London: Over 30,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the UK government to stop "abusing" a national security clause to deny hundreds of highly-skilled Indian professionals the right to live and work in the country.
Britain's newly-appointed Pakistani-origin Home Secretary Sajid Javid told a parliamentary committee this week that he would "urgently" look into some of the cases of extreme hardship while an ongoing UK Home Office review into the cases is completed.
The applications involve doctors, lawyers, engineers and entrepreneurs from countries outside the European Union (EU) on a Tier 1 (General) visa who are being denied residency rights over reportedly minor, legally acceptable corrections in their tax returns.
"It is an important issue because if people are being turned down for their Tier 1 applications for the wrong reasons or for information not being looked at properly, it needs to be looked at properly... If it is a case of a genuine error, then it should be taken into account," Mr Javid told the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) on Tuesday.
The minister, who revealed that at least 300 such cases were currently undergoing a judicial review appeals process and being looked at by a UK judge, was warned by cross-party members of HASC that the Home Office may be on the path to another Windrush scandal over this issue.
The scandal involved around 63 migrants from the Caribbean being wrongfully deported from the UK and had resulted in the resignation of Mr Javid's predecessor Amber Rudd last month for allegedly misleading Parliament over the scale of the problem.
"This smacks of the Windrush scandal, which was also seen as individual cases and dismissed as such. It paints a pattern of the Home Office not picking up what's coming down the track," Labour party MP and HASC member Naz Shah told Mr Javid.
The latest crisis involves professionals from countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh entitled to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) or permanent residency status after a minimum of five years' lawful residency in the UK.
While the Tier 1 (General) visa they used was discontinued in 2011, former applicants were eligible to apply for ILR until April this year if they made up the required number of points on their application.
However, legal experts noted a pattern of many such applications being turned down by Home Office caseworkers citing clause 322(5) of the UK Immigration Act, a discretionary rule aimed at denying convicted criminals and terrorists the right to live in the UK.
The Home Office questioned the "good character" of these professionals over apparent differences in their declared earnings to the UK tax department and the Home Office, resulting in as many as 1,000 facing potential deportation unless their appeals are accepted.
UK immigration minister Caroline Nokes had launched a review into the cases to distinguish between those involving "genuine fraud" and others that may have fallen victim to "overzealous" caseworkers.
"A review into the specific HMRC [Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs] related Tier 1 issue raised by the Chair was commissioned immediately following the Minister's appearance at HASC and is ongoing," a UK Home Office spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, an online petition started by the Highly Skilled Migrants group last week on the 38 Degrees campaign website to highlight the Home Office's alleged "abuse" of clause 322(5) attracted 30,800 signatures within days.
"Nisha Mohite, a pharmaceutical specialist working to develop anti-cancer drugs has lost her job, her home and her savings after the Home Office used an anti-terrorism clause to try and deport her because of an error her accountant made," the petition notes in reference to an Indian professional who has challenged the UK Home Office decision.
"Together we are demanding the Home Office uses the clause for what it was designed to do, protect us from terrorists, not deport our doctors, teachers, scientists and lawyers," it adds.