The Observer newspaper on 17 February reported that the Government is “attempting to embed immigration officers at a rate of almost £60 an hour as part of an ‘enhanced checking service’ being offered to public services, understood to include NHS trusts and local authorities, as well as private firms.”
The attempt goes back a while. In May 2017 a local authorities’ information website summed up: “A Home Office immigration official can be placed within a local authority [to] provide.... immigration status checks”. The Home Office told the Observer than some 13 officials are already in place. Punitive anti-migrant policies go back a long way. Snooping and checking have been stepped up especially since 2012, when Theresa May first announced her plan to make Britain a “hostile environment” for migrants.
The Immigration Act 2016 made a criminal offence for companies to knowingly employ an “illegal” worker if there is “reasonable cause to believe” the person does not have the right to work in the UK. Employers also face a civil penalty of up to £20,000 for each worker employed who lacks the right to work in the UK. Increasing tens of thousands of migrants who do have “leave to remain” are having that “leave” tagged with “no recourse to public funds”, meaning that they and their children cannot get benefits such as free school meals.
The Windrush scandal of 2018 showed that many elderly people who had been born British subjects, especially in the Caribbean, and had come to Britain in the 1950s, had been deported or harassed by officials pushing “hostile environment” policies. Since then the Government has stepped back from the “hostile environment” rhetoric, but its substantive policies have not eased. In fact they are slated to become worse.
The Tories’ new Immigration Bill, designed to end free movement with Brexit, is due to come back to the Commons, after committee procedures, on 7 March.
On its “second reading” (in fact its first real discussion in Parliament), on 28 January, it passed by a big majority because until the last minute the Labour front bench talked of abstaining on it, and, by the time it swung to voting against, many Labour MPs had already arranged to be absent. The Bill will restrict entry to “skilled” workers. The Government’s White Paper of 19 December 2018 defines “skilled” as “paid over £30,000”, but big employers are pushing for a lower figure.
So-called “unskilled” workers are to 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 must leave the country, and wait another 12 months before reapplying. The White Paper proposes discrimination between migrants from “low-” and “high-risk” countries. In other words, extra barriers for those from poorer, less white, less English-speaking countries.
These proposals will not helping British-born workers. On the contrary, they will 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, and facing destitution or deportation if they lose their jobs, are bound to be reluctant to integrate, to build links, to unionise, and to stand up against ill treatment at work. That is what Brexit means. That’s why we’re for a new public vote and stopping Brexit.
Most unions have policy against Brexit. Many unions say or suggest that the June 2016 referendum vote obliges them to go along with Brexit. But that vote surely does not oblige them to abandon migrant workers’ rights. Brexit, whether via Theresa May’s deal (maybe modified), or “no-deal”, means economic and political regression, a great setback to migrant workers’ rights, and greater obstacles in the way of workers’ unity. Activists are demanding that unions call for bosses to come clean about any Home Office spies they are employing under the £58.20-per-hour scheme, and remove those spies from the workplace.
On 1 March, the Labour Campaign for Free Movement has called a day of action against the Immigration Bill: “organise an action in your community — a rally, a protest, a direct action, lobby your MP or leaflet your high street...”