2006 required skilled migrants to meet more stringent criteria before being allowed to remain in the UK or take up jobs. A judicial review decision examining the changes is still being awaited.
Highly Skilled Migrant Programme timeline
7 November 2006: Government annouces HSMP changes at 24 hours’ notice, introducing more rigorous tests for migrants wanting to work in the UK.
November 2006: Immigration lawyers slam ‘pathetic’ changes, claiming they will cause recruitment difficulties.
February 2007: Doctors launch a campaign against a High Court ruling that backs the changes.
April 2007: First migrant workers receive letters asking them to leave the country or appeal against decision.
May 2007: Doubts raised after immigration tribunal rules migrants had “legitimate expectation” to remain.
Immigration minister Liam Byrne rules out changes to HSMP and makes “no apology” for tightening rules.
June 2007: CRE says changes to HSMP breach race laws and writes to Border and Immigration Agency to express concerns.