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Hostile environment policies are holding back post-pandemic progress, report argues

THE exclusion of undocumented migrants from British society risks impeding the country’s ability to recover from the pandemic and cope with future crises, a new report says. 

The government has pledged to build a fairer society and more resilient economy in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis as part of its Build Back Better strategy.

But a report produced by Regularise, a migrant-led grassroots campaign group, published today argues that prohibitive immigration rules are standing in the way of efforts to improve society and weather future crises. 

The group’s analysis makes the case for creating easier paths to regularisation for the nation’s undocumented population — estimated to be between 600,000 and 1.2 million — and giving them the right to work. 

It explains that current rules restrict undocumented migrants’ access to housing, benefits and healthcare, and drive many into exploitative jobs and destitution.

Regularise campaigner Sunitha Dwarakanath said the idea of Building Back Better provides an opportunity to confront the crises of the time, but this can only be achieved “by involving all people living in the UK, including undocumented people as integral members of British society.” 

The report highlights the recent shortages of HGV drivers as an example of how current immigration rules are preventing society adapting to changes post-Brexit. 

Undocumented migrants could fill labour shortages that threaten to impede the country’s recovery from the pandemic, it states, as well as helping to fill future green jobs required to tackle the climate crisis. 

Giving undocumented migrants the right to work would bring hundreds of thousands of people into “official” work and housing arrangements, “to realise their potential and improve the livelihoods of themselves and others,” the report states. 

Keeping undocumented migrants out of work contradicts the government’s levelling-up pledge, it adds. Those interviewed said their skills were being wasted. 

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants interim chief executive Minnie Rahman said: “Everyone who works in the UK needs decent pay, safe working conditions and labour protections - the pandemic could not have made this clearer.

“But right now, government allows bosses to treat migrant workers as though they’re disposable, with extortionate fees, short-term visas and hostile immigration policies pushing far too many into abuse and exploitation.

“Not only does this approach harm migrant workers, it harms all of us. As this report suggests, if government wants to create [a] fairer, more resilient economy, it should introduce simpler routes to regularisation, and safer working conditions for everyone - regardless of their immigration status.”

The study comes as the IPPR think tank found the NHS charging scheme for migrants is unfit for purpose.

IPPR associate director Marley Morris said: “These rules are debilitating for patients, stressful to enforce for doctors and nurses, and harmful to public health.”

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