London: Allaying concerns of Indians over the new visa rules change, the UK government Wednesday said a new 35,000 pounds salary threshold requirement for Tier 2 work visas which has come into effect will not impact a "vast majority" of Indian professionals.
Thousands of Indians and other nationals from outside the European Union (EU) living and working in Britain on a Tier 2 visa may have to leave or be deported if they earn less than 35,000 pounds a year once the terms of the visa expire.
"This rules change will not impact the vast majority of Indian professionals who work or are looking to work in the UK as last year 89 percent of all work visas issued to Indian nationals were for routes which are not impacted by the 35k pounds (35,000 pounds) income threshold," UK immigration minister James Brokenshire said.
"The UK government's reforms to Tier 2 work visas are intended to ensure that businesses are able to attract the skilled people they need, but also see that they get far better at recruiting and training UK workers first," he said.
Under the changes to the Tier 2 norms effective from today, non-EU workers will need to earn at least 35,000 pounds to remain in the UK for longer than six years unless they are working in a PhD-level occupation or a job which is on the UK's Shortage Occupation List, including nurses.
The new rules mean professionals who wish to apply for "Indefinite Leave to Remain" (ILR) or settlement in the UK at the end of a five-year period of living and working in the UK must now prove they earn over 35,000 pounds per annum.
The threshold was raised from the salary requirement of around 21,000 pounds per annum on advice from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).
According to the UK's Office of National Statistics (ONS), of the 55,589 Tier 2 sponsored visa applications cleared in 2014-2015, nearly 78 percent were for Indians (31,058).
However, UK officials indicate that a majority of Indian nationals coming to the UK to work do so via the Tier 2 Intra Company Transfer (ICT) route, which does not lead to ILR any way and therefore remains unaffected by the changes enforced from today.
The UK government has also highlighted that employers have been aware of these changes since 2011 when they were announced and affect those who entered on Tier 2 from April 2011.
These non-EU professionals can extend their stay for a sixth year, until April 2017, which means it is unlikely there will be any deportations as a result of the changes this year.
Concerned over the move, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had raised the issue with British counterpart David Cameron during a meeting on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in the US last week, saying skilled IT professionals from India should not find it difficult to come to work in the UK.
The exact figure of non-EU nationals affected by the changes remains uncertain as some who do not meet the minimum salary threshold may be able to apply under an alternate visa category.
Professions?such as teaching, IT and marketing professionals are likely to be the hardest hit.
More than 110,000 people had signed a petition against the changes, which have been branded as "discriminatory" by the 'Stop35K' campaign group.
The group marked the visa changes with a "De Party for Skilled Workers" event today opposite Downing Street as a protest-cum-celebration.
"This is a campaign aiming for a reconsideration of this rule, encouraging research into industry-specific thresholds," said a Stop 35K statement.