British Members of Parliament have warned that plans to deport skilled migrant workers who earn less than £35 000 per year and originate from non-European Union (EU) countries will create a skills shortage in the economy. At least 40 000 migrants, among them Zimbabweans, will be affected by the new regulations which come into effect on April 6. The new earnings threshold will particularly affect those in low skilled jobs. The United Kingdom Office of National Statistics reported the Zimbabwean population in Britain increased from 47 158 in 2001 to an estimated 200 000 in 2010.
The proposals, which were mooted by the UK Home Secretary, Mrs Theresa May, were recently lambasted by MPs at Westminster Hall during a parliamentary debate examining the UK’s immigration policy.
UK media reports say the discussion offered the first official platform for MPs to analyse the policy, which was pushed through the House of Commons in the absence of a parliamentary vote in 2012.
The threshold could lead to thousands of Zimbabwean teachers, charity workers and those employed in the National Health Service (NHS) being deported from the UK if they fail to meet certain financial criteria.
The new immigration policy means non-EU workers who have lived in Britain for five years will be required to prove they earn £35 000 (US$50 000) to avoid deportation. However, workers who fall into the category of Shortage Occupations, will be exempt from the measure.
Although nurses and doctors are currently exempted from the earnings threshold, May said they were likely to be affected in future should the government decide to take them off the Shortage Occupation List.
Scientists and researchers in PhD level jobs will also be exempt from the earnings test. Others that could be widely affected are students. Britain’s Stop35k campaign says it understands the need to curb migration, but argues that a £35 000 minimum salary across all sectors is simply too high.
The group says the new policy will cost the UK government hundreds of millions of pounds at a time of austerity, and will also displace valuable employees. Stop35k has launched a petition against the threshold, calling on the government to delay implementing the policy.
A petition on the website of the UK parliament in support of a rethink has since attracted more than 110 000 signatures. Mr Joshua Harbord, who set up the petition, recently told The Independent that he decided to take action because he knew a number of “incredibly upset and scared” people who were set to be affected by the changes had no one speaking up on their behalf.
The debate was attended by seven Scottish National Party (SNP) MPs, three Tory MPs and two Labour MPs. Ms May did not attend the debate and her decision to send junior minister Mr Richard Harrington in her place sparked anger among critics and the opposition.
Labour MP Mr Keir Starmer expressed concern, saying the threshold could create grave skills shortages in the UK economy. Speaking during the debate, SNP MP Mr Kirsten Oswald branded the threshold “overly simplistic” and “crude.”
From April 6, only those that earn £35 000 and above a year will be eligible to apply for “indefinite leave to remain” once they have lived in the UK for five years.
Other MPs argued it failed to heed varying wage levels across the UK. SNP MP for Edinburgh East Mr Tommy Shepard called the measures “ludicrous” and said they failed to take into account “regional variations” across the UK. He warned the policy would further imbalance Britain’s economy.
The plan by the British government has been met with condemnation from opposition parties and sections of British society who argue the new earnings are “discriminatory” and likely to starve Britain of vital talent in the teaching, charity and entrepreneural sectors.
Mr Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, told The Independent: “Britain must remain open for business — we should be looking to attract the best and brightest not turn them away. Discrimination based on income fails to take talent and new sectors like tech start-ups, whose staff might be paid less than £35 000, are essential in keeping the UK at the forefront of the global economy.”