The immigration lawyers’ association has described the Tories’ Immigration White Paper, published in December, as “a charter for the wealthy”. It threatens to fulfil the right-wing Brexit promise to extend to EU migrant workers the existing hostile treatment of their non-EU counterparts. Skilled workers, defined as those with the equivalent of A¬Levels and above, and earning over a salary threshold, will be able to apply for medium¬term work visas. The overall cap on numbers and the requirement for resident labour market tests will be removed for these workers. They will need employer sponsorship and will have to pay the NHS surcharge.
The existing salary threshold to qualify as “skilled” is £30,000. Bosses have pushed for a lower figure. The government has kicked the question of changing the figure into the long grass for further consultation. Serious threats to the sustainability of the NHS and social care have been highlighted, with nurses and other health and social care workers – even early career doctors – falling under the £30k mark. But, be the threshold higher or lower, the White Paper calls for harsh and discriminatory treatment of “unskilled” migrants.
These workers will be limited to 12-month visas and denied the right to claim benefits, bring family members or switch to another visa type that might allow a longer stay. After 12 months they will be sent back with no ability to renew their visa for a further year. There will be discrimination between migrants from “low¬” and “high-risk” countries – this will likely mean extra barriers for those from poorer, less white, less English-speaking countries.
The immigration lawyers’ association point out that the Home Office’s own data shows no evidence for deeming any category of migrants “high¬risk”. Anti-migrant policies like these are sold on the lie that limiting migrants’ rights to come, stay and access social security will protect the British working class. In reality this is a charter to serve the employing class by turning more migrants into a segregated, hyper-exploitable layer of workers. Workers made unable to put down roots and bring or build families will struggle to build links, become part of existing communities and unionise.
If losing their job means destitution or deportation they will be reluctant to stand up against ill treatment at work.
The White Paper also reaffirms the government’s commitment to Fortress Europe even after Brexit and signals a desire to negotiate continuing the provisions of the EU Dublin Regulation, which has enabled the deportation of refugees who passed through other European countries before seeking asylum. HOSTILE Hostile environment policies using employers, landlords and public service staff as border agents will, of course, continue. New “digital checking services” threaten to tighten these surveillance state conditions.
The policy aims to fulfil Conservative pledges to bring net immigration down to the “tens of thousands”. Despite treating individual migrants almost exclusively in terms of maximising the benefit to British capital, the White Paper admits that the overall reduction will still damage their economic interests and the tax base. Some expert observers, and former UK ambassador to the EU Ivan Rogers, suspect that these new policies will “simply disintegrate in the face of negotiating imperatives”.
The left cannot bank on this, of course. We must win hearts and minds to a socialist alternative based on equality and working¬class solidarity across divisions of race and nationality, and fight to demolish the borders and the hostile anti¬migrant policy regimes of both the UK and EU.