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The 400-strong mix of professionals, ranging from IT consultants to mental health nurses, mainly Indians and Pakistanis, were protesting against long delays in decisions on their applications for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK as well having their applications turned down under Section 322 (5) of the UK immigration rules which branded them as “threats to national security” because of mistakes on their tax returns.
Twenty-three thousand people have signed a petition, organised by the protesters, addressed to UK home secretary Sajid Javid, UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn, calling for an end to the “hostile environment” for immigrants. London NGO Migrants’ Rights Network plans to intervene in the high court case as a third party to demonstrate the level of public interest and that there are many other similar cases, protest organiser Aditi Bhardwaj, 32, from Delhi, said.
In the pouring rain, some with babies in rainproof-covered pushchairs, they said they did not want to return to their home countries as they had stayed in the UK such a long time they were more familiar with the way of life and jobs market here. They also said the grounds for refusal was “defamation of character” and would prevent them getting a visa to travel to any country in the future.
Carrying a placard saying “Tax correction is not a crime”, a man chanted “This is….” and the crowd replied “Windrush II”, followed by “What do we want?” “Justice.”
“I think it’s the same as the Windrush scandal”, said Hari Babu, 31, from Kochi, Kerala.
Babu lost his job as a global recruitment manager at menswear fashion brand Thomas Pink after his ILR was refused last year on the grounds that he had not declared the correct amount of income on a previous tax return when he had run his own recruitment consultancy. “They said I had underdeclared my income to avoid paying tax,” he said. And for that, he was refused under the clause Section 322 (5), which is normally used for criminals and terrorists. “I feel like this country has failed me. I was a higher rate taxpayer, I took zero benefits. I have never even been to hospital. They are exploiting a loophole to meet deportation targets. Windrush is just the tip of the iceberg. There are huge issues going on with the home office,” he said.
None of the protesters TOI spoke to had faith that the newly appointed home secretary, Pakistani-origin Sajid Javid, would change things.
“I hope that Sajid understands our pain as he was also an immigrant, but then he is part of Theresa May’s government so I don’t have that much hope,” Babu said.
“It is similar to Windrush as we have also been here a long time and are doing everything right. Just because of one small technical error on our tax returns the home office cannot say we are a threat to national security. None of us are threats,” said Ashish Balajigari, 31, from Hyderabad.
He is the first highly skilled migrant to have been refused under Section 322 (5) to have his case heard in the high court. It will be heard in June alongside that of a Pakistani man.
Since 2011 he has been working on a tier 1 visa as an airside unit manager at Heathrow airport and running a catering business but he lost his job after his ILR was rejected. “If the HC find in my favour then it will set a new precedent for all future and pending ILR applications,” he said. The group of highly skilled migrants has raised £40,000 towards his legal fees.
“I have got used to my daily life here, plus I have not worked for two years. No one is going to give me a job back in India,” he added.
On the way to the protest, Bangaladeshi Kawsar Murad’s phone did not stop ringing with agencies offering her mental health care work. But she cannot accept as she too is not allowed to work. Last year, after a 15-month wait, her application for an ILR was refused. Her passport remains at the home office. The 36-year-old arrived from Dhaka in 2003 on a student visa and switched to tier 1 in 2011.
“I am using my savings to pay rent and for barristers,” said Murad, who got married in the UK in January but it ended up being a “minimalist” wedding which even her own mother could not attend as she could not provide the invitation letter.
“When Britain plays Pakistan, I support Britain,” said Pakistani businessman Ihsan Uddin, 39, from Islamabad, who has also had his ILR refused. His 11-year-old son has cerebral palsy. “He will get discriminated against in Pakistan.” Without his passport, he too cannot work. “People from Pakistan are sending me money to live off whilst I fight my case,” he said.
A home office spokesman said the tier 1 (general) category had been closed in 2011 as it was “heavily abused”. He said a “significant number of tier 1 applicants have reported different figures to the HMRC and the home office in order to alter their tax liabilities or meet the requirements of the immigration rules (or both). Where there has been clear evidence that applicants have deliberately given false information, the courts have upheld our refusal decisions”.