Last week, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures showed how non-UK nationals were a significant workforce in key sectors of the UK. Yet, this government remains obsessed with reducing net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’. When will it realise how this obsession will be to the detriment of the UK, including its own happiness?
BY FIZZA QURESHI
Dropping the Target
It has been almost seven years since the Coalition government decided it was going to set its sights on reducing immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’ by 2015. Since it hasn’t managed to achieve this target, it seems apt for a new campaign to be launched to ‘Drop the Target’. In an open letter, by a group of cross-party MPs, they outline why the target is unachievable, and how the pursuit of this target will deny the UK economy of its skills, talent and labour. This seems a sensible approach considering how the target remains a driver of restrictive immigration policies, and stokes negative immigration rhetoric.
While on the other side of the fence, senior Tory MPs launched their campaign ‘Leave Means Leave’ wanting net migration to be reduced to 50,000, alongside a ban for five years on ‘unskilled’ immigration. A proposal which advocates a visa-based system to allow highly skilled workers, reminiscent of the tier 2 working visa, but with additional restrictions of “a five-year private insurance plan to prevent them using the NHS until they are “qualified settlers”. Interestingly, the report was written by ex-UKIP-er, Stephen Woolfe MEP, so no surprise it advocates for a harsher immigration system, whilst trying to describe what they propose as an offer of a fair, flexible and forward-thinking policy.
And then, you have those that do not want international students to be included in the net migration target (NMT) at all, because they don’t perceive them as migrants. A recent amendment proposed to the Higher Education and Research Bill states “no student…should be treated for public policy purposes as a long term migrant to the UK, for the duration of their studies”. This passed the House of Lords, after peers voted, 313 to 219 in favour, and will leave it for MPs to debate further on Wednesday, with the intention of forcing the Prime Minister into a compromise.
While it is all with good intentions to remove students from the NMT, surely, the message should be that the UK needs migration for a number of reasons. Instead, politicians and policy makers find ways to classify migrants to pacify the hard liners and fall into the ‘good versus bad’ migrant. When will being a migrant be something to be proud of, rather than shying away from it?
Migration and our Workforce
When discussions take place in classifying migrants, some seem to favour those who ‘contribute’ economically, because that’s all that seems to matter, disappointingly. And last week, we heard how migrants ‘contribute’ and continue to perform a vital role in the UK’s economy.
ONS figures released last week on the workforce for 2016, showed that 11% of the UK’s workforce has been made up of non-UK nationals. On top of this, they tend to be working longer hours and more likely to be over-qualified for their jobs, with at least 37% of EU14, EU2 and non-EU nationals and 40% of EU8 nationals working in jobs they are over-qualified for.
The hospitality, retail and restaurant sectors have tended to benefit, with higher numbers of non-UK employed. In particular, the hospitality sector, where at least 24% of the workforce is made up of EU migrants. And so, we hear that even this sector is beginning to develop strategies to reduce its reliance on a migrant workforce. One that they recognise will not happen immediately, and therefore, they will need to be weaned off a non-UK workforce.
There is also the public sector, which continues to rely on 701,000 non-UK nationals working in public administration, education and health sectors. With the constant excuse that public services like the NHS are being stretched because of immigration, its collapse is also being prevented by those migrant workers who are helping to prevent the collapse of the NHS. – a sector which already has a staffing crisis. So, even if Jeremy Hunt pledges for the UK to be ‘self-sufficient’ and non-reliant on health professionals from overseas by 2025, the NHS will still need overseas health professionals to maintain its current functions. Even the Brexit Secretary, recognises that UK citizens will not be leaping to perform some of the roles that EU migrants have been filling especially in the lower-waged sectors.
However, with EU nationals already leaving the NHS, what state will our public services plus or industries be post-Brexit, especially if the UK Government fails to secure the rights of EU nationals up until the moment we have exited?
‘NHS staff- Around 134,500 report a non-British nationality. Approx 12% of all staff for whom a nationality is known. Just over 60,000 are nationals of other EU countries, of which over 70% are nationals of countries which joined the EU before 2004. (NHS Staff from Overseas: Statistics, House of Commons Library)’
Being positive about immigration makes you happier!
David Davis proclaimed last week that freedom of movement will continue to vary for years post- Brexit, dependent on what the UK’s needs will be – so it could easily see itself needing more migrants, as its economy grows. As usual, when it suits, migration will be seen as a positive force for the UK. It is a shame that politicians and those who view immigration negatively are doing so at the cost of their own happiness.
Fizza Qureshi is the Director of the Migrants’ Rights Network