by LAUREN CODLING
ACTIVIST groups have urged the new home secretary Priti Patel to “scrap hostile environment policies” in order to rebuild trust with migrant communities, as she revealed plans of tougher immigration plans last Sunday (28).
Patel, who was appointed to new prime minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet last week, stressed
her determination to secure the UK’s borders – and to leave the European Union on October 31, with or without a deal.
She has proposed bringing in an Australia-style points-based system to the UK. This would
mean that applicants would be assigned points based on a number of professional and personal characteristics, with higher points awarded for more desirable traits.
A skills-based approach would ensure the country is looking at what people can contribute, instead of where they come from, Patel said.
“We’ll give top priority to those with the highest skills and the greatest talents, to attract those who add the most value to our economy,” she said.
“These skilled workers will only be able to come here if they have a job offer from an employer registered with the Home Office, and if they can speak English.”
Patel also promised that the government would strive to tackle illegal immigration and keep out terrorists, criminals and “those that wish to do this country harm”.
In response to her appointment, several activist groups hoped that it would provide a “new opportunity” to address issues surrounding immigration. However, some have expressed concerns over Patel’s immigration policies.
Nazek Ramadan, the director of Migrant Voice, believes that Patel’s biggest challenge is tackling the ‘hostile environment policies’ implemented by former prime minister Theresa May, who was home secretary until 2016.
“(Patel’s attempt to) project a new positive image is contradictory to the current context of migration in the UK, created by the previous home secretary, which has divided families and sowed seeds of mistrust between communities,” Ramadan told Eastern Eye on Monday (29).
“So many policies are sending out the message that migrants aren’t welcome here.
“In order to project a new positive message, you need to dismantle the current, established
hostile environment and that should be the starting point.”
Ramadan believes as home secretary, Patel should show that that she is fair and reasonable on migration. She added that the UK needs Patel to speak about migration in a different tone, so that migrant’s contribution to British society is highlighted.
“They are human beings and part of the community,” Ramadan said.
“They work as teachers, doctors and care workers. We need a home secretary who acknowledges this and rebuilds some of the trust which was damaged by the previous administration,” she added.
Responding to Patel’s suggestion of a point-based system, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) confirmed they did not support the policy. Minnie Rahman, the campaign and advocacy manager at JCWI, referred to the pledge as a “distraction” from the way the system currently handled migration.
“Saying that this will fix immigration problems is hugely distracting as the problem with our
system is the way that we treat people here,” she told Eastern Eye.
Although Rahman called Patel’s appointment a “real opportunity” to put in new policies and scrap the hostile environment, she was wary that there seemed to be no indication that this would occur. However, she was hopeful that Patel would recognise the dangers of the current policies. For instance, in February, a key element of May’s hostile environment immigration policies was deemed unlawful by the high court. The right to rent scheme, which required private landlords to check the immigration status of current and potential tenants, was ruled to cause “unacceptable racial discrimination”.
“We hope that the home secretary will take this into account and make efforts to scrap the hostile environment,” Rahman said.
She also raised concerns about the status of EU nationals after Britain leaves the European Union. The government introduced the EU settlement scheme earlier this year, in which individuals can apply to stay in the UK after June 30, 2021.
However, there are concerns that it could stir up a potential Windrush-like scandal, where a
number of citizens were wrongly deported or denied legal rights as they did not hold the correct travel documentation.
“We are concerned the scheme would leave a lot of EU nationals undocumented,” she said.
Campaigner Aditi Bhardwaj hoped that Patel had a “sensible” approach to immigration policies.
Bhardwaj, who is a former protest organiser of campaign group Highly Skilled Migrants, wanted the Home Office to communicate with migrant groups at a grassroots level to bring about change. And though much has been made of the fact that Patel is the first female ethnic minority person to hold such an important role in government, Bhardwaj emphasised
that her ethnic background should not be the focus.
She told Eastern Eye: “I would want anyone who is in the position of home secretary to have
sensible and empathetic rules.”
Jilna Shah, the co-CEO for Migrants’ Rights Network, also expressed concern over Patel’s appointment.
“At a time where the UK’s inhumane, racist and discriminatory immigration system has never been so much in the spotlight, since Windrush, the appointment of a minister with such a brazen approach to human rights is alarming,” Shah told Eastern Eye, noting Patel’s voting record in parliament where she supported May’s hostile environment for migrants.
Shah said Migrants’ Rights Network was suggesting that the immigration system be “completely and radically overhauled”, with new policies and practices that treat
migrants with respect and dignity.
She added: “A good start would be to put a genuine end to the hostile environment, not just a cosmetic name change, and to enact Boris’ murmurings for an amnesty for undocumented migrants.”