On February 20th, events were held up and down the UK to demonstrate solidarity with migrants in the UK. The original idea was for a general strike of all migrants, hence the name. For a lot of migrants going on strike would have meant losing their jobs, thus being detained by Immigration Enforcement and removed from the UK.
Nevertheless people turned up in the tens of thousands. Coverage of the event was eclipsed by anti-Trump protests, which dominated the headlines. However social media coverage was prolific, and Anand Kumar (author of the Exempt NHS Professionals petition) gave several speeches during the day, and thankfully many were recorded. Below is the full transcript of his speech. These are his own words, so we have not changed them.
Hi, I'm Anand, and I'm currently working in NHS as a physiotherapist. I'm doing this job for past 5 years.
I'm talking about immigration law which came into place in 2016 which says that all the non-EU citizens will have to earn more than £35,000 on one, single, contracted salary to stay in this country.
[Audible gasps from the audience]
They are saying they already told all the non-EU citizens and their employers, like the NHS, long time ago which was in 2011 because there was a letter of intent there gave it to everyone. Whereas I spoke to my employer and I don't think they knew about it.
Even the UKBA, the Home Office staff, didn't know about it, because at that time it was a letter. So when I decide to marry Priyanka, from India, and I wanted to increase my family and settle down here. I did call the Home Office and I said "Do you think this law is going to come?" because I was going to Canada, and I had the offer letter in my hand. But they said "Currently it's a Conservative government, we don't know what will happen next time, it might be Labour, might be Liberal Democrats, might be anyone else. We can't give you any answer now."
So now unfortunately or luckily, it's the same Government, and we can't say anything now because they are saying they already told us in 2011 that this law will be coming.
Another point is that I came in 2009 so technically this law should not apply to me but I came here as a student. Also when people think about immigrants, or they see an immigrant, they think that everyone is coming here. Whereas that idea doesn't apply to me, because I never wanted to come to this country. I first wanted to study United States or Canada. But actually it's the UK university goes to our country, and they promote the education system. As the education system is a little bit cheaper compared to the US or Canada I decided to come here, but after I came here I really enjoyed every single day so far.
I've lived here more than 7 years and every single person I have met, I have never felt that people have given me any trouble and any problems so far. Everyone is very nice, friendly, they don't look at your colour, they don't look at how much money you're earning. People are nice and friendly. It's just the Government who are putting all these barriers, nearly every day, to make our life difficult.
I don't know how they can make this kind of rule when they know that I'm working for their organisation. The NHS is not an Indian organisation, it's an English organisation. If they're saying that you have to earn £35,000 salary then they should start paying that money!
[Audience laughs and cheers]
They already put a cap on our salary since 2010 so there is no increase in salary and there is no way anyone can achieve £35,000 salary in NHS within 5 years of their employment. We all start from £21,000 so from 21 to 35, that is 14,000 gap. I don't think any company in the world will give you so much salary in 5 years.
Basically, they will be losing all the staff like me. Now I am senior physiotherapist, I am training juniors, I am training students, and I'm treating all the patients who are here. I think if you talk about money, one bed normally costs about 300 to 500 in NHS in our hospital. We normally discharge around 5 to 6 patients every day. You can think how much money we are giving. It's not about the money - the support, and the care which we are providing, and it's our job, and we love it. I don't know why Government is making it difficult. That's the first point.
Second, when they are talking about the salary of £35,000, they are talking of a single contracted salary. I'm earning £47,000. I'm working 6 to 7 days a week for past 3 years. I'm earning around 47 with all the extra income but in that law they have said that it should be your basic salary. That is even more difficult. No one will achieve that salary. A doctor is normally one of the best professions in the world, even doctor don't earn that salary.
When I wrote that story to one of my MPs, who is a Conservative MP, he just cut and copy-pasted the law and sent it to me. Next time I didn't ask for anything, he sent me another letter I think 2 weeks ago, and he's talking about this NHS pay, and whatever salary we are getting is right for us. They have done, I think, £10billion funding given to NHS and there are so many things he is talking about buying, but I'm not asking about any salary rise. I'm asking about my right to stay. I don't know why he was telling me about any of this.
[Laughter in the audience]
The other important point is that if I decide to live here, I am still within my right to change my job to private sector. They will pay me well above what I am getting in the NHS. Technically they can't stop me living here because they are saying earn above 35, that's all. I can go to private sector, they'll give me more, or if I go to London where NHS employees get 20% extra. With that salary I can go to London. But personally I feel, why should I go to London? All the staff here have helped me. When I came here I had two red bags in my hand, that's all. Now I have a wife, I have a house in Solihull, I have a nice dog.
People are so lovely even outside work. They've helped me moving my house, they bought furniture for me when I moved in, they are like my family. I feel that I'll be disloyal to them if I am leaving that job just because of money. I know money is important to us but money doesn't give you everything. But the Government are technically saying money is important, otherwise leave the country.
This is why I started this petition. So many people have supported me now. I have around 7,000 signatures.