Please note that this piece reflects my own views and not the views of CityFALCON or any of its other stakeholders.

Let me start with saying that I don’t mince words and I was never taught diplomacy in school. I’m content with my life in the UK. I’m lucky to be able to afford my daily meals, have a roof over my head, feel secure when I roam in the streets and have the world-class NHS to look after me. In fact, we in the UK live a luxurious life compared to the rest of the World.

This could be fairer though. It’s a pity today to see that so many smart non-EU students, who spend a lot of money coming and studying in the UK, have to leave the country after their education. Several of my friends can’t move their jobs because they fear that they might lose their visa. Every time I did a visa application, it felt as if I was considered guilty and I had to prove myself to be innocent.  

2006 was a boom time, and the UK Government had a scheme called HSMP, or Highly Skilled Migrant Permit. One of the categories provided a 3 year temporary residency visa if you completed MBA from one of the top universities in the World. The scheme was absolutely brilliant – it’s difficult to get into these MBA programs, so the country can acquire some of the sharpest minds around. For those who question what an MBA is a worth as a degree, my answer is “it depends”, but you can surely use MBA as a proxy for skilled labour that could move us forward. I sent my passport and MBA graduation certificate to Home Office, and received a 3 year visa within weeks. Easy-peasy!

Most of us could have gone anywhere: the US, Canada, Australia, but I chose the UK. Apart from the HSMP scheme, I have always been in love with the UK. Yes, 150 years rule in India was painful, and I believe the UK should return the Kohinoor to India. But at the same time, I understand that it is history, it was a different generation, and we need to look forward. The love for Cricket and tea WITH milk, the abundance of “curries” (seriously, not every Indian dish should be called a curry), the evening walks on the bank of Thames – no other country even comes close to this. Above all, I fell in love with Oxford the first time I visited the city.

There have been several reports about economic benefits that both EU and non-EU immigrants bring to the UK. However, the politics of immigration seems to override economics of immigration at this point.

With an Indian or another “third world” passport, it hasn’t been easy to travel already, and you have to properly “prepare” before doing that

I had to face several issues before getting the UK citizenship, and the UK passport opened the doors that would have been double locked with just my Indian passport.

  • I’ve had to spend thousands of pounds to get HSMP visa, then renew it, then apply for permanent residency, then citizenship and finally the passport.
  • For all my travels, I have to fill forms, apply to consulates and pay a lot of money to get visas. Moreover, even after having quality education and working for some top international brands, some countries would give me a single-entry visa, and at times, for 3 days max. Yes, 3 whole days! I’ve got a lot of respect for the US, because they perform a thorough check, but once they are satisfied, they give a 5 or 10 year visa.
  • I’ve been stopped from boarding twice because of visa issues which led to big financial losses and more importantly stress and anguish.
  • I’ve been stopped for hours at immigration borders. I usually ask people behind me in the immigration queue to join another queue. There was a time when I used to carry a file with employment agreement, invitation letter, payslips, etc. while traveling.
  • Indians can’t take advantage of those early-bird or last-minute travel discounts, as we need visas for most countries.

The problem of too many skilled and unskilled EU immigrants can’t have a solution of banning non-EU skilled immigrants

Being in the EU gives the UK some benefits – free trade, lower bureaucracy for UK companies, Britons can work freely in the EU and buy houses in the South of Spain (so tempting!). Of course, on the downside, anyone can pack their bags and come to the UK for a better future.  Some amazing talent comes into the country but also people who want to take advantage of the social benefits.  To compensate for that, the UK cuts down on non-EU skilled labour.  How does that make any sense?

This policy means that UK is going to miss out on the skilled scientists, doctors, engineers who unfortunately weren’t born on EU land. We talk about equality, but even today the future for most people is dependent on where they are born or on their nationality.

Non-EU immigrants do NOT get some social security benefits even though they have to pay into the pot

You have to pay the national insurance and our taxes, but you can’t have “recourse to public funds” i.e. if you lose your job or suffer disability, you are not eligible for the same benefits as a EU citizen is. See the full list what non-EU resident people are not eligible for here.

There are different types of immigrants

For most people who aren’t happy with immigrants, their view is that most immigrants come to the UK for social and economic benefits. While there is some truth in that, there are many reasons why someone might try to come to the UK. Let me try and break the different categories down:

    • Refugees or those who need help. You have a house, family, good job, and suddenly you lose it all because of ISIS or any other calamity. I have a lot of respect for what the EU has done for people who have suffered so much at the hands of these terrorists while North America and Asia are keeping their distance.
    • Those who want a better future for themselves and their families. Wouldn’t you do the same for yourself and your family?
    • Boy / girl issue (you may laugh, but it’s amazing how many stories I’ve heard of people moving after a breakup).
    • People who want to exploit the social welfare offered by the EU.
    • Skilled labour who can go anywhere but chose UK over other countries.

UK is not doing anyone a favour by letting skilled labour in

There are obvious benefits of getting smart people into the country, and the current immigration policies hurt not only potential immigrants, but also the entire country. We need them as much as they need us.

  • A smart person with a computer can build a sustainable business today. Think about Mark Zuckerberg single-handedly building Facebook
  • If they come in as students, they bring foreign exchange and support our universities and the industries built around universities. If the students can’t stay back and work in the UK after they earn degrees, most are not going to come to the UK to study in the first place.
  • Shortage of skilled labour, especially in the tech sector, has lead to spiralling salaries and it’s not affordable for smaller companies to build a tech team here.
  • We can’t train the next generation of students who could have picked-up necessary skills from smart people

Visa restrictions are killing entrepreneurship

Even after getting the visa, you have to keep complying with the requirements including minimum salary, time spent outside the country, and restrictions to move employers. This means that a smart person needs to stay in job and is incapable to take risks. Personally, I had to delay  launching my start-up until I got permanent residency, or risk getting thrown out of the country.

“Craziest immigration provision award” from me

Yes, an award! It’s for the “cooling off period” that’s attached to the Tier 2 sponsorship visa. “A foreigner who is in the UK on a TIER 2 visa and who either leaves the UK at the end of their assignment or whose visa expires without the possibility of renewal, must wait at least 12 months to obtain a new TIER 2 visa. Referred to as the “Cooling Off Period,” this 12 month window is calculated from either the date of the foreign national’s last departure from the UK or the expiration date of their visa.”

Why does this need to be in place? What does the government assume people on a TIER 2 visa need to “cool off” from? All this provision does is forcing people who may have a great idea, or who are able to add skilled labour to the work force, to put their life on hold for 12 months. It also may force them to get started elsewhere, and deprive the UK of the fruits those people’s work may bring after they gained experience in the UK.

Suggestions for improvement

1. It’s important for every country to think about getting as many smart, skilled people within its borders as possible. If you want to build a hub of innovation and creativity, a wealth of diversity and different skill sets are a necessity. While it’s important not to stress social services, it’s equally important to look at skilled people coming into the UK, who may need these services initially as an investment. To move a massive economy like the UK forward as quickly as possible, bringing people in to train the next generation and contribute immediately is a must in the modern world.   

2. Obviously, safety and economic security of those already in within the borders of any country should be the paramount concern for the government. But the system for people immigrating to the UK forces them to go through a long series of applications, and reapplications, and waiting periods. All the while these people are faced to consider an application being denied, or failing to meet their specific requirements. With the fear of deportation constantly looming, it can be difficult to get an idea off the ground, take a risk required to build a business or start a new career. If the plight of immigrants in the UK doesn’t move you, think about the effect this can have for the economy. Risks aren’t always rewarded, but forcing a large group of people to constantly play it safe creates a stalemate for innovation and development.

Instead of the current system, do a one-time thorough check on a person, and then let them live their life without the fear of being thrown out of the country. This way a person will be able to realise their potential, and take the same risks – and reap the same rewards – as anyone else in the country.

The UK is an amazing nation with a distinct culture, incredible diversity, and access to resources many other countries could only dream of. While the country is cultivating its own economic ecosystems, a way to accelerate that growth is to allow more people into the country, who can add fuel to the already building fire.

This isn’t to say let all people in, no questions asked. But when it comes to the skilled labour, the UK ought to not only let more of these people in, but also lift some restrictions and let these people thrive. By letting these people thrive, the country will thrive too.