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Immigration: Skilled Migrants from Commonwealth Countries

Volume 811: debated on Monday 19 April 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports that highly skilled migrants from Commonwealth countries who have lived in the United Kingdom for 10 or more years have been refused indefinite leave to remain.

My Lords, we do not believe that highly skilled migrants who came to the UK using the tier 1 general visa route have been incorrectly refused indefinite leave to remain. There have been many cases of applicants appearing to deliberately misrepresent their earnings to qualify for leave to remain. We are giving applicants opportunities to respond to these concerns, and each case is being considered on its merits.

My Lords, my understanding of the Home Office data, supported by the Migrants’ Rights Network, shows that all highly skilled migrants who have been refused indefinite leave to remain are non-white and from six Commonwealth countries in south Asia and Africa. Given that the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that 60% of all online self-assessment tax returns have discrepancies—the main reason for their refusal—can the Minister explain this worrying racial disparity, particularly coming after the Windrush review?

My Lords, I absolutely refute that this has anything to do with the Windrush generation. The noble Lord points out that a large proportion of the refusals were given to non-white people; the countries represented have populations that would normally be non-white—that is the link there. People falsified earnings: quite often, amendments were made to tax returns over three years after the original returns and often less than six months before making the ILR application.

My Lords, will my noble friend also look into the fact that there will be many skilled migrant workers who, because of Covid, will also have lost their current regular income, which may impact on their applications to stay? Following on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, would she look a little deeper into the fact that a number—indeed, all—of those who have been refused are people of colour?

My Lords, as I explained to the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, the fact that these are people of colour probably reflects the countries the applications came from. There were some fairly appalling practices with these applications, as I have outlined—and where ILR had been granted, we saw cases of applicants subsequently amending their tax records back down again not to have to pay additional tax. I totally get my noble friend’s point, but we need to see these cases in perspective.

My Lords, I believe that the noble Baroness’s response is in order. However, circumstances exist that border on the inhumane and run counter to the spirit of the Commonwealth, and indeed elsewhere. If the Government can be considerate to Hong Kongers, would they consider a one-time amnesty to all those thus impacted, through no fault of their own, thereby doing the right thing in the right way?

Absolutely—we have humanitarian routes, which are used. The noble Lord talked about BNOs, and he is absolutely right: the people of Hong Kong are coming here legally—we have granted them leave to remain under the BNO route. Far from being inhumane, this country has a proud record of giving refuge to people who need it.

My Lords, on that point, there has been and continues to be a particular problem of young people and teenagers, who have spent a considerable number of years in this country, sometimes—through no fault of their own but because of the bureaucracy of the system, the decision-making and so on—finding themselves threatened with a return to the country of their parents’ or their birth, despite having spent a number of years in this country, attending school here and experiencing the growing-up process here. Is that really a humane reaction, and is there a better way that the Government could handle these cases?

I totally get the point that the noble Lord is making about some of the humanitarian considerations that we should give to people who grew up in this country, but this is a very different issue. The cases we are talking about this afternoon are of people who falsified their earnings, claiming back tax on them in some instances, as I have said. It is absolutely right that we are not only tolerant and welcoming but that we stamp out fraud where we see it—and these cases were of fraudulently declared earnings.

My Lords, I refer to the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration’s recent statement that highly skilled migrants should not face destitution or have their right to work refused while their case is being decided. In reality, nearly half are still experiencing destitution, and 55% have no right to work. What actions will the Government take to honour this, and will they consider compensation for the approximately 80% of the 1,697 cases of individuals who were later found not to have been dishonest in their tax discrepancies?

Of the nearly 1,700 refusals, 88% had differences of more than £10,000, and the average difference across all cases was £27,600, so they were not small differences. On people facing destitution, of course people will be cared for while their applications are being considered. Of course, particularly during the Covid pandemic over the past year, it has been very important to be able to give people that bit of respite because of the difficulties that they will face, first, coming here and, secondly, going back, if their applications are refused.

My Lords, it is rather a serious step to refuse people indefinite leave to remain who have been in this country for 10 years or more. The Minister referred to the non-criminal historic tax discrepancies, which are the cause of the trouble. Will she tell us how long ago these tax discrepancies occurred, on the basis of which indefinite leave to remain is being denied? Have they been recent cases or ones of some 10 years ago? Can she assure me that the statements that the Government are now making from the Dispatch Box have been checked by Ministers to ensure that they are accurate and that these people really are being denied indefinite leave to remain for good, strong reasons?

My Lords, most applications for settlement were made around 2016. Some of them go back some years. The reason why they were uncovered was because of the sheer volume that HMRC was noticing as a strange pattern of behaviour. It was sufficiently unusual to draw it to the attention of the Home Office. This is not an attempt to deny ILR—this was a deliberate attempt on the applicants’ part to falsify records so that they matched the self-employed earnings previously declared in tier 1 applications.

My Lords, I listened very carefully to what my noble friend has said. Is she absolutely convinced that these applications have been handled not only efficiently but sensitively, bearing in mind that we really owe a great deal to those who have provided wonderful services in our country for many years? We would all be extremely concerned if some fell through an imperfect net.

My Lords, I would share my noble friend’s concern if people were to fall through an imperfect net. We must not conflate them with the Windrush generation, who were genuinely and rightfully here and to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. The people we are talking about have falsified earnings in order to come to this country.

My Lords, I regret that the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. [Interruption. Excuse me—Members should not leave when I am standing up.