This afternoon MPs will debate the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill at its delayed second reading.
If, as is likely, the Bill is passed into law, it will end rights to free movement for citizens of EU countries (including the UK) and will repeal other EU law relating to immigration and pave the way for the much discussed points-based immigration system to be implemented from 1 January 2021.
On BBC Radio 4 this morning the shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, signalled that Labour would oppose the Bill, calling it a “threat” to the health and social care sector.
He added the plans were “not fair and not in the national interest”.
He accused the government of undervaluing people who worked in low paid jobs in the health and social care sector and would be making them “unwelcome in this country”, adding: “That that isn’t an acceptable way to proceed.”
Thomas-Symonds highlighted the irony of clapping for frontline workers on Thursday evenings but then then describing them on Monday as unskilled, and “not welcome in this country.”
“What the government seems to be saying is that your salary reflects your contribution to society,” he said.
He also criticised the government’s refusal to waive the £624 immigration health surcharge for foreign healthcare workers, saying: “I think that it is totally unfair on the one hand to be saying thank you to those foreign-born workers we have in our NHS and then charging them for actually using it.” The surcharge is currently £400 but will rise to £624 from 1 October.
Home secretary Priti Patel said in February she was determined to end the flow of low-skilled labour from Europe: “We will no longer have the routes for cheap, low-skilled labour that obviously has dominated immigration and our labour market for far too long in this country,” she said.
Under the government’s replacement system, points will be awarded for criteria including having an approved sponsor, a job offer or a job at an appropriate skill level, the person’s ability to speak English, the salary available to them and their qualifications. The system would apply to EU and non-EU citizens from 1 January 2021.
Basic requirements would be English language and the offer of a skilled job with an approved sponsor, for which someone would be awarded 50 points.
Anyone coming to work in the UK would need to have a job offer with a salary threshold of £25,600, except in certain areas where there are skills shortages, such as nursing, where a ‘floor’ of £20,480 would be acceptable.
The coronavirus crisis may be altering public opinion over immigration, however, if the results of a YouGov opinion poll commissioned by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) are a reliable guide. The survey suggested 54% of people now supported looser immigration controls for workers regarded as essential during the pandemic.
The government list of critical workers during the crisis includes care staff, food processing staff, supermarket workers, and delivery drivers.
JCWI’s Satbir Singh said such workers were not “unskilled” or unwelcome, describing them as the“ backbone of our country and they deserve the security of knowing that this place can be their home too”.
Defending the immigration Bill today, culture secretary Oliver Dowden said essential workers would benefit from a fast track application process and pay lower fees.
He added: “This [Bill] means that finally we determined exactly who comes into this country, and we can attract the brightest and the best from around the world, not just from convenience within Europe,” thus fulfilling the promise of the Brexit referendum in 2016.
Under the new system, from 1 January, both EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally under the UK’s new immigration rules and organisations will require a sponsor licence, issued by the Home Office, to access talent from abroad. As it stands, just 2% of UK organisations will be able to employ overseas workers from January 2021, when the points-based immigration system is set to be introduced.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has launched a six-week call for evidence, asking business groups and employers to share their knowledge of the recruitment market to help shape its shortage occupation list, a key document in the forthcoming points-based immigration system.
The shortage occupation list is the government’s official register of roles for which evidence suggests there are not enough UK workers to fill vacancies.
Meanwhile, on 12 May, the government revised guidance on fee waivers for people based outside the UK, a move that has been welcomed by the JCWI, which is strongly critical of what it says are exorbitant visa applications for dependents.
Responding to the return of the Immigration Bill today, Danny Mortimer, co-convenor of the Cavendish Coalition and chief executive of NHS Employers, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said:
“The proposals fail to provide a route to migration for many in the social care sector, and therefore fail to provide an appropriate solution to the current social care crisis.
“Care workers do not earn above the government’s proposed £25,600 salary threshold and, despite one in 11 posts being unfilled, social care is not classed as a shortage occupation.
Mortimer pointed out that one in six social care workers were foreign nationals. “Despite this,” he said, “there are already 122,000 vacancies in adult social care and the current epidemic in care homes from Covid-19 means that these vacancies will likely increase.
“A points-based system provides the opportunity for the UK to design an immigration system which works for society and the economy but current proposals fail to account for both in light of Covid-19.”