Dropouts Gates, Jobs, Dell Unworthy To Get UK Visas

Dropouts Gates, Jobs, Dell Unworthy to Get U.K. Visa

By Robert Hutton
July 16 (Bloomberg)

Gordon Brown says he wants the brightest people in the world to come live in Britain. Unless they are Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Michael Dell, all of whom would be excluded under the government's new immigration rules.

The founders of Microsoft Corp., Apple Inc. and Dell Inc. are ineligible for the top tier of the U.K. visa system, the one aimed at attracting highly skilled people, because they lack college degrees. The rules, which didn't require Parliament's approval, are under attack by lawyers and lawmakers who say the country risks excluding the kinds of people it needs.

“It's a dumbing-down,'' said Sophie Barrett-Brown, head of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association. “If you're a 20- something American with a bachelor's degree and you earn 26,000 pounds ($52,000) a year, you're a high-skilled migrant. You can come in, but Bill Gates can't.''

The prime minister is trying to reduce the inflow of immigrants after the arrival of more than 500,000 a year for the past five years. The record numbers since the Labour government took office 11 years ago have put a strain on schools, police and hospitals.

A report from Parliament's Communities and Local Government committee published today says rapid arrivals of migrants in some areas have increased pressure on housing and public services such as schools. It concludes public concerns “cannot simply be dismissed as racist or xenophobic.''

Labyrinthine Rules

This year and next, the government is replacing a labyrinth of 80 separate categories under which immigrants could apply for a visa with a five-tier, points-based system. It gives credit for education and previous wages, though not for accomplishment in life or potential. It is the biggest change to the immigration system since the 1960s.

“Everyone wants degrees, but many entrepreneurs don't have degrees,'' said Keith Vaz, a Labour lawmaker who heads Parliament's Home Affairs Committee, which oversees domestic policy. He pointed out that U.K. entrepreneur Richard Branson quit school at age 16 to start a magazine and now is worth 3.1 billion pounds, controlling London-based Virgin Group Ltd.'s aircraft, phones, Internet and train network.

Tier 1, which opened in February, is aimed at doctors, academics, computer experts and bankers. Later this year, Tier 2 and Tier 5 will begin, covering employees with job offers and temporary workers. Tier 4 for students begins in 2009, and Tier 3, for low skilled workers, after that.

Brown's View

Brown, 57, says he has reason to clamp down. The number of immigrant work permits has risen since Labour took office, to 145,100 in 2006 from 58,200 in 1996. Unions say foreigners are replacing British workers in the job market, and families are feeling more competition for places in schools.

“Unskilled workers coming from countries outside the European Union who are not needed by our economy will not be welcome,'' Brown told a panel of lawmakers on July 3. “The points system deals with exactly the problem.''

Britain's immigrants already are among the most educated entering industrial nations. In 2007, more than 38 percent had university degrees, compared with 27 percent in France, 26 percent in the U.S. and 17 percent in Germany, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

`Highly Skilled' Visas

Under the new rules, applicants for Tier 1 “highly skilled'' visas must have a college degree, no matter what else they've done. They also must show past earnings and speak and write English to the standard of a C-grade at the GCSE exams that British 16-year-olds take. More than a third of pupils in the U.K. failed to reach that standard in 2007.

Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard in his junior year to build Microsoft, now based in Redmond, Washington. Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College, in Portland, Oregon, after one semester, and founded Apple, in Cupertino, California, at the age of 21. Michael Dell dropped out of the University of Texas in Austin to found the computer manufacturer that bears his name in neighboring Round Rock.

A Home Office spokesman, asked about the case of college dropouts, pointed to the country's investor and entrepreneur visas. People coming in as entrepreneurs must put at least 200,000 pounds into a British business and aren't allowed to take another job. Those arriving as investors must maintain at least 1 million pounds in U.K. stocks and bonds.

Government Response

“We are controlling the number of migrants coming to the U.K.,'' the Border Agency said in an e-mailed statement. “Under the points system, only those with the skills that Britain needs can come to work or study. Tier 1 of the points system will enable us to attract the most talented migrants who have the most to contribute to the economy.''

The Confederation of British Industry has raised concerns about other parts of the new system, especially Tier 2 for migrants with job offers. Those measures require employers to monitor migrant staff, reporting unexplained absences from work and even a change in their mobile phone numbers.

“It's very nit-picky,'' said Neil Carberry, CBI's head of pensions and employment, arguing that the restrictions are aimed at a nonexistent problem. “Tier 1 and 2 isn't where people abscond.''

Vaz's committee, drawing members from each of the three main political parties, this month began an investigation into complaints that the new system will hurt businesses.

“It was introduced without proper consultation of the very communities that were going to be affected,'' Vaz said. “They're just worried about numbers. The problem is with illegal immigration. The way they're dealing with it is trying to stop legal immigration.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: July 16, 2008 15:52 EDT