In the 2016 Brexit referendum, the very much anti-migration “Leave” side of debate talked a lot about “taking back control of our borders” and controlling the influx of migrants “taking our jobs”.
The new “points-based” immigration system is supposed to deliver on those promises and, as Priti Patel puts it, “only allow the real talent” into Britain.
How will the points be awarded?
To qualify for a work visa the applicant looking to migrate to the UK first needs 50 points from being able to speak English (10 points) and having a job offer from an approved employer for a “skilled job” (40 points). Then you need another 20 points. One way to get them is for the job to bring in over £25,600 a year.
An applicant can also gain 10 points for a PhD related to their job, or 20 points if the job-related PhD is in science, technology, engineering or maths; or extra points for a job in an industry which has a shortage, including certain health-care or education sectors.
Those who have those points have to pay a big fee even to apply; have to pay an NHS surcharge (currently £624 a year) when here, even though they are paying taxes in Britain; and are dependent on their job for their right to remain, so they have to reapply if they change jobs. To get “Indefinite Leave to Remain”, so the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants reports, “a person must usually have been lawfully resident in the UK for a minimum of 5 years and be earning a minimum salary of £35,450”.
What does this mean for lower-paid migrants?
Employers who have relied on lower-paid migrant workers are urged by the government just to adjust. In simple terms, the points-based system shuts the door for those “low-skilled”.
Already Covid has taught us that those workers are essential, as was seen in 2020, when employers quietly hired Romanian migrants to pick fruit in Britain, following failed attempts by Prince Charles to rally the nation to “step up”.
So were these lower-paid migrants ever “stealing” those cleaning, farm-hands, or waiter and waitress jobs? It looks like the whole anti-migration and xenophobic Brexit campaign was based on twisting the truth.
The big change with agricultural workers is not that they won’t come, but that they will become more insecure. They can come under the much-expanded Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Scheme for a six-month period, but then they must leave and cannot even apply to return until after a further “cooling off period” of six months.
If they stay after six months, or come by tourist entry, then they become “illegal”. That will lead to no workers’ rights and possibly little to no human rights for many workers who have been the backbone of the British workforce for years.
And the people of the UK will be left with many workforces deeply understaffed.
Where does this leave us?
With uncertainty. With the impact of Covid-19 on the future of higher education, the government will also be hoping that many will apply for the “skilled jobs”. With the UK attempting to grovel and crawl out of the pandemic, it may find itself in a more desperate situation to fill some jobs than post World War 2.
And it will need to turn back to these “low-skilled” migrants it is shutting the door to. But, on the government’s plans, with fewer rights, and more obstacles to integration into society.