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1 February 2021

Home Office fostered disproportionate and racially discriminatory immigration policies for UK’s Highly Skilled Migrants

Investigative report on the UK’s Highly Skilled Commonwealth Migrants of colour finds that ‘inhuman’ Home Office policies are not only costly to local authorities, they are also dismantling Highly Skilled Commonwealth Migrants’ visa route and ability to remain, highlighting that Windrush lessons have not been learnt.  

As part of a cross-government enforcement of ‘hostile environment’ policies, the Home Office has used tax discrepancies to criminalise and deny indefinite leave to remain in the UK to these easily traceable migrants, after they were brought in to boost the UK’s economy under the last Labour Government’s Tier 1 highly skilled visa scheme. All Highly Skilled Migrants are migrants of colour from six South Asian and African countries.

The Balajigari case in 2019 found that the Home Office had been acting unlawfully in how it was denying Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK by not permitting an opportunity to explain the discrepancies. Despite the ruling, the Home Office has not re-assessed its initial decision based on a disproportionate policy that criminalises non-criminal acts for at least 70 people’s cases. These cases have now ‘fallen through the cracks’. 

All those without leave have been in the UK for 10 or more years, and have built a life, family and career here legally. Over 90% hold a postgraduate degree from the UK and nearly a quarter have an MBA or DBA.

MRN has found that four out of five of these Highly Skilled Migrants’ tax discrepancies relate to their first self-employment tax returns from as long as 10 years ago. 

The Home Office’s application of their policy towards Highly Skilled Migrants’ Indefinite Leave to Remain applications and decisions on their right to work and access public funding, has been highly inconsistent. Four out of five have had no ‘minded to refuse’ letter – a Home Office warning providing migrants the opportunity to explain any discrepancies. As Commonwealth citizens, these Highly Skilled Migrants may have the right to vote, but over half have been denied the right to work or have recourse to public funds. This both denies them of any income and severely restricts them and their families from access to public services (including the NHS) and social care. 

These hostile policies have had a devastating impact on these migrants and their families’ health and wellbeing, which has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Nearly half of highly skilled group has been pushed into destitution or homelessness and experienced food insecurity, and now relies on local authority (such as Section 17 child support) and charity support to survive. This is a further strain on local authorities, and the taxpayer, in a time of national crisis. 

The Home Office’s policies have also denied these migrants the ability to see family or attend funerals overseas for many years, and removes their children’s eligibility for British citizenship, even if they were born in the UK. The Highly Skilled Migrants’ case is another example of the impact of discriminatory ‘hostile environment policies’ experienced by migrants of colour. It also sets a concerning precedent for the use of ‘good character’ references against EU, Windrush, TOEIC and other migrants.

Despite the environment of hostility these policies have created, the Highly Skilled Migrants remain resolute and determined to fight for their rights to remain in the UK. But without the right to work or access public funds, they are in a state of paralysis – unable to afford to pursue their cases and unable to leave even if they wanted to. 

Migrants’ Rights Network and the Highly Skilled UK community are calling for a re-assessment of the decisions in the remaining cases and an end to the use of ‘good character’ references under rule 322(5) for non-criminal acts. They call for all highly skilled migrants with pending Indefinite Leave to Remain applications to be granted the rights to work in the UK and visit family overseas and for compensation to be given to migrants adversely affected by Home Office decisions. They also call on the government to clarify how the decisions regarding tax discrepancies made against the highly skilled group will be held against them going forward, including in settlement or naturalization applications. MRN and the Highly Skilled UK community hope that this rectification will also protect other migrant groups (e.g. EU, Windrush or TOEIC student migrants) from ‘good character’ judgments for non-criminal discrepancies they may face.

MRN will publish its investigative report and hold a briefing, in conjunction with the UK Parliament APPG on Immigration Law and Policy, Garden Court Chambers and the Highly Skilled UK group on Wednesday 27 January 1:30 – 3pm (GMT).

Speakers include Lord Simon Woolley (Crossbench Peer and founder of Operation Black Vote), Rt Hon. Stephen Timms MP (Chair of the APPG), Sonali Naik QC (Garden Court Chambers) and members of the UK highly skilled migrant group.  


Katharine Thane, Senior Advocacy Officer, Migrants’ Rights Network (MRN) & report author, said: 

“The criminalisation of these highly skilled Commonwealth migrants of colour is endemic of the government’s enforcement of hostile environment policies. The policies have made it impossible to build a life in the UK – and local authorities are picking up the bill to now support these families to survive. Leaving this group in legal limbo for non-criminal acts shows that we have not yet learnt the lessons from Windrush. 

The Home Office policies on ‘good character’ that greatly affect the highly skilled and other migrants, continue to be implemented at the cost of human rights and dignity. Urgent reconsideration of these policies is needed. For the UK to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic as a strong, cohesive and tolerant nation on the post-Brexit world stage, we must ensure the dignity and agency of all who have chosen to build a life in the UK with no harm or damage to the public interest.” 


Salman Faruqui, Highly Skilled UK founder & secretariat, said: 

“The Home’s Office’s callous approach to the UK’s highly skilled is a terrible injustice in one of the most civilized and wealthiest countries in the world. The highly skilled have been forced into poverty and to live like prisoners. Some are not able to meet their children’s needs or buy basic things such as milk, nappies and school supplies. Some have children with special needs or are adults with life-threatening illnesses that have been exacerbated by Home Office decisions. While battling Home Office bureaucracy, many have also not seen their family for years, missing funerals and weddings of loved ones. 

We are counting the days until Home Office’s hostile environment, which has engulfed our group members, will end. This is not a way to treat any human being, let alone those who were once deemed the “brightest and the best” and have done their best to contribute to betterment of the UK.”




  • The MRN paper: Highly Skilled Migrants: Indefinite Leave to Remain Refusals & Covid-19 Realities, by Katharine Thane (MRN) and the Highly Skilled UK group can be found here