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Last Updated: Friday, 16 June 2006, 18:14 GMT 19:14 UK
Immigrants fight 'unfair' law change
By Clare Babbidge
BBC News

Immigrant workers, including doctors, chefs and architects, have protested outside Parliament against a law change increasing the amount of time before they can apply for settlement in the UK.

Led by a traditional Chinese Dragon and chefs banging pots and pans, the gathering was an unusual sight as it snaked past Big Ben towards Parliament Square in London.

Protesters
Workers travelled from different parts of the country for the demo

It was a law change by the towering institutions behind them that had so upset members of the Chinese community as well as workers from other nations who have built their dreams in the UK.

"Stability and certainty", was the call of one placard while another said "We have the right to plan".

Among the many homemade protest banners and Union Jack flags there was a mixed display of patriotism and disappointment.

The protesters are upset over a policy change introduced in April which extended the qualifying period before they can apply for settlement, or indefinite leave to remain in Britain, from four to five years.

They claim it is "unfair" to existing Work Permit and Highly Skilled Migrant Programme Visa holders, who came to the UK on the understanding they would be able to apply for settlement and begin a more stable life after four years.

'Paying taxes'

Christine Lee is chairman of the North London Chinese Association which co-ordinated the protest with the Voice of Britain's Skilled Immigrants.

Christine Lee, chairman of the North London Chinese Association
Protest organiser Christine Lee says changes had little publicity

"We know the government can change the law, but it is just not fair to change the rules without letting us know and without consulting us."

The protest organisers say there was little publicity about the changes and many workers are still unaware of them.

She said the migrant workers contributed more than 1bn a year to the economy.

"These are bankers, architects, scientists - people who can contribute significantly to this country," she said.

Settlement brings the rewards of security. Without it immigrant workers say they are unable to apply for mortgages, travel freely, and apply for benefits.

Ms Lee said: "For all these people that have been paying their taxes and national insurance, working hard and behaving well, to suddenly find they cannot apply is disastrous."

Wenxue Huang, 38, came from Birmingham for the protest and wore his chef's uniform.

Wenxue Huang
Wenxue Huang wants to start his own business

Mr Huang, who came to the UK in 2001 from Liuzhou, in southern China, says the policy change is unfair.

"I was going to apply for settlement in the next couple of years, but now I will have to wait for a long time," he said.

"I want to run my own business, but it's very hard to do this without the right to live here."

Edmond Yeo, chairman of London's Chinese Information and Advice Centre in London, said the centre had received many inquiries about the policy change.

"The government has been very insensitive to us and under-estimated the feelings of the community, which is not good for building up trust."

He said many people had believed after four years they would be able to "settle down and also plan their children's future", but this had been taken away.

"It has caused a lot of anxiety and uncertainly in the Chinese community," he said.

Workers from a range of non-EU countries attended the demonstration, all with their own disappointment at the law or supporting those who were affected.

'Feeling betrayed'

Dr Padmanabhan Badrinath, a NHS public health consultant, said: "I feel betrayed by this change".

He came from southern India to the UK on a Highly Skilled Migrant Programme in 2002 and believed he would gain settlement this year.

Dr Padmanabhan Badrinath
Dr Padmanabhan Badrinath may have to pay education fees for his son

He explained that he had got a mortgage on this basis and his 19-year-old son had been accepted at university - but the family were now facing education fees of 12,000.

"I left a very good job overseas and thought if I worked hard for four years my family could then make a future here. I feel at home here, but now I feel shaken by the system."

Dr Badrinath added that his son had been very worried about the financial implications for his education and his wife's work was also affected.

Mikhail Spivakov, a 25-year-old research scientist who arrived from Moscow in 2002, said the change might send him to work in the US.

"My contract ends in January and I could have freely applied for research jobs, but now it may not be worth it."

He said visa restrictions during the qualifying period had hampered his travel to overseas conferences and made things too costly.

The Home Office said the changes were announced "as far back as February 2005" in the Five Year Strategy for Asylum and Immigration.

A spokeswoman said: "This brings us in line with the European norm for these purposes and also helps to ensure that settlement is a final stage in an on-going process of building up an attachment to the UK."

She added that transitional arrangements had been in place to ensure those "who applied immediately before the changes could be dealt with under the old rules even if the decision was made after 3 April".


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