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Britain's government is sending a message to non-Europeans living there. If you don't make the equivalent of about $50,000 a year, you're not welcome to settle. The message is aimed at slashing migration to the U.K. and goes into effect in April. Critics call the rule discriminatory and say it will strip Britain of lower-paid artists, healthcare workers and tradespeople. NPR's Leila Fadel sent this report.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Back in 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron promised to get net migration down to 100,000 people a year. Six years later, it's more than three times that amount, one reason the government has decided non-Europeans on skilled worker visas can't settle unless they have money. That worries Joshua Harbord.
JOSHUA HARBORD: Well, the estimates put the GDP loss between anything from 181 million to 761 million. So that's, you know, a massive blow in the first year alone, for a start.
FADEL: He might sound like an expert on immigration, but he's not. Harbord performs at kids' birthday parties as a pirate. But when he heard his friend Shannon Harmon might be forced to leave, he got angry.
HARBORD: It was scaring Shannon and everybody it was affecting. It obviously felt like a massively mean policy that was apparently convincing my friends that they were worthless and unwanted.
FADEL: And since no one else was doing anything about it, he started a petition to try to change the government's mind. His friend, Shannon Harmon, is from Chicago. She has a work visa and has been in the U.K. more than seven years, but she makes less than the amount she needs to stay under the new rules.
SHANNON HARMON: Because I don't think that we should be valued on, like, an arbitrary number that they've made up. I mean, not that many people make that much money.
FADEL: She works for a nonprofit and claims she contributes more to society than someone in the finance industry. Come April, she'll likely have to leave her British life partner, her career and the U.K. So no Harbord and Harmon spend their nights campaigning and checking on the electronic petition.
How many signatures do you have now?
HARMON: Let me refresh the page.
HARBORD: It's 89,600.
FADEL: This is a time when immigration is a hot button issue in Britain. There's a rival petition calling on the government to completely close the U.K.'s borders. David Metcalfe chairs a committee that advises the government on immigration. He recommended the plan.
DAVID METCALFE: Well, it seems to me absolutely right. They've been here for a minimum of five years, and if they're going to settle, they should be making a proper contribution in terms of productivity, which would be reflected in their pay, and in terms of their fiscal contribution.
FADEL: I remind him that critics say it's an arbitrary measure that values money over actual contribution to British society.
METCALFE: Pay is, in my view, the best measure of skill and contribution, but you're right. It's not a perfect measure.
FADEL: There will be temporary exceptions, he says, for people with skills like nurses because there's a shortage in the U.K. Susan Cueva is with UNISON, the trade union that represents the public sector - people who work in education, health care and transport.
SUSAN CUEVA: It's a policy which is not really based on sound judgment. I think from our point of view as a union, we should always look at migrant workers as an asset and as a resource in the country.
FADEL: She says migrant workers make up at least 15 percent of the public sector workforce. And without them, services will founder. Leila Fadel, NPR News, London.
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