A Labour Government would offer visas to “anyone with specified bona fide skills” after Brexit as it renews a pledge to ditch “fake” immigration targets after Brexit.
In a major statement on the party’s vision for a new visa policy, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott condemned “foolish and reckless” Tory government targets and promise to review the “exorbitant” fees of migrant visas.
The Corbyn ally underlined how the Windrush scandal was fuelled by “numerical targets” and slammed the Theresa May-conceived ‘hostile environment’ policy.
Abbott said a “completely reformed work visa policy” would work under a Labour government as she concedes the country has “economic needs that dictate we need migrants, to help tackle skills shortages and labour shortages”.
She also indicated that her party would abandon any preferential treatment for EU migrants post-Brexit, saying: “Commonwealth migrants and other non-EU migrants are treated as second-class migrants. They struggle to bring partners or spouses here. They must meet minimum income targets. They can lose their right to residency simply by travelling home for family reasons.
“This is not fair. It is not humane. It is not reasonable. Labour will end the established system of first- and second-class migrants.”
She said: “We will avoid the idiocy of preventing doctors and nurses from coming here to take up job offers. Under our new work visa system, anyone with specified bona fide skills can come here to work.
“The new, integrated work visa allow us to offer rights of work and residency and accelerated citizenship to a range of professions, workers and those creating employment who want to come here. It will be available to all those we need to come here, whether it is doctors, or scientists, or care workers.
“This will apply across a range of jobs, skills and professions. People coming to take up specific job offers, where it can be shown that those jobs cannot be filled by workers already resident here, will be able to come here.”
She added: “As our needs change, or as shortages or surpluses develop we will adjust the system accordingly. But the entire system will be based on those needs.”
Referring to the government’s net migration target of below 100,000 a year, which it has consistently missed, Abbott will say the Government’s attempts at migration control “have damaged our economy and our public services in the process. And never even come close to the target”.
She said: “As we learnt in the Windrush scandal, if you have numerical targets for deportation, you end up deporting your own citizens. Or, you can have numerical targets for visas, and you end up excluding doctors, nurses, engineers and others.
“This is not a real target at all. It is fake. It was plucked out of the air, without any evidence. It has never been met. The failure to meet it is blamed on others. This is despite the fact that migration from the Commonwealth and elsewhere outside the EU is within the Government’s control. Yet Ministers and the Prime Minister in particular are wedded to this policy announcement and never tire of repeating it.”
Abbott also acknowledged that scrapping the immigration cap was a policy that may be difficult to sell to Brexit-support Labour voters.
“I understand it is my responsibility and the Labour opposition’s responsibility to take that discussion to communities and that is what we intend to do,” she said.
“I think it is important that we begin to have a new and different type of conversation about immigration.”
Her policy announcements came as David Normington, a former senior civil servant in the Home Office, said the 100,000 target was unworkable.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it is fine for the Government to signal that it wants to reduce immigration over a period if that’s what it decides to do.
“Targets get discredited if they are never met. I’d say to the Government, if you are going to have a target it would be better that you set one that is achievable to begin with, and that what we don’t have is one that is out of reach.
“I really do think that for the moment a target which is below 100,000, which is what they have always said, is out of reach.”