British Association for South Asian Studies

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Petition/letter on the new immigration rules

We are writing to express our deep concern about, and opposition to, recently announced government proposals to impose a £3,000 cash bond condition of entry to all visitors to the UK from the following countries: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana.

From our perspective the rules threaten to irreparably damage long-standing research collaboration with these countries for a significant cross section of the UK HE sector. Visitors from these states share the cultures and languages of the UK’s most demographically significant minorities, who have contributed to the economic, cultural and scientific success of the UK. Their presence in the sciences, humanities and arts has added immeasurably to the international research profile of UK HE institutions, and the latter can only prosper in the context of reasonable freedom of movement from these states. The policy would therefore seem to contradict the consistently stated objectives of HEFCE for the promotion of research of ‘international’ quality and reach. In general, the move has added to the sense of unease and exclusion among the most important ethnic minority (BME) communities and residents of these countries, who inevitably see this as a draconian and arguably racist measure from an ex colonial power.

We believe that the proposals also contradict the government’s own stated objectives on international trade and business. India and Nigeria have very rapidly growing economies and the Prime Minister’s visit to the former state in 2011, for example, acknowledged the importance of the region for UK trade. The proposed changes would probably lead to retaliation—a reaction which could be very damaging for those who have forged academic, cultural and business links. Because these states are part of the Commonwealth and have a shared history with the UK, these links are probably as strong and extensive as with virtually any other state, including those of Europe and the white Commonwealth.

The Home Secretary has stated that ‘In the long run, we are interested in a system of bonds that deters overstaying and recovers costs if a foreign national has used our public services.’ Even if immigration is on the increase (which is not at all clear from any of the figures publicly released, or any recent research), there is very little evidence that stable levels of immigration and out-migration have a significant effect on the cost of public services or the public purse. Indeed, as a recent OECD study has shown, immigrants in the wealthy nations of Europe do not have a negative fiscal impact. If anything, overall, their contribution to the public purse is very mildly positive.

Ignoring these more nuanced studies puts us in danger of not being able to adapt to the changing demographic of UK’s ageing population. The working-population is declining in relation to retirees. In the longer term, a growing and healthy economy should be encouraging successful working-age migrants, rather than deterring them. It is also difficult to ascertain why this measure has been proposed now: the total number of immigrants visiting on tourist or any other form of visa has slowed down considerably in the last 18 months, since the introduction of restrictions on student visas and the slow movement of the UK’s economy.

Quite apart from the concrete economic, diplomatic and scientific damage that this measure will make, there is the symbolic and political damage of imposing these restrictions on ‘non-white’ parts of the Commonwealth. Whether or not the government intends it, this will surely be viewed as direct racial discrimination. Canada has recently dropped a similar measure on the grounds that it was discriminatory. We suggest that the UK government follow their example.

To add your name to the petition please contact Professor William Gould at: W.R.Gould@leeds.ac.uk