Considering the looming Brexit date, and the recent support from supposedly liberty loving people for the prospect of a no deal, I feel it important to raise some significant concerns. This isn’t a praise of the EU or a disparagement of some potential benefits of a no deal but a recognition of the reality of the policies pursued by the UK government regarding immigration, and a concern over its continuation and expansion of unjust, economically unsound and fundamentally illiberal policies.
An article recently published on Speak Freely Why Should We Rule Out “No Deal”? Sounds Pretty Liberating to Me praised the ability of the state to limit the immigration amount to the 10,000s. One must ask why, exactly, this is either desirable or possible. It also begs the question of how we can have such crude numeric goals which fly in the face of economic rules. The Conservative Party’s record on non-EU immigration, which the strictness will possibly apply to EU citizens, is abysmal and antithetical to freedom.
The Conservative-led coalition set the goal to limit immigration to the 100,000s for non-EU citizens, being that it was unable to prevent freedom of movement from the EU. It was effectively a win-win for the conservative elites, whose businesses were able to exploit cheaper labour and blame the country’s issues, particularly the lack of funding for public services and wider societal issues, on the rise of immigration.
Putting that aside, the limit for Non-EU immigrants led to some bizarre and draconian laws with wide reaching negative effects, morally questionable results, and were based upon unrealistic and arbitrary numbers.
Let’s take the requirement for work visas for non-EU citizens (soon to be extended to EU citizens):it is generally preferred that one should earn £30,000 a year or more (or be very skilled and filling a particular niche) to gain such a visa. This income threshold perhaps sounds very reasonable in London, where the average wage is around £37,000-42,000 a year and the median is £37,000 a year but for many outside of the capital this is a very high-wage (London’s average weekly wage is £727 whereas Huddersfield in northern England is £424). The median for the whole UK is £21,000 and different areas have considerably lower median wages (Nottingham, Manchester, Newcastle had around £20,000 a year in 2011, when these restrictions bean to come in, compared to London on £27,000). This shows that £30,000 a year is rarely what one would be coming into a starting position on or even earning on a skilled job. Of course, this is the point of the policy, but employing such arbitrary figures to decide who should work and live in the UK shows a lack of understanding of economics, as surely supply and demand can set the appropriate wages and find the gaps in skills. If an employer needed some workers outside of the capital on a skilled job which would earn £25,000 a year, it seems bizarre to say that a skilled immigrant perfect for the role shouldn’t be able to take the job as it isn’t sufficiently paid when this is the appropriate wage for the area. Starting nurses, for instance, frequently earn less than £30,000 a year and 19% of nurses joining the NHS in 2018/19 are migrants (both EU and Non-EU) showing a need for them. Currently qualified non-EU nurses are exempt from the £30,000 a year threshold, but this only further shows that such restrictions limit the supply of labour when necessary and the government doesn’t want to be seen as failing the NHS with a lack of staff, whereas it is comfortable affecting private sector businesses with such restrictions restricting the freedom of employers and migrants in the name of hitting some targets.
We can see this economic illiteracy in the Family/Spouse Visa income threshold. Since the Coalition government, it has been required that British citizens who wish to bring their spouse (or family member) must be earning £18,600 per year.Once again this is an arbitrary figure, very much pricing-out those at the bottom of society (some have claimed up to 45%).
The logic behind it too is that it is to prevent the non-EU spouse from rely on benefits, but a non-EU migrant cannot claim benefits, and £18,600 is way above what many people live off, particularly outside of London, without needing benefits . It could have been justifiable had it been around £10,000 a year where one would be hard-pressed to survive, but this high figure being seen as a threshold of someone not needing to go on benefits shows the lack of understanding from the Conservative party. Someone on £9 per hour (which again is a high wage outside of the London) working 40 hours a week would just break over the limit however, as a gross figure, any time off work due to holidays, sickness or other obligations (study, caring etc) do not come into account, and if the home office see a wavering of wages one month, they multiply this to work out the annual income when considering spouse visa applications and would reject the application if one month they earned less than £1,500 in one month of six. The threshold figure itself was picked by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), a non-government body consisting of academics, who have chosen all the various limits (£30,000 a year for workers, spouse visas etc) and have come under consistent criticism for their advice.
The MAC’s claim that this is the amount that people will be on not to require state assistance is peculiar, as someone on just over minimum wage on £8.40 per hour, in a service job say, would earn around £17,472 a year and would not be on benefits or any state assistance, and their prospective spouse would be able to work once in the UK, (and to reiterate, unable to claim benefits as a migrant!) so there is no justification for this policy and overlooks the reality of work and income for those at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. It is also worth pointing out this excludes students or single parents unable to work near that threshold amount but capable of working and taking care of themselves and their spouse. Considering as well, that there are reasonable requirements regarding language skills, it doesn’t take into account the capability of the spouse to work.
Another area is the NHS fee, which has recently (and quietly) been increased to £1,100 pounds. This fee is required to be paid by prospective non-EU immigrants. As there are significant budget and sustainability issues with NHS funding, that the government has had to look for new revenues for the NHS so this has no doubt offered a good way to gain extra income and deter less affluent migrants. Whatever one thinks of the NHS and public healthcare, this is another way to make money off of immigrants, pricing out many and has no economic justification. If one considers the benefits immigrants bring in skilled labour to the NHS and economy (immigrants pay more in taxes than UK citizens on average), long term this fee and the deterrence of migrants is economically negative for the NHS. Now, if one wishes to come on a family visa, the cost of the visa fee, NHS fee, English tests and medical tests pushes the cost to over £3,000 pounds. If one is earning £18,600, one would be considered rather poor , so even those who do hit the threshold will have to struggle financially to sponsor their family members. It seems peculiar for a political party who allegedly supports hardworking families to support policies which marginalise those wanting to have families just because one member isn’t a British citizen, even if they are fluent in English and capable of getting work once here.
This is before we come to the moral case. Whatever one’s views on immigration, few people surely support the idea of restricting family life on the basis of income or the income threshold which particularly hits the poorer and those outside of London. The right to family life is surely one most accept and if the Conservative party is willing to accept this, we must wonder what sort of policies will be supported post-brexit.
If these policies were extended to the EU, then this would do the job of limiting immigration, at least short term . But just because it is equal for EU and non-EU migrants, this doesn’t mean it is just, and limiting immigration will economically damage many companies, sectors and the country (for example, food and drink manufacturing have 25% migrant workers and many others have high percentages) – and worse than that, tear up families and impose a restriction justified on some arbitrary unsound figures. We have to ask why we want to do this. If one supports limiting immigration, one cannot justify such harsh and economically questionable measures.
The worst thing about this is that almost no one is standing up for this. The Labour party is pandering to economic nationalism and the Tories to nationalist protectionism. The Liberal Democrats and remainers see the only solution in the return to the EU, as if they do not have a bad track record regarding immigration for those outside the EU. Even if we want to have border control, that doesn’t mean we have to restrict on such unjust and unfair grounds. If we support freedom of trade and the freedom to travel, we must stand up for all to be able to migrate to the UK and the rights of these people as well as the right for all to have family life regardless of background. One can make a case for some restrictions, but considering the nature of the Conservative party’s immigration policies, we must consider a better system and stand up for it as well as the cultural and economic benefits of immigration and the right for family life. I fear it will get worse before it gets better and chase many hardworking, capable people away from contributing to the UK.
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