On Wednesday morning the Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott MP, set out a vision for an immigration system which is based on the values fairness, compassion, and evidence. She pointed out that there is no reason that an immigration system can not at the same time support jobs, boost the economy, and treat everyone involved, not least migrants themselves, with dignity and respect.
We represent coalitions of campaigners, migrants, faith leaders and civil society organisations who have been calling for such a system for years. As such, the Shadow Home Secretary’s speech was very welcome.
It is a depressing fact that values of fairness and compassion – values which most decent people would instinctively support – are largely absent from the current approach to immigration.
The present system splits up families who find themselves separated by the restrictive minimum income requirement. It locks people up indefinitely in what are effectively prisons for no greater crime than coming to the UK from overseas and making the UK their home. And it treats people like criminals for trying to seek safety here, often after being forced to flee some of the world’s most dangerous conflicts.
All in the name of an arbitrary cap on overall numbers.
Because if your overarching goal is to keep the number of people who want to come to Britain down no matter what, there is a twisted and corrosive logic to making the experience of being a migrant in the UK so unpleasant that people are put off trying to come here.
We also welcome the Shadow Home Secretary’s openness to a conversation about the best way to fix these failures. Because we think a better system is possible. We think immigration can work for migrants and non-migrants alike. And we have the ideas that will help achieve that.
Whether it is ending indefinite immigration detention (the UK is the only European democracy to lock migrants up without a time limit); increasing provision of English classes for migrants who want to learn the language and get on (waiting lists for English language classes are over three years long in some places and have been shown to prevent many refugees from being able to find work); or reforming spousal visa rules which separate thousands of British citizens from their husbands, wives and children (around half the country’s population doesn’t meet the £18,600 threshold to sponsor your non-EU spouse to join you in Britain) – there are simple policies which if taken up could revolutionise the way Britain thinks about people who want to come here to live and work.
The existing system too often hurts migrants, demeans Britain, and means as a country we lose out on the potential contribution of people who want to be part of our communities.
Our hope now is that the Shadow Home Secretary will live up to the high hopes she has inspired among people who want a fair and humane immigration system. We have produced policies and proposals which taken together have the potential to reform our immigration system. We would welcome the opportunity to work with politicians of any colour on how they could be implemented.
Eiri Ohtani is the director of Detention Forum
Satbir Singh is the chief executive of JCWI (Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants)
Stephen Hale is chief executive of Refugee Action