Could backlash over Charlottesville damage Trump’s immigration reform plans?

By Christina Lee

Last week US president Donald Trump endorsed a proposal for a new immigration policy, known as the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, or RAISE Act, co-sponsored by Republican Senators David Perdue and Tom Cotton. The plan would dramatically alter the US immigration system by reducing family reunification in favor of a points system that would allocate visas to people based on qualifications such as language and skills. It would additionally abolish the diversity visa program, set a modest limit on accepted refugees, and remove residency and employment rights for parents of US citizens. The entire text of the bill can be read here.

Last week the White House seemed geared up for a fight over the topic, sending out combative adviser Stephen Miller to convince the press (video here). But events over the weekend completely stole the spotlight from even this incredibly controversial topic.

On Saturday, a rally of white supremacists erupted in chaos and violence in the collegiate town of Charlottesville, Virginia. A protest organized by a coalition of right wing groups under the banner ‘Unite the Right‘ met to demonstrate the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, and ended in tragedy when a participant mowed into a group of counter-protesters, killing one.

There has been massive national and international outcry against the incident as well as Trump’s initial response, which many claimed did not explicitly disavow white supremacist groups as he condemned violence “on many sides”. He made an additional statement on Monday which then did so, calling white supremacist groups “repugnant to all that we hold dear as Americans”. Nevertheless, the incident and Trump’s response has prompted a massive surge of interest in white supremacist/ white nativist groups- some of whom have ties to members of the Trump administration. With concern and interest about such groups at an all-time high, will the main architects of Trump’s immigration policy be discredited by these ties? Let’s take a closer look.

Trump Adviser Stephen Miller tied to Unite the Right Speaker Richard Spencer

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Image via Gage Skidmore on Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0) http://bit.ly/2fRfWWN

Perhaps the most direct line between Saturday’s rally and the White House goes through Stephen Miller, presidential adviser and speechwriter, one of the chief architects and proponents of the Muslim Ban, and the individual tasked last week with introducing and defending Trump’s immigration reform package to the media.

One of the headliners of the Unite the Right rally was open white supremacist Richard Spencer, founder of National Policy Institute, a white nationalist/ Identitarian think tank based in Virginia. Spencer formerly attended Duke University with Stephen Miller and worked together with him in the Duke Conservative Union to host far-right anti-immigrant activist Peter Brimelow (founder of the nativist website VDARE, where Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler is a frequent commentator) on campus for a debate on immigration, according to two former members of the Union.

In an interview with Mother Jones, Spencer confirmed the two knew each other and shared views on multiculturalism and immigration.

“It’s funny no one’s picked up on the Stephen Miller connection,” Spencer says. “I knew him very well when I was at Duke. But I am kind of glad no one’s talked about this because I don’t want to harm Trump.”

Miller denied the connection to Mother Jones, but did not answer questions about his activities at Duke.

Trump Adviser Kris Kobach Has Ties to White Nationalist Groups and European Anti-Immigrant Extremists

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Image via Andrew Rosenthal on Flickr, (CC by NC-2.0) http://bit.ly/2wgwEWA

Kris Kobach is the current Kansas Secretary of State, a White House adviser, and President Trump’s appointee to a newly established Commission on Election Integrity. He is also a long-standing advocate of radical immigration reform who was advising on immigration policy from the earliest days of the Trump administration.

As the above tweeted photo shows, and Kobach later confirmed as noted by the Kansas City Star, in 2015 he was among speakers at an event of The Social Contract Press, a white nationalist publishing house that hosts conferences and publishes a quarterly journal highlighting anti-immigrant and anti-“globalist” thought. Previous speakers at TSCP events include Peter Brimelow of VDARE (who was person Spencer and Miller invited to speak at Duke, as noted above), and Jared Taylor, the editor of white supremacist website American Renaissance, author of the book White Identity and one of Spencer’s cited major influencers.

Kobach has also branched out beyond the US to forge connections to extremists from Europe.  In March, Kobach hosted Austrian anti-Muslim activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff in Kansas, a meeting Sabaditsch-Wolff documented meticulously for anti-Muslim website Gates of Vienna. She expressed numerous outlandish opinions to Kobach, including her suspicion that George Soros is funding the travel of people seeking asylum through Europe with 500 euros bills, that “Sweden is the European country that is closest to collapse”, and that women in Europe no longer feel safe in public.

Trump Assistant Sebastian Gorka tied to Hungarian Nazi Group

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Image via 7th Army Training Command on Flickr, (CC by 2.0) http://bit.ly/2uXhGk6

Dr. Sebastian Gorka works in an advisory role at the White House and is often seen making the rounds on morning press shows and talk radio to argue forcefully for Trump’s policies. Gorka was born in the UK to parents who fled as political refugees from Hungary following 1956 Rebellion. He has nevertheless been a forceful advocate against allowing refugees like his parents to come to the US, telling Sean Hannity, “We help people when we can help them,” he said. “But that is not a contract for national suicide.” As a spokeman, he has also represented the White House on immigration issues to defend the Muslim Ban and now the RAISE Act, which would also reduce numbers of people allowed to come to the US as refugees.

However, as an active member of Hungarian politics, Gorka was evidently tied to several extreme-right and anti-Semitic groups, including far-right Jobbik. But, as the Forward revealed, he is also allegedly a formal member of a nationalist group that helped deport thousands of Jews from Hungary during World War II and is banned from immigration to the US because of its Nazi ties, the Vitézi Rend.  A high-ranking member of the organization confirmed his sworn membership to The Forward.

“Of course he was sworn in,” Pintér said, in a phone interview. “I met with him in Sopron [a city near Hungary’s border with Austria]. His father introduced him.”

The government of Viktor Orbán has made Hungary a welcoming place for individuals with extremist anti-immigrant and anti-Semitics views like Jobbik, but also for American white nationalists. Richard Spencer and another scheduled speaker at the Unite the Right Tally, Daniel Friberg, met up in Budapest in 2014 for a NPI conference (where Spencer ironically ran into problems with the Hungarian police for potential immigration violations, according to Hungarian news site Index.)

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The sight of swastikas at the Unite the Right rally, as well as chants of “blood and soil” and “Jews won’t replace us” provokes unnerving historical precedent with nazi movements like the one  Gorka allegedly belongs to. The white nationalists and neo-nazis at Saturday’s events no doubt represent a small group of fringe Americans- but that makes the numerous ties to Trump’s administration, and especially the architects and defenders of his immigration policy, even more difficult to overlook.

 


Sources and Further Reading
The RAISE Act, US Congress, August 2017
Stephen Miller addresses the press about the RAISE Act, Youtube (video), Aug. 2017
Trump condemns Charlottesville violence but doesn’t single out white nationalists, Washington Post, Aug. 12, 2017 (with video)
Trump denounces KKK, neo-Nazis as ‘repugnant’ as he seeks to quell criticism of his response to Charlottesville, Washington Post, Aug. 14, 2017 (with video)
Stephen Miller Defends President Trump’s Travel Ban, Fox News, Jan. 2017 (video)
Immigration ban architect Stephen Miller foreshadowed his policy on journey from Duke to the West Wing, Duke Chronicle, Jan. 2017.
Meet the White Nationalist Trying To Ride The Trump Train to Lasting Power, Mother Jones, Oct. 2016
Kris Kobach rejects criticism for speaking at a ‘white nationalist’ conference, Kansas City Star, Nov. 2015
World gets glimpse of deportation plan Kris Kobach took to meeting with Trump, LA Times, Nov. 2016
Kobach Email Confirms Aim of Voter Fraud Commission is to Gut Vital Voting Rights Law, Slate, July 2017
Introducing Kansas to the Great European Migration Crises, Gates of Vienna, March 2017
Sebastian Gorka (biography), Institute of World Politics
Dr. Sebastian Gorka: ‘U.S. Is a Judeo-Christian Nation But That’s not a Contract for National Suicide!’ Breitbart, Nov. 2016 (with video)
EXCLUSIVE: Senior Trump Aide Forged Key Ties To Anti-Semitic Groups In Hungary, The Forward, Feb. 2017
EXCLUSIVE: Nazi-Allied Group Claims Top Trump Aide Sebastian Gorka As Sworn Member, The Forward, March 2017.
Ineligibility based on Human Rights Violation, State Department
The alien police took custody of the Organizer of the Race Protection Conference, Index.hu, April 2014.
Header Image via Anthony Crider on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2xaBhOu (CC by 2.0)
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Can the SPD’s Martin Schulz own migration in the upcoming German election?

The German election is coming in September and campaign season is finally beginning in earnest. German campaigns are not known for their vitriol, but it can be difficult to attract attention from voters when the two most popular parties (the centre-right CDU/ CSU and the centre-left SPD) are also coalition partners who have backed each other’s position on most major issues for years. The SPD is at a distinctive disadvantage: it’s been in government leadership for years as junior coalition partner to the CDU, so the two’s policies are seen as much the same, and the solid, inevitable-feeling lead of the CDU headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel makes it hard for voters to imagine something other than the status quo. At this point the question may be for the SPD, how can this election seem more like a contest of ideas and not a run-up to a foregone conclusion?

The first step was to get a new face. The Social Democrats were given a big boost when Martin Schulz, the popular two-time President of the European Parliament, announced his return to German politics as Chancellor candidate for the 2017 parliamentary elections. As seen in this Ipsos voter intention poll from the end of February 2017, the SPD appeared to have made significant ground on the CDU in the wake of Schulz’s announcement.

February:

“Which party would you vote for, if next Sunday were the election?”

Ipsos_Public_Affairs_Wahlforschung_26-02-2017

July:

Ipsos_PI_Sonntagsfrage_16-07-2017

As can be seen from the latest poll from mid-July, this headwind appears to have disappeared, with the CDU consolidating an even stronger lead with gains from some of the smaller parties (such as AfD) as well. As the SPD has been seeing its momentum dissipate, Schulz has been trying to find ways to distance and differentiate his party from their coalition partners, and it appears that he has started to thinks that one of the best ways to do this is to take a bold stance on migration.

A European Solution

In  late July Schulz traveled to Italy, where he visited a home for refugees in Catania and met with the Italian PM to discuss the “refugee crises.” At the same time he did a host of interviews on the subject,  which some in the media hailed as a “swipe” at Angela Merkel.

If we don’t want a repeat of what we experienced in 2015 then things have to change.

But what kind of changes is Schulz actually proposing? Taking a look at his announced “solidarity” plan for refugee politics, its clear that Schulz still has his head at the EU level. Here are two main proposals:

Hit countries that refuse people seeking asylum in their pocketbooks.

The European Commission is currently pursuing infringement proceedings against three Visegrad states that have categorically refused to accept redistribution of people seeking asylum from Italy and Greece under a short-term plan, as we have previously explained in detail (see: Sympathy for the Visegrad Group?). Schulz and the SPD would go about convincing naysayers in a more direct way: states who don’t cooperate with EU-wide redistribution (or quotas) would lose access to EU funds. Those who do would receive compensation and benefits. This, Schulz writes, would be carried out through a “solidarity pact.”

In the Solidarity Pact, it must be clear that countries which refuse solidarity on important issues must face financial disadvantages and can no longer count on the full financial solidarity of Germany and the other countries. Solidarity is not a one-way street.

Naturally, as Chancellor of Germany Schulz would no longer have the position at the European Commission to effect such a plan directly. He could (and would) however be able to veto EU financial plans if such conditions aren’t met. Given the legal battles already underway with countries such as Slovakia and Hungary, this would set up a slightly more direct confrontation between Germany and countries rejecting redistribution plans. On the other hand, countries like Italy, Greece and Spain, who stand to benefit the most from such assistance, would likely support a more confrontative approach.

Create legal pathways to immigrate to Europe

Europe is an immigrant continent. In order to maintain our economic power, we are dependent on immigration, especially by well-qualified specialists. A European immigration law should create common rules for this. We urgently need an opportunity for regulated immigration.

Schulz argues that economic pressure and deaths at sea from people seeking asylum can be reduced if there are normal, legal pathways to immigrate to Europe. Speaking in Italy, he reportedly named some examples: “Canada has legal immigration, the United States has it, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand – they all have immigration rules.” This idea also isn’t new, but framed as a European solution raises the question of how, as Chancellor of Germany, Schulz could hope to bring about this massive policy shift. Would Germany first reframe its immigration policy more along the lines of Canada or the US, for example? Or would such a change only be welcomed on the European level?

Similarly, he suggests getting rid of the (EU-wide) Dublin regulation, which, among other things, allows for countries to send people seeking asylum back to the first European country of entry to have their application evaluated. Is Germany going to abandon Dublin first?

Can Schulz zero in on Germany when it comes to migration?

Its clear that what Schulz is proposing aims to tackle the issue of migration and asylum in the long term, on the European playing field. Tying European funding to willingness to participate in distribution scenarios, getting rid of the Dublin regulation, and starting a European wide legal immigration scheme are all hugely ambitious (and wildly controversial) goals, that moreover do not take place in the German domestic sphere. The future Chancellor of Germany plays a huge role in European policy formation, but decisions like these take years of hammering out details and forcing consensus, and do not hinge entirely on the suggestions of one country, no matter how large a role that country has played in the “refugee crises” in the past.

On the other hand, the issues of migration and asylum are inherently international, European issues. Its not incorrect to suggest that Germany can hardly effect changes on this subject alone. But without a domestic angle, these solutions feel aspirational and unrealistic. Angela Merkel is a well-known proponent of a European-wide approach to accepting refugees, and for all her clout very little progress has been made. Arguably, a European-wide solution is further away than ever.

Perhaps if Schulz really wants to stand out, he needs to suggest grounded, practical, German policies that have the potential to be realized in the short term. Reforming the German immigration system to provide more legal pathways to immigrate is a concrete example. In contrast to Merkel’s plodding style, some quick fixes might be in order if Schulz wants to regain momentum and convince voters that not every change requires waiting on Europe.

 

Sources and Further Reading
Voter Intention, IPSOS Sunday Polls
Why is Martin Schulz traveling to Italy?  Deutsche Welle (German), July 2017
German election WARS: Martin Schulz attacks Merkel on migration in explosive interview, Express, July 2017
Ensure a solidarity-based refugee policy in Europe, MartinSchulz.de
Towards a solidarity refugee policy in Europe, SPD.de
Schulz turns to immigration to revive flagging campaign, Reuters, July 2017
What is the Dublin Regulation?, European Commission
Asylum in Europe: The Dublin Regulation, UNHCR (pdf)
Header image via Parti Socialiste on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2wOcK1t (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Sympathy for the Visegrad Group? A look at the V4’s migration proposals

In European migration politics, the governments of the so-called “Visegrad Group” or V4 – Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia– have set themselves apart with their consistently strong stance against EU refugee policy over the past few years. The four strongly oppose a quota distribution system collectively and take a harsh tone against both Brussels’ migration policy and people seeking asylum in their national media. (For an example, read “Will Fear of Refugees Become the Status Quo in Czech Politics?”). As the European Commission takes steps to potentially punish three of the countries for refusing to follow a specific EU resettlement policy, the countries show no sign of backing down. But is there room for compromise?

Drawing a line in the sand

The European Commission announced it was taking the first step in infringement proceedings against three of the four Visegrad states –Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic – for breaching Council decisions regarding relocation of people seeking international protection or asylum from Greece and Italy. Slovakia, who has legally challenged the relocation order and only accepts candidates based on strict preferences, has faced criticism but no threats of infringement (yet). Although Visegrad-adjacent Austria has also refused to accept any transfers of people, they are also off the hook in this case because they promised to accept 50 people in May 2017, according to an EC report on resettlements.

The countries implicated have all separately reaffirmed their intention to defy any resettlement plan, despite the Commission’s warning of infringement. Warsaw quickly issued a statement in response the announcement, calling the Commission’s actions premature in light of pending cases with Slovakia and Hungary at the ECJ, stating, “Poland stands ready to plead its case before the Court of Justice.” Just last week, presidential frontrunner of the ANO 2011 party and current deputy Prime Minister Andrej Babiš told the Czech website Parlamentní listy: “As I said, I do not want a single refugee in the Czech Republic, not even temporarily.” And Viktor Orbán, Hungarian Prime Minister, connected his fight against resettling refugees to his ongoing efforts to stifle George Soros, telling students at a Hungarian cultural festival in Romania that Soros has been “using his money, people and institutions to transport migrants into Europe.” In the same speech, he said that Hungary would continue to endeavor to offer a “calm, Christian life” to its inhabitants and  “will not take in people who raise the concern in us that they will change our cultural identity.”

These public statements from Visegrad leadership are clear about what (or rather, who) they don’t want. But what do they offer as an alternative for handling migration on the European level?

What does Visegrad Want?

On July 19th, the Visegrad Group met in Budapest and issued a Joint Statement on Migration that outlined their position- not just what they stand opposed to, but what they offer as an alternative. In it, they reaffirm their commitment to a joint “consensus-based European solution” to dealing with migration. For the V4, the essential thing is to divide people seeking asylum from what they call “economic migrants”, a determination that they maintain should be made outside of EU territory but with the assistance of member states. Further, they write that any relocation schemes must be strictly voluntary, and the overall focus should be on preventing people from leaving their countries and entering Europe in the first place. The entire letter can be read here.

The tone of the letter is significantly subdued in comparison to what leading politicians have been telling their populations regarding asylum and Brussels, but that’s no reason to discard it. Let’s take a look at some of the key proposals and whether they are practical and further, whether they point to any areas that could lead to a compromise between the Visegrad Group and Commission.

1. Make asylum determinations outside of Europe

We believe that the precondition of any efficient strategy related to mixed migratory flows is to distinguish between genuine asylum seekers and economic migrants. The necessary assessments have to be completed outside the territory of the EU in administrative centres protected and supplied with the assistance and contribution of the EU and its Member States.

In order to deal with asylum “at the roots”, as they write, it is necessary to move the asylum process outside of EU territory. This proposal is a familiar one, as can be seen by our discussion of former French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s policy platform. There are several problems with this idea, but also an area of possible compromise.

One problem is the assumption inherent in this proposal that people migrating to Europe belong to either the category of asylum seekers or “economic migrants.” This division is confusing and artificial. In Europe, as all over the rest of the world, people migrate for a variety of reasons outside of seeking asylum. They may be seeking better opportunities and jobs, but they also might be hoping to reunite with a family member or loved one, access educational opportunities, gain medical treatment, or for any number of other reasons. They may not be able to access protection under the refugee convention, for instance, because authorities believe there are other safe areas to flee within their home country, but this doesn’t make their motives necessarily economic in nature. And importantly, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are not entitled to other forms of protection.

A second, stickier issue is the notion of completing assessments of people’s asylum claims outside EU territory. Nothing in EU or international law forbids the possibility of a state granting people asylum from a distance outside that state’s borders. In fact, countries do this all the time, often aided by government officials or NGOs within a country to identify people that can be transferred to another country to get protection.

The problem comes when this is posed as the only way of granting asylum. “Sequencing is crucial,” write the Visegrad Group, but legally, they have bound themselves to also accept refugees who apply from within their territory (as have all other European countries). The 1951 Refugee Convention and its follow up the 1967 Protocol both define refugees as someone who:

“owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

The “outside their country” aspect is crucial. If countries were only willing to offer asylum to people who applied without leaving their own countries, then people would have to remain in a country where they are at risk while waiting for an answer- possibly facing death or torture. All V4 countries have signed both the 1951 Convention and its 1967 protocol (see UNHCR’s list of signatories for more details.) This binds them to accepting applications of asylum on their own territory, and to not “refouling” people (sending them back to places where they face persecution.) This definition of asylum as allowing people to leave their national borders to safety is also included within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” (The “seek” part is also important: it means you are entitled to ask for asylum, even if you don’t ultimately receive it.)

It should be clear that people needn’t remain in their own countries to seek asylum, and that the members of the Visegrad Group are obligated to process asylum claims of people who make it to their territory and ask for protection, just as the rest of Europe is. But so long as this is guaranteed, a compromise could see more asylum decisions being reached in sending countries, such as through embassies or special centers for that purpose, without excluding the right to seek asylum in the traditional way as well. This could indeed prevent people who have no viable claim for asylum from making perilous journeys while expediting the process for people who do have viable claims.

However, a major concern would be to ensure that assessments carried out abroad comply with legal standards and aren’t a way of moving the asylum process out of sight and out of mind.

2. Secure external EU borders

We need to be able to fully protect the external borders of the European Union. At the same time, we need to remove internal border controls. We need to make sure that no one can avoid being properly identified and registered before entering the territory of the EU.

This proposal also offers plenty of room for agreement with the rest of Europe. The idea of strengthening external border controls while providing free movement within the EU is an aspiration that is nearly universally shared. This can be seen by the dramatic budget and staffing increase over the last years for the European border agency Frontex, headed out of Warsaw, and increasing funds for Italy to manage asylum assessments (and deportations.)

However, the implication that everyone can be “properly identified” before entering the EU is problematic for a few reasons. First, as discussed above, its a right under international and European law to seek asylum in other countries. This right is not limited to those who are “properly identified.” In other words, providing ID is not a prerequisite to seeking asylum, and attempting to stop people from entering because they cannot provide ID might violate international law.

Throughout the asylum application process people are grilled on their stories and asked to provide as much evidence as possible to back up their claims of persecution and country origin. But it must be recognized that, when fleeing war or persecution, it is sometimes not possible to bring full documentation. For others, these important papers might be lost in transit. Still others might be stateless, in which case they may never have had proper identification documents to begin with. Any of these circumstances do not take away a person’s right to ask for protection.

3. Use aid to discourage “pull factors” and prevent people from leaving

We need a sustainable European solution with the long-term objective of a proactive involvement of the EU and its Member States in the most affected Third Countries of origin and transit including improving their living conditions.

The idea of preventing migration through increasing development aid is an unproven concept that has nevertheless been pushed by people as diverse as Jean Luc Melenchon in France and Mark Rutte in the Netherlands. The problem with the idea is that the EU already spend billions in development aid, but this aid may not reach people most vulnerable to persecution and war. Not to mention the fact that it does not address pull factors such as family reunification. Nevertheless, if aid is indeed aimed at improving living conditions and not at preventing people from leaving their country (as everyone is entitled to) then it is hard to see major downsides to ramping it up.

At the same time, there would appear to be room for improvement in this area from the states proposing the aid increase. The EU has targets for development aid to lower income countries known as “Official Development Assistance” (ODAs). In the latest Commission report on the subject (found here) it was noted that although progress has been made, the EU has not reached its collective goal of setting aside .7% of Gross National Income (GNI) for development aid.

The Visegrad states fall well below this goal, as well as below the less ambitious target set for countries who had joined the EU after 2002 (as all four Visegrad states did). The target for these countries was .33% of GNI, whereas all Visegrad states had reached between .12%-.14% in 2016.

So here too is an area of potential compromise: EU countries in general and Visegrad countries in particular could strive harder to reach their development assistance goals as part of an effort to improve living conditions in countries that currently experience high levels of emigration. But it should be remembered that development aid doesn’t end wars.

Can member states work together?

Looking at the migration policy proposed by the Visegrad states in Budapest, its possible to identify at least three areas where compromises should be possible:

1.) Provide additional means of applying for asylum from outside of the EU

2.) Continue to secure EU borders while supplying assistance for identification and registration of people seeking asylum at entry points to the EU

3.) Increase development aid, for instance, by getting closer to Official Development Assistance goals.

Interestingly, the viable parts of Visegrad’s migration platform all point to one thing: more money. There’s no doubt that providing more financial support up and down the asylum system can make a difference in how well the EU handles migration and asylum. But is it enough to replace the human aspect of accepting people into societies?

At the end of the day, no matter how much funding is offered and how many restrictions are applied, there are numerous people that are truly entitled to protection under laws agreed to in Europe for over half of a century, many of whom are already here. Increasing funds to prevent people from coming might be an area both sides can agree on, but it cannot possibly represent more than a partial solution to the current standoff over people already here and waiting for help.

 

Sources and Further Reading
Will Fear of Refugees Become the Status Quo in Czech Republic? MV
Relocation: Commission launches infringement procedures against the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Press Release, European Commission. June 2017.
Pending Case: Slovakia v. Council. Info-Curia, European Court of Justice.
Thirteenth Report on Resettlement and Relocation, European Commission, June 2017
MFA statement on the European Commission’s decision to launch infringement procedures against Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, June 2017
Interview with Andrej Babis.  Parlamentní listy, July 2017.
Viktor Orbán’s answers to questions from audience members after his speech at the Bálványos Summer Open University and Student Camp. (Speech Transcript) Hungarian Government, July 2016
Joint Statement by the Prime Ministers of the V4 Countries on Migration, Visegrad Group, July 2017
Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, UNHCR
States Parties to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967
Protocol, UNHCR
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN
Questions & Answers: the new European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Press Release, European Commission, 2016
Frontex to Get Budget Hike After Refugee Failures, EUobserver, 2015
EU unveils more measures to help Italy deal with Migrant Crises, Financial Times, July 2017
Council conclusions on annual report 2017 on EU development aid targets, European Commission, May 2017
Header image via Poland MFA on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2uumbVB (CC BY-NC 2.0)

 

UK General Election: Do UKIP losses show a swing away from anti-immigrant views?

Thursday’s truly astonishing British general election result has left the media with plenty of straws to grasp at. As we now know, the Conservatives missed the threshold for a majority (326 seats) after calling for a snap election with the hopes of a windfall to consolidate their authority in time for Brexit talks. In the meantime, Labour, led by the embattled Jeremy Corbyn, gained over 30 seats but did not manage to secure a majority. UKIP failed to gain any seats, and the Irish DUP arrived in the dubious position of kingmaker for the Conservatives by virtue of their ten seats.

The success of Labour and surprising turnaround of the Conservatives and UKIP have many people asking:

Was this result a rebuke to parties who take a strong stance against immigration?

In our view, not necessarily.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP), who has previously made a name for itself with strong opposition to immigration and the European Union, did extremely poorly in many of the districts where they had previously performed well, seeming to split their lost votes among Labour and Conservative candidates. For example, the chart below, based on official statistics reported by the BBC and the Guardian, shows how much UKIP lost in comparison to 2015 in the five districts that had the highest percentage of people voting to leave the EU.

Sample UKIP Losses in Leave Districts

In all of these districts, Conservatives won the most votes and the seat in parliament. However, Labour had strong gains in each, performing on average an additional 8% better than in 2015. Conservatives also did better, by an average of 12%. Considering UKIP lost an average of 20% in these districts, these numbers would appear to show people who formerly supported UKIP dividing their votes among Labour and Conservatives, favoring Conservatives, but not by much.

If voters had abandoned UKIP because they had changed their mind about Brexit, we would have expected to see surges in the parties promising to fight Brexit, particularly the Greens and the LibDems. This was not the case.

A possible interpretation is that UKIP, as a protest party standing strongly for Brexit, lost its appeal once Brexit was achieved. However, if the reasoning for wanting Brexit in the first place primarily lay with opposition to immigration, it would have been reasonable to expect the Conservatives, who took the harshest stance against immigration, sweeping up all or most of the UKIP votes so that the government could finish the job and make lasting changes to the immigration yste. Instead, a good chunk went to Labour as well- who were tepid on the subject of immigration reform, promising “fair rules and reasonable management of migration.”

We previously compared the Labour and Conservative positions on immigration as laid out in their manifestos and concluded that they could not be more different. While Conservatives promise to bring the number of people migrating to the UK from over 300,000 to in the tens of thousands, Labour does not have specific numeric targets for reduction. Conservatives would make it more difficult for family members to reunify, while Labour would make it easier (at first glance) by removing earnings requirements. Labour would ban indefinite detention, while Conservatives would change asylum rules to disfavor those who apply in-country. In addition, the parties differ significantly on international students and charges for employers who hire non-British workers.

The only place they come together in agreement over Brexit: it’s happening, and it’s going to change immigration from the EU and beyond.

So what conclusions can we draw from this baffling situation? There are a few possibilities.

Bored of Brexit

First, perhaps this outcome showed that while many people did want a change on immigration, they felt that change was already achieved by the vote to leave the European Union. If this were the case, it would be natural to turn their attention to other, more domestic priorities, such as employment, social services, health and education. These are areas that Labour spent a lot of time campaigning on, and perhaps this effort accounted for some of their success.

Not Convinced by the Conservatives

The promise to reduce numbers of people migrating to Britain is not a new one. David Cameron pledged to cap immigration in the tens of thousands back in 2010 and obviously did not, which may cast doubt for some on Theresa May’s pledge to do the same in 2017. Public opinion surveys, like one done by Ipsos, show that only 18% of British people think the goal of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands of achievable by the Conservatives, while 68% say its “either not at all likely or fairly unlikely that the Conservatives will be able to achieve this target”.

This would indicate not that people have changed their views on immigration, but that they are unconvinced that Conservatives can carry out their promises on reducing net numbers. By extension, the same applies to UKIP, who promised to reduce net migration to zero.

Cold Feet for Hard Brexit

A final possibility to consider is that the people who switched their votes were satisfied with the decision to leave the EU, but turned off by the hard-line approach favored by UKIP and the Conservatives. In terms of immigration, this could mean a desire for a measured approach to a changed system under Brexit rather than reduction by several hundred thousand or “net zero”. One of the difficulties of the hard-line approach favored by UKIP and the Tories is that people tend to differentiate between different kinds of immigrants- for instance, international students, doctors, and people rejoining their families, versus people seeking asylum or irregular migrants. An approach that puts all of these individuals in the same basket risks forcing people to prioritize efforts to reduce immigration over, for instance, having adequate doctors and nurses to staff the NHS. Perhaps some voters felt that Labour struck the better balance between leaving the EU while not totally changing the character of the country by advocating radical changes to the immigration system.

****

Of course, it’s possible that none of these possibilities encapsulate what voters were thinking when many abandoned UKIP and to a lesser extent Conservatives. (Perhaps UKIP voters simply abstained en masse!) The coming weeks may give us more opportunity to find out, as the fallout from the election impacts the Conservatives and their attempts to get Brexit negotiations underway with an almost hung parliament. For now, we assess that slashing numbers arbitrarily and not taking account of the migration needs of different industries and sectors is no longer a winning proposition. Judging from reports that May has promised to back away from some of her key immigration positions, the Tories would seem to agree.


Sources and Further Reading
Two of UK’s Top Leave Districts in Essex, BBC, June 2016
UK Election 2017: Full Results (Interactive), June 2017
Comparing the Conservative and Labour Manifestos on Immigration , MV
UK Parties Clash Over International Students, MV
What is the Tories’ Immigration Skills Charge and how will it impact the NHS?, MV
Most think Theresa May will not achieve her target to cut net migration to the “tens of thousands”, IPSOS Mori, May 2017
Theresa May buys time with apology to Tory MPs over election ‘mess’, The Guardian, June 2017
Header Image: UKIP Billboard, via Ian Burt on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2rl1aNj (CC by 2.0)

 

What is the Tories’ ‘Immigration Skills Charge’ and how will it impact the NHS?

Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) played a central role in the debate over whether to leave the European Union, and has now become a central campaign issue in the General Election. The parties nearly unanimously offer policies to bolster the NHS, calling for more funding, better training, and more positions open for doctors and nurses. But only one party – the Conservatives- have called for doubling a tax on hiring non-British workers. What exactly is the Immigration Skills Charge and what does it have to do with the debate over the NHS?

The Immigration Skills Charge

The Immigration Skills Charge came into effect in April 2017 as part of a revamp of the Immigration Act. Under the Act, employers who hire a skilled worker from a country outside the EU or Switzerland must pay £1000 per year per employee at the outset, when applying for each visa. The charge may not be passed on to the employee, and if the visa is rejected the employer is entitled to a full refund. The reasoning behind the legislation is clear: to discourage the hiring of non-British, non-European workers. This is laid out in an explanatory memo prepared by the Department of Education:

ISC report

As the policy memo lays out, the inconvenience of paying the Immigration Skills Charge (in addition to other fees and fines) discourages employers from looking outside the UK and Europe for high-skilled employees- instead, they should consider training people within the country for positions.

While this regulation seems logically aimed at achieving its stated goal in some circumstances, there’s a potential problem here. What about jobs where the level of skills required are so cost-intensive that training costs would outweigh fines? Or, in cases where the skills are urgently required, yet take significant amounts of time to develop? Doctors and nurses for the NHS would appear to fall under both categories. 

 

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The British Medical Association (BMA) has lobbied against the charge, writing in a letter together with the Royal College of Nursing that it would cost the NHS millions and not provide alternative, UK trained staff in time for replacing people from abroad.

It cannot be appropriate to divert funding away from the budget for front-line health services and the training of health professionals in this way. While the government has suggested that funds raised from the charge would be reinvested back into the UK workforce and health system, we have been given no guarantees to that effect…. [t]he UK’s health and social care system is not a business which has unlimited access to training places in the UK. Both nursing and medicine are highly skilled professions and long-term UK workforce planning for both is determined by the finite number of places available at UK medical schools and on nursing degree courses as well as on practice training capacity within the health system.

What would doubling the charge do to the NHS?

In their manifesto, Tories promise to double down (literally) on the Immigration Skills Charge by the end of the year.

However, skilled immigration should not be a way for government or business to avoid their obligations to improve the skills of the British workforce. So we will double the Immigration Skills Charge levied on companies employing migrant workers, to £2,000 a year by the end of the parliament, using the revenue generated to invest in higher level skills training for workers in the UK.

(Presumably, people from the EU or Switzerland would still be excluded from the charge, since the manifesto says nothing to the contrary.)

The NHS is Britain’s largest employer and applies for thousands of visas for its workforce every year. Undoubtedly the doubled Immigration Skills Charge will have a significant impact. But just how much of an impact?

Using numbers obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request published in The Guardian, we can see where recent figures stand. In 2015, there were 87,280 applications filed for tier-two visas for people coming from outside of the EU or Switzerland (the only ones the charge currently applies to.) Of these, over 6,000 were for NHS employees: 3,705 for doctors and 2,535 for nurses.

If next year had a similar number of applications and the double charge applied, the NHS would have to pay £12.1 million for the first year alone. Given that charges are levied for the entire period of the visa application up front, the real number could be much higher, depending on the length of the visa. For instance, if all of those persons applied for a three year visa, the costs to the NHS would be £36.3 million over one year of visa applicants- not counting the other types of fees that apply. With similar employment needs, and potential reduced entry by people from the EU to fill positions, this could eat up a significant chunk of the £8.6 billion the Tories are promising to fund the NHS with over the next five years.

What about Brexit?

The number of workers from outside the EU working in the NHS is relatively small compared to the staff from EU countries currently employed. The Tories have promised to prioritize these workers during Brexit negotiations:

We will make it a priority in our negotiations with the European Union that the 140,000 staff from EU countries can carry on making their vital contribution to our health and care system.

However, what kind of solution negotiations will land on remains completely unclear. Will people from EU countries working in the NHS have special rights to remain, with special visas? Will EU citizens wanting to work in Britain in the future continue to be excluded from the Immigration Skills Charge? Will they be included in net migration figures? If not, will this incentivize a preference for European employees over people from outside of Europe for long after Brexit?

Even with such a preference, the NHS could be headed for major staffing issues because of Brexit. A survey conducted by the BMA found that 42% of doctors from the EU considered leaving Britain after Brexit.

If doctors and nurses from Europe leave or decide not to come in the first place, while doctors and nurses from outside of Europe are prohibitively expensive to bring to Britain, how will the NHS meet staffing needs in the immediate future?

As with our discussion on international students, it appears that migration issues are seeping into other areas, potentially having a massive impact on the lives of British citizens for years to come. As Britain heads to the polls, it should be interesting to see how voters weigh the costs of allowing continued migration versus facing possibly dramatic changes to their health and educations systems.


Sources and Further Reading
The Immigration Skills Charge Regulation, Legislation.gov.uk
The Immigration Act of 2016, Legislation.gov.uk
Explanatory Memorandum to the Immigration Skills Charge Regulation, Department of Education, Legislation.gov.uk
BMA and RCN write to the Home Secretary over Immigration Skills Charge, BMA, April 2017
Conservative Party Manifesto 
Immigration Skills Charge Could Hit Health Funding for Years, The Guardian, April 2017
The Immigration Skills Charge, BMA
Brexit Dawns on the NHS, Tim Tonkin for BMA
Cover image via Iker Merodio on Flickr, (CC by-NC-ND 2.0) http://bit.ly/2rwwFlY

 

Opinion: British “Progressive Alliance” failed from bad politics and bad faith

By Phil Butland

This is the latest in Migration Voter’s opinion series on strategic voting. Read our previous article on France here.

At the beginning of the British election campaign, the Green Party touted the idea of a “progressive alliance” against the Tories. To many people this seemed like a no-brainer. With the Tory manifesto showing the return of the “nasty party”, surely anything would be better than Theresa May coming back into power.

Here’s how a progressive alliance works. One of the peculiarities of the British election campaign is that an MP only needs to win more votes than any other candidate in his or her electoral district. With multiple candidates, most MPs do not even have the support of half the people who voted.

A progressive alliance would mean that in each district the local parties would decide which candidate would be most likely to beat the Tories. All other candidates would stand down, and the result would be a Tory wipe-out.

So why did the progressive alliance not happen? In this article, I will argue that it was a mixture of bad politics, bad faith, and the pessimistic (if, at the time, understandable) view that just because Labour was polling 20% behind the Tories they were incapable of winning on their own.

Bad Politics

Firstly, the bad politics. One of the conditions on which the Greens insisted was the inclusion of the Liberal Democrats in the progressive alliance. This posed a number of problems, not least that just seven years ago the LibDems fought an election campaign based on one major promise  – the withdrawal of tuition fees.

The Liberal Democrat election manifesto of 2010 declared “We will scrap unfair university tuition fees so everyone has the chance to get a degree, regardless of their parents’ income” around the time of the National Union of Students conference in April of that year. LibDem leader Nick Clegg issued a youtube video titled “Say goodbye to broken promises”. The first frame was a piece of paper on which was written “No student tuition fees – Labour”.

libdem vid

On 28 April Clegg claimed tuition fees would double under a Conservative or Labour government: “We think it’s unfair when you graduate and you haven’t even taken your first step in the world of adult work to be saddled with £25,000 worth of debt”. Every Lib Dem candidate who was subsequently elected signed a “Vote for Students” pledge, promising to vote against any rise in tuition fees in the next parliament.

The election resulted in a hung parliament and the LibDems could have joined a coalition government led by Labour or by the Tories. They chose the Tories – who promptly tripled tuition fees. On 9 December 2010, in the Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations Act, MPs approved raising the cap on tuition fees by a 323 to 302 vote. 28 LibDem MPs voted for the bill and only 21 voted against. Indeed one of the arguments that claim current LibDem Leader Tim Fallon is somehow progressive is that he was one of the minority of MPs who voted for party policy.

The LibDems propped up the Conservative government for its full term, and were punished at the subsequent election where they lost nearly all their MPs. In 2010, boosted by a strong campaign in student constituencies, 57 LibDem MPs were voted into parliament. In the 2015 election, only eight remained.

But surely they’ll have learned from their mistakes? Apparently not. Under new leader Tim Farron, an evangelical Christian who has received due flak for his views on gay marriage, the LibDems have repeatedly refused to rule out entering another coalition with the Tories. Under these circumstances, they had no need for a progressive alliance – and a progressive alliance had no need for them.

Despite putting on a progressive front, Farron has called abortion “wrong at any time”. Former Campaigns manager to the gay LibDem MP Simon Hughes, Mark Gettleson has said:

“Tim Farron now presents himself as a changed man. He says he now regrets abstaining on equal marriage, despite not distancing himself from his amendments. He’s changed his mind too on his opposition to the Equality Act’s ban on discrimination in the provision of goods and services … But it is not enough to repent of the past when it becomes convenient to do so.”

When Corbyn won the Labour leadership, Farron appealed to the Labour MPs working against Corbyn (and the majority of their party) and Conservatives, telling The Guardian “Over the past few days I have received a number of messages and calls from friends within the Labour party distressed by the direction that their party is taking. To the right, I have talked with a new Conservative MP taken aback by the attitudes that they have encountered within their own party.”

His appeal to centrists in both parties continued in April 2017, when he refused to rule out forming another coalition with the Tories. As with former LibDem leader Nick Clegg, who opposed student fees out of office then helped push them through, we must judge Farron not on what he says but what he has done and what he’s likely to do in the future.

That’s a maybe, but surely Labour could make some deal with the Greens? After all, during the dark years of Tony Blair, the Greens remained the conscience of the nation, with many people – including myself – voting for them as a progressive alternative to Blair’s politics of war and austerity.

Now I could certainly see a good case for the Greens and Labour making a voting alliance, especially in the (many) constituencies held by Labour MPs who have consistently campaigned against Corbyn. Since the general election in 2015, Labour has trebled its membership to over 500.000 people. Although most people have joined because of Corbyn’s leadership, a majority of MPs, and their house journal, the supposedly progressive newspaper The Guardian have tried to undermine him every step of the way.

Following a continuous barrage of Guardian articles declaring Corbyn to be “unelectable” 172 Labour MPs submitted a no-confidence vote in Corbyn with just 40 supporting him. 20 shadow cabinet ministers and around 30 other junior ministers resigned, coordinating their resignations at hourly intervals to sustain media pressure on Corbyn. Nonetheless, in this second leadership election, Corbyn won an increased majority with over 60% of the vote, including a vast majority of individual party members.

Despite this, in the current election campaign, many candidates have openly snubbed the Labour Leadership. Phil Wilson, Tony Blair’s successor as Labour MP for Sedgefield proudly told Facebook that “I am no supporter of Jeremy Corbyn” and “it is my name on the ballot paper here, not Corbyn”. In Newcastle-under-Lyme, Paul Farrelly said that voters would “laugh me off the streets” if he put Corbyn’s policies on his leaflets (

As Corbyn has gained ground on the Tories, both The Guardian and the rebel MPs have largely fallen into line. The Guardian’s sister paper The Observer even claimed that Corbyn “should be commended for the dignified way in which he has dealt with an immensely hostile media onslaught from the rightwing tabloids”, even though some of the greatest hostility came from its own stable. Nevertheless, it is clear that even if Corbyn wins the election, he cannot be sure of the support of the majority of his parliamentary party, and will need the backing of other progressives both inside and outside parliament.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Green’s suggestion of a progressive alliance this time round was tainted by bad faith from the start.

Bad Faith

It wasn’t just the insistence that the LibDems be involved. As soon as Labour wavered on the idea of a progressive alliance, the Greens – and their only MP, the genuinely progressive Caroline Lucas – spent much more time attacking Labour than they did the Tories. A particular low point was their election broadcast of 12 May. This broadcast lambasted Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May equally, while saying that the Greens were the only true anti-establishment party.

And yet what has characterized this election campaign had been Corbyn’s ability to tap into an anti-establishment feeling shared by millions who have suffered under the Tories. Addressing rallies of thousands of people and with the support of actors like Maxine Peake and film directors like Ken Loach, Corbyn has turned the election into a two-horse race. A couple of weeks ago, the Tories led by 20% in the polls. At the time of writing, polls are predicting a hung parliament. A yougov survey for the Sunday Times put support for the Conservatives on 42% and Labour on 38% . On top of this, the Scottish and Welsh nationalists are unlikely to support the Tories, nor are the Greens or Sinn Féin who are likely to take their seats in Westminster for the first time.  And there’s still over a week to go.

Voting intention 1-2 Jun]-01

Corbyn’s success comes from a series of positive demands – for a minimum wage, a decent health service and for humane treatment of refugees , that comes from standing for something. Horse trading with the Greens and particularly the Liberal Democrats would have blunted this message. A progressive alliance is based on preventing the worst from happening and is in its very nature negative and reactive.

The Greens may have called upon Corbyn to join them in stopping the Tories, yet they only have one MP, and their only real chances of getting any more lies in constituencies with Labour MPs. Standing down in other areas would have helped them concentrate their resources – and to save a lot of money they will lose from lost deposits.

Does this mean that a progressive alliance is always a bad idea or that British progressive voters should vote Labour everywhere? I do believe that this time round, all British voters should vote for Jeremy Corbyn, but in two areas there is a case to be made that the Corbyn candidate is not necessarily the Labour candidate.

The first area is Scotland. After decades of Labour misrule and a refusal to address the national question, Labour was punished in Scotland at the last general election, where the SNP ran a left social democratic campaign and won all but 3 of the 59 seats available. One of the few pleasures of the last parliamentary sessions has been watching the 22-year old SNP MP Mhairi Black regularly excoriating the Tories for their soulless policies (see, for example, here, here, here and here).

The Corbyn effect is only just starting to take hold in parts of Scotland, and in many cases, progressive voters will be torn between choosing between the SNP and Labour. Scotland would actually be one place where a progressive alliance could be effective, yet the SNP have no interest in helping Labour try to win back the support that they have squandered in Scotland.

The other constituency where progressives should consider voting against Labour is Bradford West,  where I lived for many years and would be voting if I still had the right to vote in the UK.  Salma Yaqoob is a former leader of RESPECT, the party set up by George Galloway after Tony Blair launched the war on Iraq. In 2017, Salma is standing against Naz Shah, a Labour MP who has gleefully joined the plots against Jeremy Corbyn. There is no question that Salma is the candidate with the better politics and the more personal integrity.

There are still two possible reasons not to vote for Salma. The first would be if her candidacy would split the progressive vote and let the Tories in. This seems to be highly unlikely – and there is some talk of the possibility of Salma actually winning.

The second reason to doubt is that this election – more than most others – will be used to judge the personal and political qualities of the two main leaders – Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. There are many Labour right wingers who will jump on any losses of Labour under Corbyn to remove him and to return the party to its old neo-liberal leadership.

And yet it seems to me – albeit from 1000 kilometres away – that even if Corbyn wins the election (something few people were even considering even a week ago) he will be opposed by most of his own MPs and the presence of someone like Salma in parliament would be of considerable use to him – not to mention the platform it would offer her to speak out for genuine progressive politics.

Lessons for Germany?

Finally, I would like to sum up by asking what this all means for the coming German elections and for the LINKE party, of which I am a member. Many party members are excited by the possibility of die LINKE entering government, as a junior partner to the SPD and Greens. I am more sceptical – not least because taking part in a government following the same austerity programme as today’s SPD would open the way to the mixture of neo-liberals and out-and-out fascists in the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) being able to pose as being the “real” anti-establishment party.

But even if die LINKE wants to join a coalition government, Jeremy Corbyn has proved how it is possible to gain electoral support by offering clear, progressive politics. Which is why die LINKE campaign must be centered on supporting the weakest – including migrants and refugees – and fighting together for a better society.

If we limit our offer to saying “at least we’re not as bad as the other lot”, we shouldn’t be surprised if we fail to inspire.


Phil Butland is the speaker of die LINKE Berlin Internationals (https://theleftberlin.wordpress.com/, lag.internationals@die-linke-berlin.de)


Sources and Further Reading
Green Party Urges Electoral Alliance, The Guardian, June 2016
Nasty Party“, Wikipedia
 Liberal Democrat Election Manifesto 2010
Liberal Democrats: Say Goodbye to Broken Promises. Youtube, April 2010
Tuition Fees and the Lib Dems, Channel 4, Oct. 2010
Fact Check: Lib Dem Rebellion on Cards, Channel 4, Oct 10
Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations Act, UK Parliament, 2010
Mark Gettleson: Why Tim Farron’s Record on Gay Marriage MattersHuffington Post, July 2016
Tim Farron: Corbyn win ‘potentially changes everything’ for Lib Dems, The Guardian, Sept. 2015
Tim Farron: Lib Dem leader refuses to rule out coalition with the Conservatives (Video), The Independent, April 2017
Labour shadow cabinet and ministers resignations – the letters in full. The Telegraph, June 2016
Green Party – Party Election Broadcast: 2017 General Election, Youtube, May 2017
SNP MP Mhairi Black “excoriating the Tories” in Parliament (videos): July 2015, Feb. 2016, Dec. 2016, July 2016, Youtube.
Header Image via Andy Miah on Flickr, (CC BY-NC 2.0) http://bit.ly/2qQ7Q1x

UK Parties Clash Over International Students

With the UK General election in less than two weeks, the gap is narrowing between the two largest parties, the Conservatives led by current prime minister Theresa May and the Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn. As we concluded in our analysis of the two parties’ manifestos, their massively different views indicate that this will be a uniquely impactful election for Britain’s immigration system. Adding to the mix three parties that are staunchly opposed to ending free movement, which will almost certainly be part and parcel of Brexit, and you have a volatile set of possibilities for people living in the UK from EU countries as well. One of the groups at the center of the controversy over migration is international students, who stand to be targeted by big changes if the Conservative party is victorious. MV takes a deep dive to understand what’s happening.

The Issue

Students from all over the world vie for the chance to study in the UK, home to some of the world’s top universities. In 2015-2016, over 2 million students studied in undergraduate or post-graduate programs in the UK, and over 231,000 were students from other countries- including some 59,100 from the EU, according to HESA, an agency providing official statistics on the subject of higher education in the UK.

Ivy Bar43 South St. North Carolina (1)

As can be seen, international students make up circa 10% of total higher education students in the UK (this includes both graduate level and post-graduate level students.)

However, this total covers students total in the UK, so it is not an accurate reflection of yearly immigration by people seeking to study in the country. That number, according to Britain’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) was 136,000 for 2016 – down 36,000 from the prior year.

The numbers of both students generally and incoming students from abroad have remained relatively stable over the last years, but since at least 2010 international students have come under political focus by politicians promising to reduce migration levels. The debate was rekindled this year as British Parliament tackled widespread reforms to British higher education through the Higher Education and Research Act of 2017, partially in response to Brexit.

Brexit, International Students, and the Higher Education and Research Act

Following the referendum result, there was significant concern awakened about what the British exit from the EU would mean for the higher education system. With multiple links with Europe at stake, through students, research grants, joint programs and more, some feared Brexit would make Britain a less desirable destination for students, or leave current international students with huge uncertainty over their status and ability to remain in the UK. British students could also be at risk of losing university spots in the EU, or being unable to access the popular Erasmus program. The multi-partisan House of Commons Committee on Education was tasked with evaluating the situation and making recommendations for the government’s course on higher eduction after Brexit. The resulting report covers a wide range of topics, but is fairly clear in its endorsement for a university sector as open as possible to international students from the EU and beyond.

intl students1

Around the same time, Parliament mulled the Higher Education and Research Act, a bill meant to tackle widespread challenges to the system and provide stability and quality oversight for the univeristy and research sector. During debate over the bill at the House of Commons, the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Joseph Johnson (who is, notably, a Conservative party member) emphasized that the bill would not change course on the topic:

I reiterate that the Government value and welcome international students who come to study in the UK. We recognise that they enhance our educational institutions, both financially and culturally, enrich the experience of domestic students, and become important ambassadors for the UK in later life. It is for those reasons that we have no plan to limit the number of genuine international students who can come to study in the United Kingdom. I need to be very clear that that commitment applies to all institutions. We have no intention of limiting any institution’s ability to recruit genuine international students. We have no plans to cap the number of genuine students who can come to the UK to study, or to limit an institution’s ability to recruit genuine international students based on its TEF rating or on any other basis.

The bill was passed by royal assent in late April with no limits to international students or discussion of including those students in the migration targets. Now, the Conservative manifesto (which we explored in more detail here) has reopened the debate by proposing to include international students in their net migration target after all.

Tories Stand Alone

One of the key promises the Conservative Party makes in its manifesto is to cap migration numbers, down from current levels (they cite circa 270,000 annually) to under 100,000 entrants per year. As part of this reduction, they are the only party to explicitly promise to include international students in their count of “migrants” (page 54).

We will toughen the visa requirements for students, to make sure that we maintain high standards. We will expect students to leave the country at the end of their course, unless they meet new, higher requirements that allow them to work in Britain after their studies have concluded. Overseas students will remain in the immigration statistics – in line with international definitions – and within scope of the government’s policy to reduce annual net migration.

No matter how you reckon this, it would mean a decrease in visas issued for international students. Whether taking the overall figure or the number of visas issued yearly, it alone is already higher than 100,000: meaning even if they made no decreases to family reunification or work migration, there would be decreases here. Who will make up for these missing places? The Conservatives offer a clue in their section on “Prosperous Towns and Cities Across Britain”:

… we want to see universities make their full contribution to their local community and economy, sponsoring local schools and being creative about how they can open up opportunities for local people, especially those from ordinary working backgrounds.

In addition to reducing student places and toughening requirements for student visas, the Conservatives also commit to increasing the Immigration Health Surcharge for international students to  £450 “to cover their use of the NHS.” Studying the manifesto, we haven’t found anything to suggest these changes will not also apply to people from the EU who wish to study in the UK. Indeed, given their stance that migration from the EU must be controlled and reduced, it is logical to conclude that students from the Eurozone are embraced in these policies as well.

It’s interesting that the Conservatives have taken this stance on international students. It goes against the recommendations of the Committee on Education, whose six Conservative party members make up a majority of the 11-member strong committee.

It also contradicts the stance of Conservative Minister Joseph Johnson who we quoted above saying that government has no intention of reducing students or restricting freedom of movement.

It also sets them apart from every other party, including the strongly anti-immigrant UKIP.

Where the other parties stand

In their election manifesto, UKIP pointedly criticizes the “failure” of the Tories on immigration, saying they are “the only party with the political will and the plan to cut immigration.” In their plan, they envision an Australian-style points system with visas for students included, and immigration halved over a five year period to reach a goal of zero net immigration. Students, they say, will be welcomed, but abuse won’t be tolerated. Its unclear what this concretely means for student visa numbers, but UKIP does not seem to spell out cuts to the sector explicitly.

For the other top parties, there is relative unanimity on the subject.

Labour “welcomes international students who benefit and strengthen our education sector, generating more than £25 billion for the British economy and significantly boosting regional jobs and local businesses. They are not permanent residents and we will not include them in immigration numbers, but we will crack down on fake colleges.

Liberal Democrats will “recognising their largely temporary status, remove students from the official migration statistics.”

Greens will “protect freedom of movement, press for remaining within the single market, and safeguard vital rights for people and the environment.”

SNP: “will continue to make the case for the reintroduction of a Post-Study Work Visa scheme for Scotland, to enable international students who come here to study to then stay and contribute to our society and economy after they graduate.”

The public would appear to back a welcoming stance towards international students. In a poll published in April of this year by ComRes for Universities UK, a majority (64%) of British adults consider international students a benefit to the economy, and only 26% consider international students “migrants” when it comes to government immigration policy. (Full study can be downloaded here.) Back in 2014, a poll on the same topic found that 66% of  people who vote Conservative are opposed to reducing student numbers.

So why are Tories fixed on reducing International Students?

It is somewhat confusing as to why the Conservative party manifesto takes such a strong tack against international students, when public opinion, members of their own party, and universities themselves take the opposite position.

It is possible that the party is not so much concerned about students at university as they are about the ties that form during this period. People who study abroad form relationships and meet partners, gain employment opportunities or make connections with communities that may entice them to stay indefinitely rather than just for the period of their study. In that way, students from other countries always have the potential to become indelibly tied to their university and the country it is in, even if only a small percentage actually stays.

In this way it seems that the Conservatives are embracing a view of migration that makes little distinction between lawful and unlawful, skilled and unskilled. If even star students are considered a risk that must be controlled and reduced, it sends a message about other types of immigration that people consider even less desirable. It signals that the Conservatives have become the party that is tough on immigrants, with no exceptions.


Sources and Further Reading
MV Coverage of the British General Election
Statistics on Students and Graduates, HESA
Migration Statistics Quarterly Report, Office for National Statistics, May 2017
Brexit: What will it mean for universities, students, and academics? Dame Julia Goodfellow, The Telegraph, July 2016
Higher Education and Research Act of 2017, UK Parliament
Exiting the EU: Challenges and Opportunities for Higher Education, House of Commons Education Committee, April 2017
Debate in House of Commons, April 2017
Manifestos: Conservatives, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens, UKIP
Public Perceptions of International Students Survey, ComRes, April 2017
International Students and the UK Migration Debate, Universities UK, 2014
Header Image via Chris Robinson on Flickr, (CC BY-NC 2.0) http://bit.ly/2rnz9kK

Dominated by Brexit? A closer look at Liberal Democrats, Greens, UKIP and SNP manifestos on migration

In our previous article, we examined the Labour party and Conservative party manifestos for the quickly approaching UK General Election. Today we’ll take a closer look at the Liberal Democrats, Green Party, UK Independence Party (UKIP), and Scottish National Party (SNP), who altogether make up a share of about 16%, together with others, according to recent polling by IPSOS Mori.

vi-political-monitor-may-2017

Liberal Democrats- Supporting Immigration while Opposing Brexit

In their manifesto, the Liberal Democrat party is positioning itself as true opposition to both Labour and Conservatives, highlighting their steadfast opposition to Brexit.

On the biggest question facing all of us, Brexit, which has such huge implications for our young people and our future, Corbyn ordered his MPs to stand down against Theresa May’s government. Where the Liberal Democrats are fighting every step of the way, Labour is holding Theresa May’s hand as she jumps off the cliff edge of a hard Brexit.

The Liberal Democrats say they are offering up a strong opposition that counters the pro-Brexit or Brexit acceptance of the two largest parties. So what would this opposition look like for immigration?

Brexit: In policies that highlight their opposition to Brexit, Liberal Democrats propose protections for citizens of EU countries and British people living in EU countries. They would guarantee the rights of people from the EU currently living in the UK and streamline these people’s ability to register, receive permanent residence and/or apply for citizenship. They oppose abandoning the principle of free movement in either direction, and want British citizens to retain benefits of travel and international study in programs like Erasmus. They would ensure respect for international students and guarantee the rights of people from abroad working for the NHS or Social Care (but they are vague as to how.) In short, the Liberal Democratic approach is to try to ensure that individuals currently in Britain as migrants don’t lose their jobs or ability to stay as a result of Brexit.

Immigration: “Immigration is essential to our economy” according to Liberal Democrats, and their approach to newcomers (not those already present in the UK) is based for the most part on economic impact. They would consult with parliament in a yearly debate to determine which areas of the market need skilled people from other countries, and they would continue to allow visas for high-skilled job-seekers as well as family reunification visas. International students would not be counted in immigration statistics, and students studying STEM areas would be able to stay and additional period if they find employment within 6 months. Finally, a “Migration Impact Fund” would be available to communities “adjust” to pressures associated with migration.

libdems

Asylum: On asylum, Liberal Democrats differ greatly from the other parties. They would end indefinite detention by applying a 28-day limit to the time period where people seeking asylum can be detained, and attempt to offer safe routes to the UK by, for example, reforming family reunification rules to make it easier for people to join their families without risking dangerous routes. Additionally, they would expand acceptance of people fleeing Syria to 50,000 in the next five years under Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and accept 3,000 children who are unaccompanied, offering them leave to remain indefinitely in Britain.

Green Party – Reject Brexit

Like the Lib Dems, the Green party is openly opposed to Brexit and uses terms to like “big”, “bold” and “brave” to describe their vision for the future. They want citizens to be able to vote for an option to remain in the EU, and place environmental concerns like climate change front and center. Immigration is not a focal point of their comparatively brief manifesto, but there are several points which show them generally in favor of immigration.

Brexit: The Green party wants an option for Britons to reject the Brexit deal and remain in the EU after all, through a referendum to be held following negotiations. Failing that, they want to retain freedom of movement from both directions and remain in the common market. They call to “immediately guarantee the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK and urgently seek reciprocal arrangements for UK citizens in the EU.” They would also seek to guarantee rights for British citizens to work and study in the EU, including taking part in the Erasmus program.

Immigration and Asylum: The Green Party guarantee on this topic is short and vague: “A humane immigration and asylum system that recognises and takes responsibility for Britain’s ongoing role in causing the flow of migrants worldwide.”

UK Independence Party (UKIP) – Net Immigration at Zero

Britain’s UKIP party sees itself as radical, agenda-setting outsiders, as party leader Paul Nutall states in the party’s manifesto.

When we first said that Britain could not only survive but prosper outside the European Union, the political class laughed at us. When we spoke of the need for a points based system for migrants we were derided as racists and xenophobes by the same people. … Be it our stance on balanced migration, constitutional reform or integration, I predict we are leading where the other parties will eventually follow.

But a risk of setting the course is that bigger parties hijack and co-opt your ideas. With Britain’s largest party, the Conservatives, endorsing Brexit and taking a hard-line stance to reduce immigration, can UKIP offer something new?

Brexit: UKIP stands for the hardest of hard Brexits, rejecting Article 50 as a trap by Brussels, and setting out a list of “tests” that can be used to evaluate whether the extraction from the EU has been thorough enough. One of these is the rejection of all forms of free movement.

UKIP

Nevertheless, in their section “Defending our National Health Service”, UKIP promises to guarantee the right to remain for health care workers from EU countries, regardless of what happens to British citizens in EU countries.

Immigration and Asylum: UKIP seeks to differentiate themselves from both the Labour and Conservative parties on their immigration plan, promising to ease public fears while still welcoming “the best and brightest from around the word” to Britain.

UKIP would reduce net migration to zero over five years (meaning that the number of people coming and leaving would be balanced, which would require dramatic reductions to incomers or larger numbers of people leaving.) They would achieve this by emulating the Australian immigration system, which awards points to people wishing to immigrate based on various pre-selected indicators and requires a certain number of points to obtain a visa. (You can read an example of points calculations here.) Unlike Australia’s system, however, UKIP would add an additional integration requirement to “test the social attitudes of migration applicants to foster community cohesion and protect core British values.” What this would entail is uncertain, although they mention attitudes towards women and gay people as possible indicators.

The party would not seek changes to Student visas or earnings thresholds for family reunifications visas, and pledges to continue to respect the 1951 Refugee Convention. However, newcomers to Britain would only gain access to public services and the NHS after paying taxes into the system for five consecutive years. UKIP would also ban immigration of people with “low skills” for five years after Britain leaves the EU.

Scottish National Party- Passionately “in”

The Scottish National Party did not spend significant time discussing immigration in their 2016 platform, which is the latest one available and reads a little like a “greatest hits” review of the party’s success as Scotland’s largest party (and third largest party overall in the UK). The main policy proposals by the SNP that would impact immigration is their continuing pledge to fight against Brexit, and at the same time, to fight for Scottish independence.  On their website, their immigration stance is similarly sparse, proposing “a fair, robust and secure immigration system that meets Scotland’s social and economic needs.”

As third biggest party in British parliament, the SNP’s opposition to Brexit, and very real threat to secede from the UK, has the potential to wield substantial opposition to a “hard Brexit.” This in turn could impact the plight of EU migrants and Britain’s adherence to EU obligations regarding migration and asylum. But this is an indirect effect of the SNP’s Brexit stance, and could be said as well for the Lib Dems and Greens.

The SNP declares that Scotland will actively help to tackle the refugee crises, and will continue to resettle people seeking asylum in Scotland. Apart from that, the party offers “crises grants” for families seeking refuge in Scotland, and wants to fight for access to tuition-free education for newcomers, as Scottish citizens are entitled to. Additionally, on their website, they suggest extending work visas to individuals who study in the UK.

Sources and Further Reading

Comparing the Conservative and Labour Manifestos on Migration, MV
May 2017 Political Monitor, IPSOS MORI
Change Britain’s Future- The Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2017
The Green Party for a Caring and Confident Britain 
Britain Together- UKIP Manifesto 2017
SNP 2016
What is the SNP’s policy on immigration? SNP Website
Image via UK Parliament on Flickr,  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Comparing the Labour and Conservative Manifestos on Migration

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
For the Many, Not the Few: Labour Party Manifesto 2017
Forward Together: The Conservative and Unionist Manifesto 2017
Migration Advisory Committee Website 
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

 

Dutch coalition talks collapse over differences on immigration

Dutch coalition talks have come to a halt over disagreements on migration, infomateur Edith Schippers announced Monday.

The Dutch election took place over two months ago, but coalition talks are still underway, (which isn’t unusual for the Netherlands). At the time, we pointed out that it was going to be a tremendous uphill battle to make changes to asylum and immigration because of a few factors. First, the fact that the top parties all excluded the possibility of forming a coalition with Geert Wilders’ PPV party (which came in second, with 20 seats) meant that it would be necessary form a broad, and maybe unstable coalition. In this case, the center-right VVD, Christian conservatives CDA, environmental leftists GL and democratic liberals D66 have been attempting to negotiate an agreement- despite representing a broad spectrum of different political views. (Read our explainer of where the parties stand on migration and asylum here.)

The second issue was the fact that there were big gains for both pro- and anti-refugee parties. The three parties with the strongest results all took harsh stances on asylum policy, but the parties that made the biggest gains in seats campaigned on multiculturalism and openness to people seeking asylum. So it’s understandable that politicians might not be completely clear exactly where the public stands on immigration and asylum policy. This uncertainty, in combination with a coalition stretching across the center right to the left, was bound to create disharmony on the topic of migration and asylum. And it looks like it has.

Health Minister Edith Schippers, acting as informateur, announced in a press conference that the negotiating factions were unable to overcome their differences on migration, among other topics. “The substantive differences proved too great,” Schippers said.

What differences were the final stumbling block? It could have been a number of specific issues, but we would be willing to bet that the largest differences were between VVD and GL. Remember, the VVD, led by current PM Mark Rutte, wrote in their platform that while refugees have a right to security, that right applies to their own region, and people who make it the Netherlands are more likely to be “economic migrants.” “Asylum applications in Europe are no longer needed.” This strict view varies totally from Groenlinks, who support working rights for people seeking asylum, minimum assistance for rejected asylum seekers, and a continuation of the practice of accepting asylum seekers to the Netherlands. CDA’s position is much like the VVD’s, and while D66 had a more liberal stance on asylum policy, they also concur that the Netherlands should accept smaller numbers of people. It’s reasonable to assume that Groenlinks was the barrier to an agreement, a view most of the press is concluding as well.

On twitter, GL leader Jesse Klaver wrote, “We have made every effort, but this formation attempt has failed. The differences were too great. And that is a great pity.” Geert Wilders also chimed in, tweeting, “As the second party of the Netherlands PVV is fully available.”

Now that its back to square one, will anyone take up Wilders on his offer? Or will we see Groen Links out, in favor of a minority government that is willing to back VVD’s tough asylum policy? There could still be a long way to go before we know what kind of government the Netherlands will have.

Sources and Further Reading
Election Explainer: Netherlands, MV
Dutch Election Results: Mixed Signals on Migration, MV
Where do the Dutch Parties Stand on Refugees?, MV
Press Conference: Edith Schippers on Formation Failure, RTL (video) (Dutch)
Jesse Klaver on twitter
Geert Wilders on twitter 
Dutch Must Restart Coalition Talks After Collapse on Immigration, Bloomberg, May 16.