LONDON: An estimated 30,000 Indians and 19,000 other non-Europeans successfully overturned the British government's hardline new rules for highly-skilled migrant workers on Tuesday with the High Court decisively ruling the immigration changes "unlawful" and a rank "abuse of (administrative) power".
Tuesday's legal triumph for the Highly-Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP), the non-profit campaign organisation that was the lead appellant in the 14-month case, puts Britain's progressively-tighter immigration policies under the microscope.
It comes almost exactly six months after thousands of Indian doctors won their High Court challenge to the British government to force it to treat them on a par with European medics.
The High Court judgement dismissed the government's argument that it was in the "public interest...the national interest" retrospectively to apply changes to HSMP visas.
The ruling, by Judge Sir George Newman, means that Britain will be forced to grant entry, residence and/or settlement to non-European Union nationals who entered the UK under the 2002 HSMP rules.
But a defiant government said it wants to appeal.
Newman said, in his landmark judgement, "In the circumstances, I am satisfied that the terms of the original scheme should be honoured and that there is no good reason why those already on the scheme shall not enjoy the benefits of it as originally offered to them. Good administration and straightforward dealing with the public require it. Not to restrain the impact of the changes would, in my judgment, give rise to conspicuous unfairness and an abuse of power."
Flushed with victory, an ebullient Amit Kapadia, the HSMP Forum's executive director, told TOI, "We are relieved and happy and very glad that British justice is available as a last resort when there is a clear abuse of power by the government. This is a lesson for this government and those in the future".
The judge ruled that it was only fair the UK apply the original HSMP rules to thousands of non-European nationals who migrated to the UK in the "legitimate expectation" they were entitled to a year-long stay, a two-year visa extension, then a further three years before applying for settlement.
He ruled it unlawful to apply the 2006 points-based immigration rules to existing HSMP visa-holders as criteria for remaining in the UK.
But the judge ruled that "the old scheme constituted an integrated and entire programme and that it was not open to the government to alter the terms and conditions upon which the pre-arranged stages were to be implemented."
The High Court ruling means that hundreds of Indian HSMP visa-holders who were forced to go back to India can now legitimately ask to return to the UK. It will also finally mean the freedom from fear – of deportation – for 100,000 Indians here, which is thought to signify the total number of HSMP visa-holders and their families.
Indian HSMP visa-holders said they felt "vindicated" in their claim, first revealed by TOI, that they had been suddenly disenfranchised by Britain's allegedly "racist, Idi Amin-style immigration policies".
The HSMP Forum, which brought its legal challenge against the government with the thousands of pounds it collected from its often-impecunious members, said it was a comeuppance for "the immigration department (which) was obsessed with defending their decision and were not open to any reasoning. We had no other recourse but to approach the judiciary".