In Depth

Reaction: Conservative immigration bill would ‘bar low-skilled workers’

Labour brands the legislation a ‘threat to the national interest’

MPs are debating the Conservative’s flagship immigration bill today as the UK moves a step closer to a new points-based system.

The bill repeals EU freedom of movement and introduces a new framework under which people applying to live in Britain will need to meet strict skills criteria.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has said that the new system promotes a “high skill” economy, adding: “We will no longer have the routes for cheap, low-skilled labour that obviously has dominated immigration and our labour market for far too long in this country.”

But Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has accused the government of “rank hypocrisy” for applauding NHS workers for their sacrifices during the coronavirus pandemic while telling EU nationals in the health service that “they are not welcome in the UK”.

The Guardian reports that Thomas-Symonds has written a “strongly worded letter” to Patel urging her to “think again” about the new policy, which he describes as a “threat to the national interest” and “an insult to our incredible NHS staff and care workers”.

Yet despite widespread criticism of the plan, with a Tory majority of 80 in the Commons, “the bill should pass easily”, says the newspaper.

As the i news site notes, the legislation will “make it effectively impossible for anyone paid less than £20,000 to get a visa to work in the UK”.

Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine said: “It is hard to believe that in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Conservatives are still pressing ahead with their destructive plans. 

“Now more than ever, we should be celebrating the enormous contributions that workers from all over the world make to our NHS, social care and across our society.”

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Home Secretary Patel insists that the “historic piece of legislation… lays the foundations to build a fairer, firmer, skills-led points-based immigration system”. 

In an article in the Daily Express, she says that the ongoing pandemic “has shown us how important it can be to attract the best and brightest to our country” and that that the new immigration system will allow Britain to introduce a “new fast-track NHS visa” to ensure the health service can “continue to access highly skilled medical professionals from across the world”.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden echoed Patel’s vision, telling the BBC that the bill would give the UK “the opportunity to set our own rules to ensure that we get the people that we need”.

The government is facing growing “pressure for the immigration rules to support those described as ‘key workers’”, reports the London Evening Standard.

A YouGov poll for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) suggests that 54% of Britons would support loosening immigration restrictions for workers defined as essential during the crisis.

The i site adds that some Conservative MPs have also called for “a more liberal approach to migration in the light of the pandemic”, including suggestions that a special visa for social care workers could be introduced.

Satbir Singh, chief executive of the JCWI, said: “The fight against Covid-19 has shown us all just how much our survival and well-being depends on our key workers.” 

These workers are the “backbone of our country” and “they deserve the security of knowing that this place can be their home too”, Singh argues.

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