Update: On 21st December 2023, the Home Office announced a change on the minimum salary requirement for British nationals bringing foreign family members to the UK, saying the threshold will first be raised to £29,000 instead of £38,700.
The new Home Secretary has hit the ground running by announcing measures to bring about “the biggest ever reduction in net migration” in an attempt to cut migration by 300,000.
The policies included a crackdown on dependents, raising the minimum salary required in a job offer to obtain a Skilled Worker visa and a review of the Shortage Occupation List. But what does this all mean, what will its impact be, and how are they racist and classist?
Pitting workers against each other
Much of the language of the Home Secretary’s speech focused on protecting British workers from migrants who will accept lower wages. This was the case for both increasing minimum salary requirements and ending the 20% lower wages for workers filling a role on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL). This pits workers against each other, obscuring the same institutions and systems that are responsible for the exploitation of them all.
Giving the same justification of preventing migrants from “undercutting” domestic workers, the Home Secretary also announced that the SOL will be reviewed, in order to remove certain occupations from the list. While we agree with the scrapping of measures that allow employers to pay migrant workers 20% less than domestic workers, especially in already low-paid industries, we oppose the SOL. In fact, the Migration Advisory Committee has recommended that it be abolished. Migrants shouldn’t be restricted to certain roles. People come to the UK with a variety of skills and knowledge – why are we trying to restrict that?
Alongside extortionate increases in the health surcharge, the measures amount to the creation of a two-tiered society for migrants, where only middle/upper-middle class people and above are able to migrate to this country and bring their families and survive. Even for people who do meet this threshold and don’t work in health or social care, health surcharge payments for a family can be financially debilitating – £11,000 for a family of six before the higher rate is even calculated.
We don’t believe that migrants should be accepted solely on the criteria of their economic “contribution”, and, therefore, shut out if they don’t meet this. Of course migrants are essential to core industries, such as healthcare and hospitality, and without them these sectors would undoubtedly collapse. But this shouldn’t need to be said. Our pro-migrant arguments should be centred around solidarity and compassion, not around “contribution”.
Breaking up families
The news that people on the Health and Care Worker visa will be unable to bring dependents to the UK will break up families. Splitting up migrant families is becoming something of a trend, following the end to students being able to bring dependents with them on a Tier 4 visa, with the only exception being people on postgraduate research courses.
It is unrealistic for the Government to expect the same numbers of migrants working in health and social care (a sector that has been reliant on overseas workers in recent years) to leave their families behind, with many likely having care responsibilities. This move will increase isolation, especially in an already hostile environment for migrants.
The other policy that the Government introduced that will affect families is the drastic increase in the minimum income level for family visas from £18,600 to £38,700. These policies are discriminatory. The right to a family life has become a class privilege- one that is gendered and racialised, as women and people of Colour earn less on average than White men. People of Colour in the UK are 2.5 times more likely to be in poverty compared to White people due to the systems of racism and capitalism. For women, we must consider not just the gender pay gap, but also the conditions of patriarchy that place caring responsibilities in paid and unpaid roles primarily on women.
International students are already subjected to intrusive monitoring and strict visa conditions, which we are investigating as part of our research. It is already cruel and unfair to deny most international students the ability to bring their families with them to the UK, but these latest restrictions on their visa further limit their freedom and future in this country.
It relies on the false notion that international students are using student visas as a means to get to this country under false pretences. This is a nonsensical argument considering the thousands they will have invested to come to study, and how the hostile environment and compliance monitoring of international students means they must complete their studies to remain in the UK. All this does is demonise these students, who instead require more lenience, in relation to the stresses of constant monitoring and strict limitations on their ability to switch to other visas once completing their course.
With a pending review of the Graduate visa, we already know that employers do not always understand how the Graduate visa scheme functions, and that after the two years sponsorship free employment it offers, there is difficulty in transitioning to a sponsored visa system after its expiry. Therefore, it is clear that the Graduate visa does need to change, but not in a way that makes life in the UK harder for people on this route.
Fundamentally, the new measures announced as part of the Government’s attack on a huge swathe of migrants here and those intending to come, will cause immense amounts of harm to communities, ignoring why people come to the UK in the first place. For many workers in low paid jobs, the UK has had a hand in creating the conditions in which they were forced to emigrate to work, whether through the legacies of past colonial exploitation, support for neoliberal economic policies that disadvantage workers, or support for repressive governments.
The persistent fixation on net migration figures is a political distraction technique that has devastating consequences for migrant communities. Viewing migrants only as numbers and not as people is dehumanising, and we should be welcoming more migrants at this time. We cannot let this Government divide us and manufacture problems to blame on migrants.