Following an approved motion by British Prime Minister Theresa May, the UK will hold snap general elections on June 8th.
Under Britain’s Fixed Term Parliaments Act, elections are held every five years unless a snap election occurs through either a vote of no confidence with no follow-up government installed or the approval of a motion for snap elections by two-thirds of parliament, as occurred in this case. You could forgive the people of Great Britain for being tired of making decisions, but a great deal is at stake as the country heads to the polls.
The election comes just before Britain prepares to enter into negotiations of their exit from the European Union, and is seen by many as an effort of May to consolidate authority before undertaking the tremendous task ahead. For voters, the election represents a final say on what kind of Brexit they want, and where they stand on economic and social issues, particularly migration.
So what options are the parties now offering regarding immigration to the UK after Brexit? Let’s delve into the campaign programs of Britain’s two largest parties to see how sensitiveer on this senstivie topic.
Labour: People who migrate can be workers too
The section on immigration in Labour’s election manifesto starts out with acceptance: “Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union. Britain’s immigration system will change…” This hints that Labour does not intend to challenge one of the key likely impacts of Brexit: the end of freedom of movement.
The new system they envision, however, has some changes in store that will impact people migrating from the EU and beyond.
Asylum: Labour promises to end indefinite detention and continue to take “our fair share of refugees” and meet international commitments. They also plan to review current housing arrangements for refugees as they are “not fit for purpose”.
Migration: The party platform prioritizes British workers but does not rule out the possibility of immigration as an augmentation. They say they will consult with industry to determine specific skill/ personel shortages and arrange the system based on the country’s economic needs. “This may include employer sponsorship, work permits, visa regulations or a tailored mix of all these which works for the many, not the few.” International students are welcomed and will not be included in any immigration numbers. Income thresholds- i.e., mininum amounts of savings or income a person must have before being able to come work or join a family member in Britain, will be replaced with a bar on access to public welfare.
We will replace income thresholds with a prohibition on recourse to public funds.
This small sentence on page 28 of the Manifesto hides a surprisingly controversial idea- can you legally bar people who immigrate from accessing public funds? This issue bears further examination.
Labour goes on to ensure that people who are already in the country working will be protected “regardless of their ethnicity”, and specifies that people who immigrate make valuable contributions to the economy and tax system. They promise to end exploitation, discrimination and unscrupulous overseas hiring practices- but are lacking any concrete details regarding how this would be carried out- will they install new anti-discrimination laws? Increase inspections of company hiring practices? Publicize existing workers rights to newcomers?
As a statement of intent, Labour’s intentions seem clear: migraton should be seen as a means to improving the economy and fulfilling work shortages, and people who migrate are seen primarily through the lens of their role as workers or potential competition to British workers. It seems that people seeking asylum might see their situation improve under a Labour government, and workers have some vague but promising benefits to look forward to.
Conservatives: Control and Reduce
The Conservatives address immigration at numerous points throughout their manifesto. They envision multiple changes to de-incentivize migration described as “too fast and too high.”
Asylum: The Conservatives promise a big change in British asylum policy: “We will work to reduce asylum claims made in Britain and, as we do so, increase the number of people we help in the most troubled regions.” In other words, a shift towards granting asylum to people who are outside of the country rather than inside when they apply. A similar idea was offered by the Front National in the French election, and we pointed out that it is problematic under the law to disallow asylum claims from being filed within the national territory, since it may violate the principle of non-refoulement. However, the Conservatives do not offer concrete details on how they will reduce asylum claims from within Britain, so its not clear if what they have in mind will violate their current legal obligations.
Migration: In their first mention of migration, the Conservatives sound quite similar to Labour in saying they will make changes suited to augmenting skills or shortages currently lacking in the British market. Rather than consult directly with industry as Labour promises to, the Conservatives will enlist the assistance of the independent Migration Advisory Committee.
We envisage that the committee’s advice will allow us to set aside significant numbers of visas for workers in strategically-important sectors, such as digital technology, without adding to net migration as a whole.
Nevertheless, they will double the Immigration Skills Charge to £2,000. (The Immigration Skills Charge is a fine employers must pay for hiring workers from outside of Britain, and the British Medical Association has complained that the National Health System or NHS stands to lose millions to this law under the current system- if it is doubled as under the Conservative plan, one should expect additional outcry.)
Later, in a section dedicated to immigration under ‘A Country that Comes Together’, the party announces their intention to significantly reduce immigration levels.
It is our objective to reduce immigration to sustainable levels, by which we mean annual net migration in the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands we have seen over the last two decades.
To get the numbers of people down on such a large scale, they suggest the following:
- Increase earnings thresholds for family reunification visas
- toughen visa requirements for international students who wish to study in Britain as well as requirements for them to stay and work after graduating
- accept fewer people from the EU
Security and Borders: Here, the Conservatives also depart from Labour by offering enhanced measures to prevent people from entering the country and for deporting people not allowed to stay. The manifesto proposes satellite tracking for people subject to deportation orders and says they will make it more difficult for individuals with criminal convictions to enter the country.
Conclusion: Aside from an end to free movement, little agreement
The Labour Party and Conservatives appear on two opposite sides of the sprectrum when it comes to nearly every immigration topic raised. Neither opposes leaving the Schengen Zone as Britain is expected to do under Brexit, but on everything from international students to earnings thresholds they at total odds. In our next installment, we’ll take a look at other parties to see where they stand on some of the migration topics that could change Britain for years to come.
Sources and Further Reading
The Fixed Term Parliaments Act of 2011, Legislation from Britain’s National Archives
Report of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, House of Commons Library
Immigration Skills Charge – UK.gov
NHS could lose millions to Immigration Charge, British Medial Association, March 2017
Header image via David McKelvey on Flickr, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) http://bit.ly/2rKEqlr