I must admit that I have been quite oblivious of what has been happening with regards to the United Kingdom Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP). Having since settled into my comfort zone after roughing it out back in the day with Germany’s Bundesamt, I hardly keep tabs on immigration and visa issues these days except occasionally when a family member or friend requests for an invitation letter from me to aid their visa application back home, or ask that I assist in drafting visa appeals to the UK Immigration Appellate Authority; something that has so far been working out to my favour and to the favour of the appellants concerned. Such little successes have now made my circle of friends and family to believe that I have a magic wand but I don’t.
Such assumptions have now led to referrals to outsiders meaning additional requests even from people that I do not know for immigration counselling. I have now inadvertently become an ‘immigration lawyer’ although my services have yet to yield any financial rewards for me, except the odd satisfaction I get that I’m helping my fellow country men and women.
But how do I ‘work the magic’? Without trying to ‘spoil market’ for the battalion of Nigerian UK immigration lawyers digging their gold mines all over Peckham and Camberwell, Tottenham and Seven Sisters, and in all other locations with heavy immigrant populations, I really think that success with the United Kingdom immigration appeals process and hopefully in other western countries is based on a simple model, that of reading the grounds for refusal and sufficiently addressing them (point by point) in your appeal. It is ideal also to back your appeal with other supporting documents; this may even be simply re-attaching the same set of documents which the visa/entry clearance officers were in a big hurry to go through at the High Commissions or embassies.
In their roles as gatekeepers, these entry clearance officers never ever considerapplicants’ circumstances, they do not consider applications based on their individual merits and also make prejudiced, untrue and unfair assumptions about applicants leading them to generate almost the same set of ‘grounds for refusal’ documents from a template stored in their computer systems. Take for instance the case of my father-in-law, we had invited him to my sister-in-law’s graduation at the University of Westminster and had forwarded all supporting documents with the invitation. He was denied the visiting visa on the suspicion that he may not be my wife’s and sister-in-law’s father; although he had studied in the UK and had actually given birth to two of his daughters in the UK while he was still living here (the two daughters are UK citizens by birth). It is such scandalous grounds for refusal that give credence to allegations that embassies and High Commissions based in Nigeria feast not only on the sorrows and travel woes of applicants but also get fat on their wallets (visa fees). Some have in the past confirmed that Nigeria remains their biggest visa revenue earner worldwide.
In my father-in-law’s case, how else could he have proven paternity, is it by attaching a DNA certificate or what? I wouldn’t comment further on this as the appeal process is still on.
Usually on appeal, the appellant gets to state his or her case, the immigration judge gets to actually go through the documents submitted and the applicant is given his or her day in court, as against the hurried ‘one minute fly-in-my-ointment’ service visa applicants receive at the embassies and High Commissions.
My experience so far with the UK Immigration Appellate Authority (Immigration Tribunal) as an ‘independent counsel’ (mind you, I’m not a lawyer and you do not necessarily need a lawyer in these cases) is that the tribunal is impartial and almost always gives the appellant the benefit of the doubt. It is usually your word against that of the Home office representative who represents the visa/entry clearance officers, High Commissions and embassies at the tribunal hearing.
I remember this last occasion when I represented a family member at the Immigration Tribunal at Hatton Cross near Heathrow airport. Her visiting visa application was turned down in Lagos on the grounds that she would not leave the UK at the end of her short visit. I sure enjoyed going head to head before the caucasian tribunal judge against the petite Asian representative of the Home Office. Our exchanges degenerated into a brawl, and almost turned into a racial war. I wanted it so and the poor home office representative played into my territory. I cheekily drew her anger when I asked her how she came into the UK and how long she has been living in the UK; this drew her anger and made her to lose her cool.
The judge waded in and saved her from further embarrassment, the strategy was to unsettle her and it worked. In the end she couldn’t prove conclusively that my family member had the intention of overstaying. Lagos had denied the visa purely on speculation hoping that the applicant would not take the matter further. But for the 6 –month waiting and processing time and the day taken off from work, we did not incur any additional costs pursuing the matter and the tribunal judgement went against the High Commission and Home Office. My family member got her visa, visited me and has since gone back to her job in Nigeria.
Presently in the UK, there is growing concern amongst immigrants who had entered through the HSMP programme over the recent changes announced by the Home office; they consider these changes retrogressive and unfair to those who had already successfully relocated to the UK from their respective countries. Such relocations usually come at a heavy price, including giving up one’s job in his or her home country.
The changes announced by the Home office in April 2006 are that the qualifying period for permanent residency would increase from 4 years to 5 years. It followed it up with another announcement in November 2006 that those who are already working under HSMP would now require 75 points instead of 65 in order to extend their stay in the U.K. No points are now given for qualifications such as professional experience, significant achievements and partner’s achievement which were considered by the old scheme.
What this means is that if you are already in the UK working under the HSMP, a review becomes necessary during your visa extension application. Applicants now require 75 points regardless of their current UK employment status at the time of the renewal application. As a result of these new changes, lots of immigrants are now faced with a situation where they may be forced to leave the UK having previously fulfilled the original requirements of the scheme, relocated to the UK and settled with their families.
While the United Kingdom government and the Home office officials can make laws and introduce policies that they deem necessary to manage migration to the UK (it’s their country after all), one has to say that the new retrospective polices are rather retrogressive and makes those immigrants who are already in the UK vulnerable to a life of suffering, assuming they fail to meet the new criteria after having given up their lives in their home countries. Such new policies should have only applied to new HSMP applications.
Take the case of Ben (not his real name) for example, a Nigerian who left his average job in Nigeria, sold his belongings and
relocated to the UK in January 2006 having successfully gotten the HSMP visa. Now he is facing a bleak future due to the new policies. According to him “I have taken up a mortgage here and I am about £15, 000 in debt. I’ve got credit card bills to pay, mounting interests on loans and my car financing. I wasn’t stupid and had actually taken on these liabilities based on my long time prognosis that I already have a secure job, and that my HSMP visa would be renewed when it expires”
Asked what he may do next if the Home office refuses to renew his HSMP visa, he replied that he may have to return to Nigeria in January 2007 with a lot of debt for that matter, and an uncertain future in Nigeria where he had already given up his job, his apartment and his life.
Ben is not alone, there are thousands of other immigrants from around the world who are affected but they are not simply keeping quiet. Some are forming pressure groups and are hoping that the Home office would at least consider their predicament and treat each new HSMP visa renewal application on a case by case basis. Anything other than that they argue would be injustice. One of such pressure groups already set up to represent the interests of immigrants affected by the new policies is the organisation known as Voice of Britain’s Skilled Immigrants.(VBSI). They are asking all those affected by the new policies to contact them for further information. They are also not ruling out a class action suit against the British government and the home office. Additional information are available on the organisation’s website –www.vbsi.org.uk.
For Africans and Nigerians in particular who are affected by the new policies, this may be a wake up call for us all that we are not wanted in the western countries. Maybe it is about time that we all start to rethink. Our continent and country surely needs these skills of ours that the United Kingdom and other western countries no longer want.