May has seen expected disappointments, climb downs, shock and us uttering the words ‘YES!’ in relation to immigration but at least we have had some glorious weather. This was the month which bore the dreaded return of the Immigration Bill to Parliament with a flurry, and we witnessed its unfortunate passing at its second reading. This Bill has brought us closer to ending freedom of movement, a more restrictive points-based system reducing migrants to mere points and salaries, all while overlooking the talents every single migrant brings to the UK. Naturally, further disappointments are anticipated down the road as amendments to the Bill are dismissed, and it passes all the stages to make its way into the history books, as will the times we are living in.
One more for the books, will be the look of bemusement that many of us were left with alongside the Prime Minister when he was questioned about the impact of the no recourse to public funds policy on migrants. The Prime Minister demonstrated his lack of knowledge on NRPF policies, and had no idea that migrants are barred from accessing it with no alternative safety nets. Now, he has promised to look into it- we need to make sure that he does- one to watch.
The Covid-19 crisis has shown us many things-more than most- it has shown us that when a Government wants and needs to, it can act promptly and in the interests of vulnerable people. On 26 March, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s made the call to ‘bring everyone in‘ so no-one would be left sleeping rough, including migrant rough sleepers during this pandemic- it has by all means not worked for all and is still being implemented imperfectly- however, it has given many hope, and created a foundation for everyone who has worked towards ending homelessness.
Added to this has been the external pressure from unions and MP’s on the provisions for health and social care staff. This has included getting concessions on the expansion of the bereavement scheme to NHS support staff and care workers, whose bereaved family members will now be given indefinite leave to remain, alongside other health professionals.
Over the years, many organisations have described the unfairness with the double tax on migrants through the immigration health surcharge (IHS), but with the focus on the toil that health and social care workers have taken in dealing with the crisis, it created a space to challenge the IHS publicly. It was a welcome but unexpected rapid turn around to exempt health and care workers from the immigration health surcharge by the Government but we know that behind the scenes, unions have been working with other Government departments to get this irrational charge removed. The work continues though as it still applies to many others, and it must be scrapped for all
The concessions made for health and social care workers have been good wins but they have also added to the ‘worthy v unworthy’ migrant narrative. The language of ‘good/bad’ immigrants, plus the focus on how much ‘migrants contribute’ exist, is not new- it has been perpetuated by many, including those within the migrant and refugee sector. The question is if this is going to be the approach for piecemeal wins, how will we ever get overall change to the immigration narrative and system that doesn’t feed the division that has been created.
Aspects of the hostile environment are being chipped away at for some groups and individuals, but we MUST keep up the pace and the pressure to get rid of it all together. How all migrants are treated speaks volumes about how we treat the most vulnerable in our society, because everyone regardless of whether you’ve had to stay home and isolate or, continued to work because you have to- have been affected by this crisis.