THE COMMON SENSE SOLUTION
Monday, January 14, 2008.
By Dr Olayiwola Ajileye and Dr Tonye Sikabofori
The Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) is one of the British government's plans to manage migration from outside the European Union. The scheme has helped to fill skill shortages and has attracted professionals from all over the globe, particularly from Africa and the Indian sub-continents.
However, recent revision to HSMP immigration rule, which took effect over a year ago, has raised a lot of moral and objective concerns as to the plans and intention of the British government for these crops of highly skilled professional, who are now living in the UK.
Since late 2006, in order to extend your leave to remain in the UK after you have been granted 1-2 years (depending on when you initially applied) of living and perhaps, working in the UK under the HSMP, an applicant will require a minimum of 75 point aggregate spread over a number of what is known as point scoring criteria.
You will have to pay £335 to have your documents assessed. The new system gives emphasis to your education, previous earnings over a period of one year, age, experience in the UK and English language proficiency.
Large proportion of these points is allocated to your education and previous earnings where maximum points of 30 and 45 respectively are allocated. Bearing in mind that in order to be eligible for an extension, you need a minimum of 75 points under the new system. One cannot but wonder whether this is a realistically attainable point for majority of HSMP holders applying for an extension of their further leave to remain (LTR).
Journey to a far Country: Analysis and Concerns
These are people who have been made to sign that once they leave their native land, they have chosen to make UK their home and are not encouraged to be out of the country for more than 90 days at a time. After 4-5 years of living and working in the UK, the system promises that they will be entitled to permanent resident status.
In addition, these people have arrived in the UK with no guaranteed job or any official system of support other than their hard earned cash, skills and possibly mother luck to start a new life, with the hope that the traditional British hospitality will allow them to settle in and become productive for the system as they once were in their respective countries of origin.
In order to integrate into the system, some of these people need to retrain, go to school, and invest on learning new appropriate skills that will allow them to be competitive in our labour market.
Narrowing the Goal Post: Revised HSMP Immigration Rule
Looking at the revised HSMP rule, it appears that in addition to all these challenges, the new rule is by far the greatest barrier. I suppose the pertinent question would be how on earth could this constitute a barrier?
The above questions can best be answered by simple illustration of the practical issues tied to this extension of leave to remain and also the experiences of vast majority of HSMP holders who have applied for an extension unsuccessfully based on this revised rule or its controversial retrospective implementation.
If we focus on the Previous Earning Point scoring criteria for example; to earn the full 45 points, the new rule expects an HSMP holder to have earned at least £40,000 in the previous one year.
Bearing in mind that you need a minimum score of 75 points to qualify, then one can only wonder aloud how realistic is it for a migrant with just one year of living experience in the UK as an HSMP holder with no pre-arranged job, to attain an annual income of £40,000?
According to the UK National Statistic data, for the tax year ending April 5, 2006, the median gross annual income for full time employees for both sexes in 2006 was £23,600 and £22,900 in 2005.
The question one would like to ask the government or the proponents of this revised rule is: What is the annual income of a senior science teacher in a British School, a senior nurse working with the NHS or a senior university lecturer?
If British-born professionals with high level of individual skills have to put in minimum of 10-15 years of meritorious service in the UK to attain the £40,000 annual income bracket, then it is not realistic to expect an HSMP holder with roughly one year UK job experience to earn the same amount.
For example, a pharmacist with HSMP status would have to spend the first one and half years upon arrival in the UK, studying at a university to gain registration as a practitioner and the same goes for a medical doctor regardless of your level of experience.
In the meantime, their economic activities would consist of any jobs to make ends meet and pay their ways through their education and retraining programme.
It is therefore not morally right on the part of the government to base an extension of LTR on these criteria, as these are the very people the system should be seeking ways and means of supporting towards settling down and integrating into the British way of life, bearing in mind that they have no recourse to public fund.
The government and the Parliament reserve the right to review the law at anytime. However, in this particular instance of the revised HSMP rule, migrants are made to feel the new rules are set up to fail them.
It also calls to question the intention and genuineness of the government about the HSMP scheme. Are they really welcome or is there a policy shift to force them out without taking responsibility for their woes? is it a case of diminished return on the part of the government having let in so many more than the system can accommodate?
If the latter is the case, then the government should be thinking of terminating the programme altogether, abolish the law in the best interest of prospective applicants and allow those who are already in the country or who have been granted the status but not yet in the country, the time and space to find their feet and achieve their maximum potential.
Our honest view is that Britain should go the way of Australia, USA and Canada's managed migration system by tightening the initial qualifying criteria. These include using realistic and objective standards and allowing people who made it to carry on with their livelihood with no recourse to public fund, without having to be subjected to periodic assessment based on unattainable criteria.
HSMP holders want to work; they are not lazy bunch. The challenge should be thrown open for them without putting difficult barriers, which can cause psychological disorganisation and hopelessness. This is what the Home Office need to know.
Dr Ajileye and Dr Sikabofori are psychiatrists and write from the West Midlands, England. They can both be reached respectively at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
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