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The Leaked Post-Brexit Migration Policy Is A Disaster Waiting To Happen

07/09/2017 12:57
PA Wire/PA Images

The freshly-leaked immigration policy paper is a disaster waiting to happen; both for migrants and for Britain as a whole.

The paper outlines an approach that has been called a "Britain first" approach but it is nothing of the sort; driving down standards for foreign residents is not the same as improving standards for citizens.

For instance, a spousal income threshold that prevents the least well-off 40% of Britons from living at home with a foreign partner (and is currently separating 15,000 UK children from their families) would be extended to cover European citizens. They too will be under a system that puts almost every possible barrier in front of normal family life should that life happen to exist across borders.

Normal life would not be an option for foreign workers in other respects - short work permits of 2-5 years would render them unable to settle, engage in society and build a life without being uprooted. This come just weeks after the cross-party parliamentary group on social integration highlighted a creeping drift apart in some communities, and the dire risks of failing to support integration.

The paper signals an extension of "hostile environment" measures which have already divided communities, including by forcing landlords and teachers and doctors to act as border police, and stoking mistrust and suspicion between newcomers and long-term residents.

The proposed new regime of short-term permits, fingerprinting and crippling income thresholds for newcomers will slash across countless ties between families, businesses and communities across Europe. This is being justified on the grounds that it will protect employment conditions for British workers.

It will not. On the same day the Brexit paper leaked, the IPPR's Commission on Economic Justice highlighted the rise of low pay and stagnant wages, a third of children in poverty, and more employees overqualified for their jobs than anywhere else in the EU. British and migrant workers alike get a raw deal. These are domestic problems with domestic solutions, and there is nothing in the leaked paper that will address them.

Migrants are not and have never been, contrary to tabloid headlines, a net drain on the economy. In fact prior to the Brexit vote, recent European arrivals contributed £1.30 for every £1 invested in them. The reason many people have not seen the profits of migration is that those in power have not distributed gains evenly, or done enough to provide funding and integration support to communities that have seen rapid population change.

All these problems could be worsened by the new proposals. There is little beyond vagaries to protect even high-skilled workers such as overseas doctors, and with many skilled workers leaving voluntarily, key public services are at risk.

A system that only permits high-skilled migration will not work either; discriminating between applicants effectively on how wealthy they are is no way to manage migration fairly. Just yesterday, another cross-party group pointed out that a rush to drive down "low-skilled" migration, far from freeing up space, will remove workers who do vital and currently unfillable jobs. Positions in care work and business, and even dental technicians and air traffic controllers are among those branded "low-skilled" - a term that in itself devalues hard work.

The leaked paper has not acknowledged or engaged with any of this essential context. The fact that such a paper has been produced before any consultation with affected groups or the public, let alone before the government's own migration advisory committee has reported back, shows a government failing to engage with evidence.

There is a further question around whether the Home Office under its current management are qualified to manage any major changes. Recently a hundred deportation letters were sent in error to EU nationals, and similar letters have even been issued to British citizens. Failures to interpret the law appropriately and reach decisions on time have been the thin end of the wedge; the worse end has been this week's new Panorama revelations about the widespread abuse and violence meted out to migrants in detention centres who have committed no crime. Without review and reform, asking the current infrastructure to cope with a sweeping rewrite of migration policy is a concerning prospect.

Yet a sweeping rewrite of some form will be necessary in the near future; Britain's departure from the European Union will mean fundamentally redefining our relationship with our neighbours. But Britain did not vote to break up people's families, force people out of their jobs or divide our communities. That is what the Government's current proposals do. They are the result of longstanding political commitment to an arbitrary target for migrant numbers that has not and cannot be reached, and asks all the wrong questions.

Whether a few thousand more people arrive or not does not determine the health of our society or the strength of our economy. It's time for a migration policy genuinely in the national interest rather than one pandering to tabloid rhetoric. Next year's Immigration Bill should instead prioritise supporting stronger families and communities, responding to economic needs, responding to the needs of the most vulnerable at home and abroad, and providing opportunities for all those who wish to make the UK their home to contribute and flourish.

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