As Ali Lokhandwala, a Loughborough University graduate and Systems Engineer for the carmaker Jaguar Land Rover, and I leave a Central London coffee shop, we are approached by a Romanian woman holding a well-used Styrofoam cup, begging for some change.
Ali immediately reaches into his pockets and hands the woman some coins. She then turns her attention to me and pleads but I have no change on me and I apologize. She moves on to her next target.
It is an extraordinary moment given the two-hour meeting I’ve just held with Lokhandwala and four others – Dr Sid Shinde a regional manager for Public Health England, Waleed Khalid, a senior executive at the Health and Safety Trainings, Manjunath Ramaiah, a software engineer and Avais Kiawos, a physiotherapist with a leading NHS Trust.
For despite being highly skilled migrants who have made immense contributions in some of Britain’s most vital economic sectors over the last several years, the men enjoy precisely none of the privileges enjoyed by the Romanian migrant begging on the streets of King’s Cross, including public services and, now, the right to live and work in the United Kingdom.
The five are among a group of more than 80 professionals – from across South Asia and other parts of the Commonwealth outside the European Union – who have been refused Indefinite Leave to Remain after completing their Tier 1 and Tier 2 visas – despite meeting all of the requirements laid out in numerous speeches – including by both the current Prime Minister and her predecessor – about the need in Britain for the “brightest” and the “best” from around the world.
The men are the latest in a long list of migrant groups from outside the European Union who were systematically targeted by David Cameron’s government as it struggled to stem the tide of migrants from Europe over the past six years.
As Mr Cameron’s pledge to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands” failed spectacularly (net migration has reached record numbers in each of the past three years, fuelled by dramatic flows of migrants from Romania and elsewhere in Eastern Europe), his government – led by the then-Home Office minister Theresa May – has clamped down on migration from outside the EU.
Systems Engineer Ali Lokhandwala.
The softest targets have been students and business and leisure visitors from outside the European Union – in particular from South Asia.
The fates of Lokhandwala and his group of professionals is perhaps the most abhorrent example of this practice – made even more odious by the apparently arbitrary manner they have been treated – a truly shocking case of random implementation of rules and retrospectively applying “technical” breaches of visa conditions.
But perhaps most alarmingly of all is the fact that remedial actions taken by the applicants have been accepted by one governmental department and not another.
Lokhandwala’s case is arguably the most illustrative.
He arrived in Britain in 2008 to pursue a Masters of Science degree at the prestigious Loughborough University. His speciality? Automotive Systems Engineering, which include the systems that will power driverless cars in the future.
After graduating in September 2009 he caught the attention of Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) which took him on as an intern before Lokandhwala was granted a Post Study Work Visa in December 2009.
He then secured a contract with Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) in January 2010, becoming a “contractor” for the company as a Systems Engineer. As he was a contractor, he also set up a limited company to channel his payments – a practice used by contractors across the country.
Based upon his work with JLR and having met the necessary income requirements, in March 2011 Lokhandwala was granted a Tier 1 General Migrant visa – visas given highly skilled workers.
In 2012, Lokhandwala’s wife Needa – a mechanical engineer – joined him in the UK and secured a consultancy job, also as a contractor, at JLR within two weeks of arriving in Britain. The couple worked for JLR through Lokhandwala’s company Altronix Limited.
In March 2013 the couple were both given extensions to their Tier 1 visas. In September 2014, they welcomed a baby boy – Danyal.
In February 2016, on successful completion of five years on the Tier 1 visa in the United Kingdom, the couple applied for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK.
Their application however, was refused on the Home Office’s infamous “Section 322” – which relates to the use of “deception”.
The Lokhandwalas – IT professionals and law-abiding residents of Coventry who have never so much as received a parking ticket – were shocked to receive a letter from the Home Office charging them with being “deceptive”, being “persons of not good character” and most preposterously of all, a “threat to national security”.
“I was utterly flabbergasted”, says Lokhandwala who is impeccable in manner, temperament and is methodical in everything he does, right down to the detailed and carefully prepared dossier outlining his predicament which he has given me.
The reason for the refusal stems from information from a tax database held by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
Public Health England executive Dr Sid Shinde.
Applications received by the Home Office are cross-checked against information held in the HMRC database. The database however, has only been updated until January 2015 – meaning that any amendments or tax declarations made after that date are not taken into account.
This has led to dozens of applications – including those made by the Lokhandwalas – to be rejected on the grounds that their tax payments and “amendments”, (back taxes paid in lieu of shortfalls in previous years) are either inadequate or incomplete.
According to some members of the group, the Home Office has also rejected applications despite correspondence from the HMRC declaring that tax payments are up to date.
Whilst some of the applicants have – lawfully – declared less earnings to reduce their tax liability many others have relied on accountants who – once again lawfully – did the same without their client’s knowledge. Prior to their ILR applications however, all the applicants have ensured that their tax liabilities are up to date.
Physiotherapist Avais Kiawos.
Any previous shortfalls however have been interpreted by some visa officers at the Home Office as implying that the applicant has been “deceitful” or “dishonest”.
“In January 2016, a month before I made by ILR application, I went ahead and filed my Self Assessment tax returns for the years in question when I was on a Tier 1 visa despite HMRC guidelines and advise from my accountant that I did not need to”, Lokhandwala says.
“I had no tax liability and the HMRC confirmed in writing that I did not have any liability. But despite submitting that HMRC document the Home Office still refused my application”, he adds.
Curiously, many Tier 1 visa holders who have applied for their ILR’s in the last 18 months after retrospectively bringing their tax liabilities up to date – much like many in Lokhandwala’s group have done – have been granted their permanent residency in the UK.
Others, with the exact same circumstances have been refused.
Lokhandwala and his group have so far identified approximately 85 Tier 1 visa holders whose ILR applications have been refused based on these tax amendments but he fears that the number could be as high as 5000.
Many of those have now applied for a Judicial Review of the Home Office’s decisions.
Software Engineer Manjunath Ramaiah.
One legal expert told the UKAsian that there is ultimately no legal basis either under HMRC regulations or Home Office regulations to deny the ILR applications and many will be granted leave to remain in Britain by the Review.
But immigration experts say that this practice – of rejection, stalling and going through an appeals process – is a way of overwhelming an applicant in a grim and complex bureaucracy until he or she wilts and is forced to return home.
Lokhandwala’s is a case in point once again: while the appeals process takes its cumbersome and circuitous route through the tribunals system, he is unable to work, has no access to healthcare – with the exception of his son who was born in the UK – and remains in utter limbo.
A professional sought after by one of Britain’s biggest companies remains uncertain of his future. The messages coming from the government are mentally and emotionally draining.
Two weeks after his refusal letter, he received another letter, this time from the DVLA saying that his driving license was going to be cancelled as he no longer had the right to remain in the UK. That despite his immediate appeal against the Home Office decision.
With a few exceptions who have been allowed to continue working owing to a technicality, all of the group whose applications have been refused are not able to work during the appeals process. Many have also come under pressure from their landlords to produce “papers”.
Highly skilled professionals who wanted to build a better future for Britain and for their families, left in limbo by an opportunistic and increasingly muddled system.
The Home Office has refused to comment on any of the cases as the appeals process is on-going while Lokhandwala and his group have approached the Indian High Commission with their grievances.
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