Mashudu Netsianda Senior Reporter—
ZIMBABWEANS in the United Kingdom earning less than £35,000 per annum after living in that country for more than five years face deportation. The latest development is in line with the new UK immigration regulations that are set to be effected in April. The new earnings threshold of £35,000 is applicable to non-European Union (EU) migrants.
Zimbabweans, particularly those in low skilled jobs, are among those that will be affected when the changes take effect in three month’s time. Those who fail to meet the new standard will be deported. Home Secretary Theresa May said the changes would help cut the number of non-Europeans and their dependants from 60,000 to 20,000.
She said the plan would create a temporary migrant workforce in the UK.
“Overseas workers who have lived in the UK for five years will have to prove they will be paid the new minimum threshold in order to stay in the country. Skilled migrants will only qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), also known as settlement, in the future if they are earning a minimum salary of £35,000,” said May.
The new rules will mean that any skilled worker who has been in the UK for five years will now need to earn at least £35,000 per annum in order to qualify for ILR. Those who fail to demonstrate earnings of more than £35,000 will be deported, according to the new Home Office policy.
However, the UK government temporarily exempted nurses and doctors from the new rules last autumn in response to fears about widespread shortages of workers across the National Health Service (NHS).
May said the medical practitioners’ were likely to be affected in future should the government decide to take them off the Shortage Occupation List. The pay threshold will apply to people wanting to remain permanently after more than five years working in the UK. Immigrants who have already acquired permanent residence status will not be affected by the new regulation.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Zimbabweans in the UK live in most of the major metropolitan areas with an estimated 40,000 in London, followed by Leeds and Luton with 20,000 each.
The UK Office of National Statistics reported that the Zimbabwean population in Britain increased from 47,158 in 2001 to an estimated 200,000 in 2010, clearly showing the rising numbers in migration.
The pay threshold is the first time that a British government has imposed an economic test on the right to settlement in the UK. For decades, settlement has been granted on the basis of length of time living in and ties to the UK, recognising that people who have been living in the country for five years have made it their permanent home.
The plan by the British government has received condemnation from opposition parties and some sections of British society. Critics to the new policy argue that the new earnings were “discriminatory” and likely to starve Britain of vital talent in the teaching, charity and entrepreneural sectors.
Former Cabinet minister Alistair Carmichael, who was Prime Minister David Cameron’s Scottish Secretary before the election, told a British newspaper, The Independent, that discriminating on the basis of income would harm the UK’s place at the “forefront of the global economy.”
Shadow immigration minister Keir Starmer said there were “real concerns” over how key industries would be affected. He urged ministers to “look more closely” at the threshold, which is currently £20,800 — around £5,000 less than the average UK salary.
A petition on the website of the UK parliament in support of a rethink had by last night attracted more than 36,000 signatures. If it attracts 100,000 signatures before end of July, the matter will be debated in parliament. The government is expected to respond to the matter after the petition exceeded 10,000 signatures as is required for that move.
Joshua Harbord, who set up the petition, told The Independent, that he decided to take action because he knew a number of “incredibly upset and scared” people who were set to be affected by the changes but had no one speaking up on their behalf.
“These aren’t the benefits-scrounging, baby-sprouting terrorists that everyone seems so afraid of. They are people who have worked in the UK for years, making friends and families, building homes and communities and contributing to this country’s culture and economy,” he said.