A petition calling for the government to scrap a new £35,000 salary threshold for non-EU migrants remaining in the UK has amassed over 80,000 signatures in little over a week.
From April 2016, non-EU migrants who wish to settle in the UK will have to prove they earn at least £35,000 a year or face deportation after five years. They will also have to pay a health surcharge to access the NHS, and large fees often in excess of £1,000 to extend their visa.
The threshold will mark the first time the British government has ever used a financial test to determine the right to remain in the UK.
The change has been widely critised as an act of discrimination against low earners, prioritising high paid professionals over migrants whose jobs often contribute the most to British society.
In a written statement to Parliament, Home Secretary Theresa May said: “Until now, settlement has been a virtually automatic consequence of five years’ residence in the UK as a skilled worker. Those who have settled have tended to be less well paid and lower-skilled than those who have not.
“So in future, we will exercise control to ensure that only the brightest and best remain permanently.”
Yet the policy will also rule out highly skilled university graduates who have studied in the UK. According to Save The Student, the average graduate salary is just £25,000, well below the threshold.
Veterinary students can expect to earn on average £26,000 a year upon graduation, whilst salaries for those in the publishing and journalism industries begin at between £12,000 and £18,000. Accountancy graduates can expect to earn from £20,000-£25,000. The Graduate Recruitment Bureau cites first salaries for engineers as between £16,000 and £20,000.
The policy is currently planned to go ahead despite criticism from the Government’s own Migration Advisory Committee, whose 2012 report found that only half of allocated visas for the “non-EU route” were filled.
Josh Harbord created the petition after growing frustration that he felt nobody was speaking out against the policy, which he claimed was “unjustified” and treated migrants as “worthless”
“Nobody knew this was happening, because immigrants have no real avenue to defend their own rights in the UK. They’re vulnerable, and unpopular with certain areas of big media, so they’re an easy target. But a lot of them do really important jobs in key industries and the UK desperately needs them” he told The Student.
Harbord spoke of his amazement at the attention his petition had recieved, but stressed that this alone was not enough to incite change and further action must be taken: “The numbers are impressive, and the support is phenomenal, and people have been lovely. But it’s only a good first step.”
Megan Lucero, a volunteer for the #Stop35k campaign, is working on a project to collect personal accounts in order to counter the “dehumanised” status of non-EU migrants.
She told The Student: “All I am doing is trying to humanise the term “non-EU migrant” and let them tell their story; let them share their life and journey with the wider public.”
“Ultimately these stories are about the people that currently give to this society but are being cast out. It is also about the stories that have yet to be told and those that never will.”
“I am a non-EU migrant and I know many others. We are people who have lived here for several years, who love this country dearly and who give back to this society through work, taxes and charity.”
“It will deprive this country of start ups, innovators, future businesswomen and men who aren’t offered the opportunity to start their genius here. It will deprive this country of growth.”
Many international students at The University of Edinburgh have expressed concern that the policy will force them to leave the UK after graduation.
Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA) President Jonny-Ross Tatam lent his support to the campaign, urging students to sign the petition.
He told The Student: “This affects our international friends, colleagues and fellow students. This Government is, yet again, making it harder for talented students and citizens from outside the EU to contribute to the UK. Our society and economy will be harmed as a result.”
Hasanali Pirbhai, a Mauritian postgraduate student studying LLM Commercial Law and Chinese Language at The University of Edinburgh, said the policy was a “ridiculous idea.”
He told The Student: “The average pay in the UK is £26,500. The notion that all migrants should earn almost 10 grand more than the average salary is ridiculous, and isn’t going to engender positive feelings towards migrants in a time where people are facing economic pressure.”
He went on to point out that the threshold would put more pressure on the London job market, creating greater disparity in the distribution of migrants living in the UK.
“London is the only place where one could hope for a starting salary to be in the 35,000 category. A perfect illustration is the global law firm CMS Cameron, which pays its London trainees £40,000 starting salary, yet their Trainees in Scotland receive a £22,500 starting salary.”