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HOW do we deal with Tory post-Brexit immigration plans?
Well, the first thing we need to do is understand them. They are not what their supporters or opponents think.
Tory migration plans are not designed to cut the numbers of migrants. They are designed to cut the rights of migrants.
The plan suggests continued migration but reducing new migrants to a “guest worker” status, with limited rights, wholly dependent on their bosses.
If we want to push back against this scheme, we need to defend migrant rights, not argue about numbers.
We need to convince British people that if their migrant co-workers lose their rights, then all our rights will be under threat.
Tory migration plans are quite complicated, which is half the point. Creating different “tiers” of migrant workers helps divide the workforce. It’s divide and rule — and the more division, the easier the rule.
These plans cover new migrants: the two to three million EU people already settled in the UK are covered by different rules.
The Tories claim they want an “Australian points-based” system, but they aren’t proposing one. Australia’s system gives points based on “skills” for permanent residence. The proposed British system will “allow” workers to come for limited periods.
The government is clearly slightly nervous about its plan, because it didn’t announce it officially.
Instead the Conservative Party only sent selected friendly Tory journalists a press release with a draft plan just before Christmas.
This only became public because the Free Movement website founded by Barrister Colin Yeo, which covers immigration news, got and published a copy of the document.
The plan shows employers can ask for all the migrant workers they want. So migration is likely to stay in the hundreds of thousands every year. But these migrants will have fewer rights and be dependent on their bosses.
Under the plan ministers will not have responsibility over “numbers” — they will hand decisions to the Migration Advisory Committee.
These economists will be very responsive to the needs of “the economy” — basically meaning employers.
The plan is based on Tier 1 and Tier 2 visas for non-EU nationals, so has been partly practiced on non-European migrants already.
But because many more EU workers migrated into Britain post-2000 — especially for jobs that were already lower paid and more precarious — extending these plans to all migrants post-Brexit creates big dangers for workers who already have lower pay and weaker rights.
Three “classes” of migrants will be allowed into the UK. The first are “exceptional talent / contribution” people.
In Tory eyes, being exceptional means being rich. These “leaders,” “entrepreneurs” and “investors” will get “fast-track entry.”
Below these will be “skilled workers.” This will be a big expansion of the existing Tier 2 scheme for non-EU migrants.
Employers will decide who they are because “employer sponsorship will remain a key requirement for the vast majority of migrants as we believe that employers are best placed to determine which skills are required for their business, as well as to prevent abuse of our immigration system.”
So bosses will directly decide and police immigration policy.
These workers will be allowed in for set periods — up to five years. If they get sacked, they could also lose the right to stay the UK.
One example is their “NHS visa,” allowing nurses to come to the UK. The government says: “The visa will be tied to NHS employment” — it is suggesting that if “skilled workers” change jobs, they could lose the right to stay in the UK.
If the boss decides whether you can live in the UK, workers will be reluctant to argue about conditions, avoid unpaid overtime, join a union or go on strike.
These workers will also have to pay a special surcharge to use the NHS — currently £400 per person per year.
If the government is expanding powers to make extra charges for the NHS to migrants, they will have the mechanism to charge other non-migrant groups for the NHS.
“Skilled migrants” will also — despite paying taxes — not be able to claim most unemployment, housing or sickness benefits.
So losing a job could send them deeper into poverty than the rest of us , which is also a recipe for a divided and put-upon workforce.
Currently many people on Tier 2 visas stay for five years, then successfully apply to settle in the UK.
There is no guarantee that this will continue. The Tory press release implies these will be five-year guest workers.
Below the skilled workers is another level, the “sector specific rules based,” which is “made up of specific temporary schemes such as for low-skilled labour.”
This is based on existing short-term schemes like fruit-pickers. However, with the flow of labour from the EU for lower-paid jobs that might not fit in Tier 2 cut-off, there are strong chances employers will want these schemes expanded.
The Tories say: “The general principle will be that there will not be a general route for low or unskilled workers, unless there is a specific labour market shortage.”
But if employers start complaining about “specific” shortages of delivery staff, labourers, warehouse staff and so on, the government could say Yes.
These workers will have even fewer rights as “these visas will be time-limited and will not provide a path to settlement.”
Some people responded to this scheme by saying that “anti-migrant voters will feel cheated” if there are still large numbers of migrants post-Brexit.
But the Tory gamble is that anti-migrant voters will be satisfied with continuing migration as long as those migrants are penalised with fewer rights. Trying to catch the Tories out on a “numbers game” is a bad idea.
I think it would also be wrong to oppose these plans by saying: “Look, see, we shouldn’t have Brexited!”
Because we need to argue about how future migrants’ rights are shaped, post-Brexit, not try and refight a lost battle.
The shift to a mass “second-class person” “guest worker” “three-tier” system is new and dangerous — to all our rights.
To oppose this, we have to be clear that fewer rights for migrant workers means fewer rights for all of us.
We have to say that everybody who lives and works and pays taxes in the UK should get the same rights. We either stand together, or get fleeced separately.
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