Brexit has become a never-ending farce for the British public and a topic that is banned from most dinner tables. For the remaining EU member states, the UK has become a laughing stock. Yet with 10 days until Article 50 meets its latest deadline, there is still little clarity on how the UK intends on leaving the bloc.
“Skills-based” plan or salary-orientated priority?
Whether the UK leaves with a deal or not, the skills-based immigration plan is pencilled to come into effect by early 2021 (for the time being, at least). In the interim, EU entrants can either seek Settled Status if the UK leaves with an agreement, or European Temporary Leave to Remain in the event of a no deal. The latter would result in possible removal from the country after 36 months if the applicant cannot meet visa requirements.
Afterwards, all future EU nationals will be subjected to stringent immigration rules. Yet the largest problem that this presents derives from the £30,000 income requirement of the most commonly accessed route: The Tier 2 Work Visa.
The majority of Britons would fall short from meeting this salary requirement if they faced the same rules. Yet, after Brexit, this prerequisite will massively disqualify workers and ultimately dilute EU migration as a whole.
However, how can the government prioritise skill and expertise when the highest hurdle for migrants seeking employment in the UK is their salary?
This is only compounded by the existence of ‘golden visas’. These are fast-track passes for millionaires and investors that, comparatively, have fewer skills – unless accumulated wealth is classed as a skill.
Investor routes have been a hotbed for money launderers and organised crime. And while the Home Office suspended the route last year, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, swiftly U-turned on the matter only days later.
Unlike working migrants, after investing £10 million those on an Investor Visa can gain settlement in the UK after a mere two years. Everyone else must continuously stay in the UK for either five years (as a partner) or ten years in order to qualify. Only in exceptional circumstances such as being a victim of domestic violence can settlement routes be relaxed below the threshold.
Evidently, Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ policy is still alive and kicking. There is clearly one rule for the rich and another for the rest.
Home office profits from migrants’ misfortune
What’s worse is that the Home Office profits massively from migrants paying for a visa or status. Fees have continued to rise beyond that of inflation ever since the 2010 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition.
The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) was introduced in 2015 to force migrants to pay for healthcare costs upfront. However, the fee that doubled this January is now unreasonably high: migrants on a five-year placement are required to pay £2,000, despite the fact that they contribute more in tax than an average British citizen and use fewer public services than UK-born residents, as the Migration Observatory found.
In addition, a Tier 2 visa application costs £1,220. Crucially, this doesn’t include the compulsory English language test, the cost to register their biometric information, any priority or urgent services, or lawyer fees.
Workers must also prove they have at least £945 in personal savings. Applicants hoping to bring their children and a partner must also cough up the same fees for each, which quickly becomes extortionately priced for an average family of four.
British citizenship and nationality fees have risen so high that families are choosing between destitution or having their UK-born children fall through the cracks later in life. The government scrapped discounts for secondary and additional children in 2014, rendering registration simply unaffordable for families. This means that young adults who have lived in the UK their whole lives are becoming excluded from working, studying and travelling, while younger children are unable to claim free school meals or attend school trips, because their parents cannot afford to register them for British citizenship.
Mothers have reportedly turned to prostitution while others risk overstaying in the UK illegally to raise the fees, prompting the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration to launch an inquiry into the charges last year.
Scandalously, the Home Office are profiting from every application made. British Citizenship costs over £1,000 per every adult and child, yet costs only £372 to process. Indefinite Leave to Remain – which has risen by 127% in the past five years alone, to the fee of £2,389 – costs £243 to process. Taking an adult dependent family member such as an elderly relative or care-dependent child over the age of 18 incurs a cost of £3,250 and is one of the highest fees. However, it only costs the Home Office £423.
The Home Office are literally profiting off of migrants’ misfortune. These fees and charges are mostly non-refundable, too.
While the immigration blueprint promises to reduce reliance on EU workers, it does not extend such a commitment to seasonal and agricultural staff. A new pilot that has just been launched allows international migrants to work on UK farms – but only for six months at a time during seasonal peaks. After which, they must leave the country, inflicting further job insecurity for these individuals.
The 12-Month Temporary Visa proposal is similarly restrictive. In a bid to alleviate workforce shortages in “sectors like construction and social care”, the white paper offers this temporary scheme until 2025 during which time “low-skilled” migrants can work in the UK for a year. They are not permitted to bring any family members with them, switch routes or seek permanent settlement in the UK during this time. After filling a vacancy in the UK, they must then leave and not return for a further 12 months to “prevent people effectively working in the UK permanently”, the paper states.
The Brexit vote was a sign that workers need better paid jobs and the rebuilding of areas destroyed by deindustrialisation. But the Tory government has ignored this and taken it as an opportunity to oppress and victimise already vulnerable migrants even more. This will only make conditions for the working class as a whole - migrant or native - even more exploitative.
Migrants don’t come to the UK to “take our jobs” and scrounge off the welfare system. The reality is, working migrants have to jump through hoops, meet impossible requirements, and pay through the nose just to be considered. And then they are treated as a second-class citizen when they get to the UK.
Once in the country, migrants are scrutinised, monitored by landlords and employers, and could be threatened with deportation once their ‘use’ has run out. All the while, the Home Office rakes in their life savings.
Migrants bring a wealth of skills from varying backgrounds. Every migrant has a skill to offer. But the Tory government’s blinkered big business mentality favours salaries over workers. The growing fees – which only went up again on 7 March – will only deter the most determined migrants from moving to the UK.
Even former Conservative MP and Leave voter, George Eustice, urged voters to consider waitresses, cleaners, care workers and farmers – professions that are the backbone to this country, yet which crucially fall short of the Home Office’s desired income. Eustice added, “we have no shortage of underemployed graduates”.
Although reduced migration will be welcomed as a victory for prominent Tory Brexiteers, the loss, truly, will be that of all workers - migrant or otherwise.
This article has been written by Olivia Bridge, a member of the Labour Party in Manchester Central. Olivia is the political correspondent and commentator for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of leading UK immigration solicitors that provide free legal advice to asylum seekers, victims of domestic abuse and human trafficking.