By Nadeem Badshah
FRESH fears have been raised over the government’s immigration plans after the Conservatives’ emphatic election victory.
Charities are worried about the Tories’ proposals, which include the Australian-style points system and free movement ending after Brexit, following the party’s 80 seat majority last week.
During the Queen’s speech last month, which details the political agenda for the year, the proposal on a points-based system that would end free movement in UK law was outlined. MPs later voted by 358 to 234 to pass Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement bill.
Migrants seeking to come to the UK after Brexit may be given extra points if they agree to take skilled jobs in northern England and deprived seaside areas. Those willing to live and work in less wealthier areas outside London and the southeast could benefit under the scheme proposed by home secretary Priti Patel, where applicants would be scored on their education, salary level, skills and age.
Concerns over the NHS surcharge increasing and limiting migrants’ access to the health service have also been raised.
Jilna Shah, co-chief executive officer of the Migrants’ Rights Network, told Eastern Eye: “We are particularly concerned about the continued impact of existing policies on undocumented migrants, communities of colour, Muslims, EU nationals, migrant workers and LGBTQI+ migrants, all of whom are disproportionately experiencing the harm of racist and discriminatory immigration policies.
“The Conservative manifesto on immigration pledges to introduce an Australian-style points -based immigration system that purports to be ‘firmer and fairer’. In reality, learning suggests that such a system would be riddled with opportunities to discriminate when applied in practice.
“The notorious ‘hostile environment’ – rebranded as the ‘compliant environment’ for migrants – remains very much in place and is likely to be strengthened.
“This means a continuation of the use of service providers as a means of immigration control and the continued denial of basic human rights such as access to health and housing.”
Shah added: “A further worrying feature of the manifesto is an affront on judicial review, which is a hugely important mechanism for upholding the rights of migrants. Boris Johnson had made several murmurings about introducing an amnesty for undocumented migrants; this is a ray of hope perhaps, but the proof will be when this is implemented.”
Home secretary Patel unveiled plans for so-called “vindaloo visas” in September to ease immigration rules for skilled chefs.
Skilled chefs are on the Tier 2 visa shortage occupation list. Curry houses have been struggling to recruit overseas talent because of a £30,000 minimum salary threshold, the previous rule that no takeaway service is offered by the restaurant, as well as language requirements. The home secretary is to relax rules restrictions so that restaurants and takeaways can look to south Asia, meaning new recruits to Britain don’t have to meet the earning threshold that applies to workers in other sectors.
According to research, curry houses in the UK are closing at a rate of two per week with the industry pleading to ministers for help for years.
Pasha Khandaker, a senior member of the Bangladesh Caterers’ Association, has called for the rules to be relaxed more to save the industry.
He said: “I am a supporter of a points-based system where skills are respected, it doesn’t matter about your colour or where you are from. But the scoring is bad – £29,000 requirement for wages, needing to speak English, plusaccomodation. How can small businesses afford that? There is a serious shortage of chefs.
“We need a realistic points system. We also need lower-skilled people like kitchen porters.”
The Migrant Voice charity has also voiced concerns over the points-based system proposal.
It said: “After this general election, we stand in solidarity with our members and with all migrants in the UK, many of whom are already suffering the daily dehumanising consequences of current policies and may be fearing what lies ahead.
“Free movement could end after Brexit and all future migrants subjected to a points-based system – a system we believe is crude, subjective and discriminatory.
“The NHS surcharge could increase to £625 per person per year – an extortionate and unjustifiable figure that will leave yet more families impoverished.
“The EU Settlement Scheme is likely to continue unchanged, the government failing to recognise that tens of thousands of people will be left without status as a result of it, and that tens of thousands of others are facing problems with applying.”
Johnson is reported to be considering splitting up the Home Office to create a new Department for Borders and Immigration to deliver on his pledge to cut the number of low-skilled migrants – except in industries where there is a shortage, according to some media reports.
The new department will focus on launching the points-based system and toughening up the UK’s borders, leaving the Home Office to focus on tackling crime.
Amjad Malik is a solicitor in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, where Labour’s Tony Lloyd was re-elected last week but with a smaller majority ahead of Conservative rival Atifa Shah.
Malik said: “It’s a challenge that Boris Johnson sorts out Brexit with a deal or no deal, keeps the economy in complete check, gives amnesty to those staying in the immigration system, controls our borders and innovates a point-based Australia-style system to welcome overseas skilled migrants. It’s a hard job but Boris has the respect of people who mandated him.”
In an interview with Eastern Eye before the election, Johnson praised the contribution of immigrants. “For 10-15 years I have been the only politician of any party who has consistently championed the benefits of immigration.
“When I was mayor of London, I remember having long arguments with my colleagues about immigration. I believe that it is a wonderful thing. My own family is composed of immigrants, and it has contributed to the dynamism and the productivity of the UK. No question,” he said.
A spokesperson for Number 10 did not confirm plans for a new department but said discussions were “ongoing” about ways to make the government work better.