How the Home Office used terror-related law on highly skilled migrants

From The Guardian

“They are teachers, doctors, scientists and engineers. Most have British-born children. Many have lived legally in the UK for a decade or more, but all are now on the verge of destitution, forbidden from working, using the NHS, renting property or receiving benefits.

Their offence? To have made legal amendments to their tax returns. For that, the Home Office has fought – often for years – to force them to leave the UK under a law designed, in part, to tackle terrorism and people judged to be a threat to national security.

The court of appeal has now found that the Home Office’s use of paragraph 322(5) of the immigration rules to try to force 1,697 highly skilled people out of the UK in just over three years has been “legally flawed” and must change.

The paragraph was not written to catch tax discrepancies; it was designed to tackle the UK’s most serious offenders. It says a person is deemed to be “undesirable … in the light of his conduct (including convictions …), character or associations or the fact that he represents a threat to national security”.

The government’s guidance on 322(5) makes clear how serious an offence needs to be for the discretionary power to be invoked: “The main types of cases you need to consider for refusal under paragraph 322(5) … are those that involve criminality, a threat to national security, war crimes or travel bans.”

The threshold is high because the consequences are severe: people refused under 322(5) and denied the right to appeal against the decision have just 14 days to leave the UK. They are ineligible for any other UK visa and are not allowed to return to the UK for 10 years.

Some are allowed to stay and appeal against the refusal. But this will cost tens of thousands of pounds and take years – often costing them their jobs, homes, savings and, in some cases, their health and that of their children. This is because, once a visa application is refused under paragraph 322(5), people are not allowed to work, rent property or access the NHS. They are not entitled to asylum support or mainstream benefits, nor are they allowed to open a bank account or hold a driving licence.

In a short space of time, people – most of whom have been paying high rates of tax, running British companies, employing British workers and contributing to society – become destitute. In some cases, they have sold everything they owned to pay for life-saving healthcare for their British-born children. More than one told the Guardian: “It’s like they’re trying to starve us out.”

These families feel they have no choice but to stay and fight because leaving the UK under paragraph 322(5) means they are highly unlikely to get a visa to visit or work anywhere in the world ever again.Related: ‘I feel like I’m drowning’: healthcare inspector faces deportation by Home Office

The stories the Guardian reported on included a wide range of professionals: a specialist computer programmer; a pharmaceutical specialist who came to the UK to help develop anti-cancer and anti-psychotic drugs, and an engineer who trained others for the Ministry of Justice. They included families who were struggling to deal with serious illness: the two British-born children with lifelong, complex physical and mental disabilities; a seriously ill Nigerian woman who had to beg for the right to work so she could afford the medication she needed to stay alive while appealing against 322(5); and a widower, forbidden from working, who was the sole carer of his four-year-old involved in a case that even the Home Office’s lawyers advised it to drop.”

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