Briefly, you may have thought that COVID-19 had changed attitudes towards migrants as they have been so central to the operation of this country. However, Monday 18th May saw MPs vote in a new immigration bill in The House of Commons that extends harsh immigration policy to EU migrants. This bill deploys a points-based system which was previously in place for international migrants and has now been extended to EU migrants also. This policy restricts freedom of movement and bases a citizen’s worth on their ‘skill’ – those who are not skilled cannot not enter the country. This comes as a slap in the face to the many migrants who have carried us through the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the new policy change, migrants must ‘score’ points like citizenship is game. To win this game you must meet three compulsory requirements in order to earn 70 points:
Have a job offer from an “approved employer” at an “appropriate skill level”.
Earn at least £25,600 (reduced from the £30,000 which currently applies to non-EU applicants)
Some of the characteristics (or rather, game rules) set by the policy are ‘tradeable’, such as salary scale, whether the job is in shortage and whether one has a PhD. The non-negotiable is that English must be spoken at a required level, they must have a job offer by an ‘approved sponsor’ and the job must be at an appropriate skill level.
For example, for a graphic designer coming to the UK under the new points-based system earning £23,000, although their salary in this example does not meet requirements, as they meet the three required components, they can score the extra 20 points because their occupation is in shortage.
General salary threshold: £25,600
Job offer 20
RQF 3 or above 20
English language 10
Shortage occupation 20
Many would consider this a great way to filter who migrates to Britain by, supposedly, upgrading our workforce. But those affected by this policy are also the migrants who are already here, along with undocumented migrants, and now they are left in the dark. In fact, they are now suspended in a state of exception whereby the law does not operate for them but leaves them exposed to the dire consequences of illegality. Marking humans as ‘illegal’ is always a dark turn in politics and should not go unnoticed. Passing draconian policy during a crisis is even more sinister.
Marking humans as ‘illegal’ is always a dark turn in politics and should not go unnoticed. Passing draconian policy during a crisis is even more sinister.
A consequence of this policy is a rise in the black job market that lures ‘low-skilled workers’ in with cash-in-hand jobs on construction sites, care-work and farms. It is precisely because of their ‘illegal’ status that employers will exploit these workers for low wages as they have no protections.
Given that we are likely to enter the worst recession in 300 years, businesses will seek to cut their costs, and here the government presents an effective way for employers to do so. Farmers have already flown in workers from Romania to train them in picking due to the shortage that COVID-19 exacerbates, and it is no surprise that businesses will be ready to exploit EU migrants in construction work when they make up 28% of London’s construction workers, and 7% more widely in the UK as ONS reports.
Through this policy, the government frames humans as surplus, reducing them to their economic value. However, the UK needs and thrives on migrant work, now more than ever. The motivation for this policy is that by restricting migration in these low-paid sectors, working conditions will improve and thus attract UK workers to these sectors, however there is yet to be any evidence of this. Rather, flying in workers from Romania to work in farms challenges this rationale. What the data does prove is that migrant workers are, and always have been, essential to the operation of this country. It’s obviously impossible to quantify the worth of health workers who continue not only to save lives but risk their own.
This constantly shifting barometer is part of the reason that the Windrush scandal occurred. One minute you are legal, the next you are not.
The Conservative Party recognise the work health workers do and in a strange turn of events, have decided to cut the NHS Surcharge, although initially defending the decision to sustain the extra cost NHS workers must pay. I find the surcharge alarming for the way it feeds into narratives of the ‘good’ immigrant who is useful and the ‘bad’ immigrant who is not. If we follow the word ‘use’, we can see how borders become ‘useful’ in keeping migrants out. ‘Use’ becomes a dangerous barometer that decides who gets to live and who must attempt to survive against so many odds. Only months ago 39 Vietnamese nationals were found dead in a lorry in Essex. This constantly shifting barometer is part of the reason that the Windrush scandal occurred. One minute you are legal, the next you are not.
This policy marks more than the end to freedom of movement, the movement will continue, but it’s the freedom of this movement that will not. We must be wary of governments who pass draconian bills in times of crisis. We are all too busy dealing with the stresses of lockdown to be able to do anything about this bill. But this bill signals a future in which the government will leave those they deem useless exposed to violence and it will come as no surprise if more bills like this pass.