Priti Patel’s latest statement on immigration post Brexit quietly came and went last month. While it did not give anything new away, it was what was missing that was most interesting.
The paper set out how the immigration system will work after Brexit, and it should do a decent job for larger businesses. The skilled worker route could be one of the best in the world for multinationals.
It will be a faster and more certain work permit regime than in most countries, with many of the unnecessary controls in our existing immigration system removed. It won’t be as helpful to employers as free movement, but employers who tick the right boxes will still get the skilled people they need.
Restrictions on low skilled workers nevertheless seem cavalier when we don’t know how the labour market will look come January. A Health and Care visa that excludes most care workers is an odd misnomer, given the sector is crying out for people.
More will be needed for smaller employers in all sectors. Tens of thousands of businesses will need to be licenced to employ international workers from the end of the year, and the Home Office must step up preparations to prevent backlogs forming.
That said, from a business perspective the policy is heading in the right direction, and the UK will have one of the most effective work permit operations in the world. Employers who need to bring skilled workers to the UK can be reasonably optimistic.
The more interesting gap was around people, with next to no consideration of how they will experience the system. UK immigration policy sometimes reads like we are doing skilled people a favour by letting them come and work here. That just feels ungrateful and surely those applying will feel bruised by the process.
It cannot be right that we will let workers in on £25,600 salaries but make them leave after five years if they aren’t on £35,800. Likewise, if you wanted to work and stay permanently, it costs £6,600 in government fees alone or £33,000 for a family of five. That is an extortionate amount of money. It could be a deposit on a house.
We also need a presumption of kindness. Why exclude the families of work permit holders from otherwise sympathetic rules for bereaved spouses? If their partner dies, the expectation is that they and any children go home. While officials can and often do apply discretion, people in mourning shouldn’t need to rely on discretion or have the threat of removal hanging over them.
Ministers also need to think carefully about the “No Recourse to Public funds” restriction on migrants during the coronavirus pandemic. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs, and more may follow as the furlough scheme winds down. It cannot be right that taxpayers who lose their jobs have no cushion to fall back on, just because they are foreign.
It could not be more important to ensure that the objectives of the system are rooted in humanity across the board. Time is ticking for both businesses and people to get this right and the UK back to full strength after this economic crisis, and there is some low-hanging fruit for the Home Office to create a more humane and flexible system.
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