With an election campaign underway, Migrants’ Rights Network called on political parties and candidates to adopt a progressive immigration policy. Here we begin to digest what the political parties propose. Will they have heeded our call?
BY ALAN FRANCIS
It’s safe to say that most of us were caught off guard when the Prime Minister called the recent election. After navigating her way through a parliamentary vote, parliament was dissolved, and the election underway. As has been the case in most elections during my lifetime, immigration would play a big part.
With the manifestos of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives being released within a week of each other, there was anxiety on what their respective policies on immigration would be. Would the decision of just over half the population to leave the EU this time last year affect the parties’ policy on this issue?
Labour and Liberal Democrats reach consensus
The language used by Labour and the Liberal Democrats was positive, seeming to set out their respective stalls on the issue. Labour said migrants would not be made “scapegoats” or “blamed” for economic failures, with the Lib-Dems emphasizing the “attack” that immigration and asylum were under. In this context, both parties focused on the positive social and economic contribution made by migrants, with neither committing to reduce numbers.
Other areas of common ground between the two parties included the promise not to include students in official immigration numbers. Labour emphasised the education and employment benefits brought by students, whereas the Liberal Democrats’ rationale focused around the temporary nature of students being in the UK. Both parties also promised to introduce a Migrant Fund, though framing it through the narrative of mitigating against strains on public services was disappointing, as well as the failure to mention austerity when it comes to resourcing poor public services. There is no clear evidence that immigrants take away vital public services. In fact, the evidence points to the opposite and reinforcing this message is unhelpful when trying to change this false narrative.
On refugees, both talked about the moral duty in taking those feeling war and persecution stating UK’s “proud” history in offering sanctuary. Labour talked about “reviewing current arrangements”, and the Lib-Dems promising to “uphold” their responsibilities. However, neither party gave any details on the number of refugees they would be willing to host, preferring not to make false promises perhaps?
Labour went further in a couple of areas, promising to end indefinite detention and the labour exploitation of migrants by rogue employers. The latter was welcome, given the clear contradiction between the PM’s rhetoric on this issue, which has been undermined by immigration policies that have forced so many vulnerable people into slavery and exploitation.
Conservatives: Strong and stable immigration policies?
The first nuggets of Conservative party policy were fed to the media the night before its launch on Thursday. Those hoping for a progressive immigration policy would be disappointed.
Previous manifesto commitments to bring net migration down to “tens of thousands” were restated, despite this policy being an obvious failure. Unlike Labour, there was nothing on reducing indefinite detention, or any commitment to honour the twenty thousand Syrian resettlement scheme. As shocking as the latter may be, it unfortunately, came as no surprise. It was to get worse: the manifesto outlined plans to “redefine” the definition of refugees and asylum. This is a continuation of the policy by this government to label refugees into good ones (from UN refugee camps) and bad ones (those who have fled and made perilous journeys to reach Britain. By doing this, they can shrug off their obligation of having to accept refugees. In essence, the message is that we’re happy to help them, as long as they stay over there. The point that they can’t stay “there”, is a key factor the Prime Minister is failing to grasp.
Other Tory pledges that provoked thought included the requirement for employers to pay more to employ migrant workers. In effect disincentivising employers from employing migrants – a clear strategy perhaps to reduce the number of migrants coming to the UK. And through further levies, migrants – who make up a vast number of NHS nurses and key support staff – will be charged to use the very service they provide for us!
Unlike Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative Party has refused to guarantee the rights to remain for EU citizens, focusing instead on securing the entitlements of EU nationals in the UK. This has added to the uncertainty faced by over three million EU nationals, their partners and employers. The manifesto goes on with a promise to reduce the number of people coming to the UK from the EU, while seeking to attract high-skilled workers. I’m guessing care workers whose specialist care looking after dementia patients in care homes around the country will not be considered under current definitions.
So, there we have it. Whatever your position on the parties’ respective immigration policies, it is clear that those of us in the migrant sector will have our hands full, as immigration becomes a focal point and with Brexit only adding to this. Those of us who believe in a progressive immigration policy, where people aren’t arbitrarily locked up or charged for accessing basic health services, and where refugees are welcomed will need to fight harder. This is why MRN is hosting a creative discussion tomorrow where we will look at the manifestos in more detail and commit to holding the government to account, as we look towards fairer and more progressive immigration policies.
Alan Francis is MRN’s Director of Policy and Parliament