The impact of the political parties manifestos on the immigration system

Dec 5, 2019

With a general election coming up on the 12th of December 2019, voters must decide which political party’s manifesto serves their country’s best interest.

As reiterated for months by Boris Johnson and the Tories, the key policy aim of a future Conservative government is to introduce a ‘firmer and fairer’ Australian-style points-based immigration system, which will prioritise people who:

  • have a good command of English
  • have no criminal convictions
  • are highly qualified
written by Judit Adorjan

The manifesto also confirms that, under this system, most people will still need a job offer to come to the UK. This indicates that the new points-based system will not replace the existing Tier 2 employer sponsorship system, but it will be an additional system to this.

The proposals feature new immigration routes to fill skills shortages, such as the post study work visa for graduates, the NHS visa, the science and technology visa and the Start-up visa.

Despite wanting to move away from specific net migration targets, the manifesto states that overall ‘numbers will come down’ and promises fewer low-skilled workers in the UK. Hence, there is unlikely to be much improvement on the visa options provided in the immigration white paper.

The new immigration system is meant to be ‘fairer and more compassionate’, although the manifesto states that the immigration health surcharge will increase to as high as £800 per person per year, implying further increases from the £625 announced previously.

EU nationals’ access to benefits and housing will also be limited in line with non-EU migrants.

The manifesto ignores criticism of the EU Settlement Scheme and states that the scheme fulfils its promise to European residents of “guaranteeing their existing rights”. https://www.freemovement.org.uk/conservative-manifesto-2019/

What does this mean for the UK’s immigration system?

The EU Settlement Scheme has been created by secondary legislation, which unlike an Act of Parliament, can be easily changed over time. The application system will turn legally residing EU citizens into “illegal immigrants” if they do not apply successfully by the deadline, leading to scenarios similar to those seen with the Windrush scandal.  EU Citizens would have no right to reside, to work, to rent, to get benefits or access free healthcare.

The solution is to introduce a declaratory registration system through an Act of Parliament which would confer automatic rights to EU citizens currently residing in the UK to continue to live and work in the UK after Brexit.

The Conservative immigration policy seems to be a promise to bring back a number of old visa routes, some of which were closed by the party as they were considered flawed and did not fulfil the aim of ‘attracting the brightest and the best’ to the UK. The fact that these have been presented as new ideas makes one hope that the criteria are different to avoid past mistakes.

Once free movement ends immigration from non-EU countries will have to significantly increase to ensure public services and industries can still be adequately staffed.

The Labour Party launched its election manifesto with a promise to maintain freedom of movement, whether the UK leaves the EU or not.

The leader of the party, Jeremy Corbyn says they will seek to securea sensible deal’ to leave the EU within three months of coming to power and then put that deal to a public vote with the option of a legally binding referendum on remaining in the EU.

https://labour.org.uk/manifesto/the-final-say-on-brexit/

EU nationals in the UK would be granted an automatic right to continue living and working in the country without having to apply under the government’s EU Settlement Scheme.

The promise for non-EU migration is to introduce a ‘human’ migration system that meets the skills and labour needs of the UK economy. It would extend family reunion rights to non-EU citizens and close two major immigration removal centres.

https://www.politico.eu/article/uk-labours-manifesto-explained/

What does this mean for the UK’s immigration system?

Labour’s promise to maintain and extend free movement rights has been diluted and the end result is no clear vision of what a future immigration system under a Labour government will look like.

The manifesto criticises the Conservative net migration target and suggests a regulated labour market where “all workers have full and equal rights from day one”. But there is a lack of concrete proposals for what a future immigration system post-Brexit would look like and how industries in particular can continue to source the work they need.

The statement “our work visa system must fill any skills or labour shortages that arise” is not particularly illuminating. It seems to suggest that Labour have adopted the Conservative’s idea of an Australian points-based system and have potentially missed an opportunity to seize and reframe the immigration debate at a critical time.

The Liberal Democrats want to stop Brexit and save EU freedom of movement.

They are pledging to scrap right to rent checks, banking checks and upfront charging in the NHS.

It has also been said that they will get rid of “immigration checks” in the NHS, although it’s unclear if that means there will be no charging at all. Under a Liberal Democrat government illegal working will no longer be a criminal offence. But the party is silent on the employer right to work checks that came in under Labour.

Their plan is to invest in officers, training and technology to prevent illegal entry at Britain’s borders, assist seekers of sanctuary, combat human trafficking and the smuggling of people, weapons, drugs and wildlife.

The party wants to create a “firewall” to prevent public agencies from sharing personal information with the Home Office for the purposes of immigration enforcement and repeal the immigration exemption in the Data Protection Act 2018. They also plan to introduce a 28-day time limit for detention and close all but two detention centres. The fee for registering a child as a British Citizen is to be reduced from £1,012 to the cost of administration and there is to be a new route to regularisation for people who came to the UK as children.

Asylum seekers will have the right to work after three months and receive free English lessons. There will be no 16-hour rule around financial support for those with poor English and the party will provide more money for integration work in the community. The move on period for newly recognised refugees having to leave asylum accommodation is to be increased from 28 to 60 days.

The Liberal Democrats will fund community sponsorship schemes for refugees and aim to resettle 10,000 vulnerable adults and 10,000 child refugees from elsewhere in Europe over ten years.

They propose moving policymaking on work permits and student visas out of the Home Office and into the Departments for Business and Education. Their promise is to create a “flexible merit-based system” instead of Tier 2 and have committed to a 2-year post study visa.

The minimum income requirement for spouse and partner visas is to be scrapped.

https://www.libdems.org.uk/plan

What is missing from the Liberal Democrat manifesto?

You can’t prevent public agencies from sharing personal data with the Home Office, stop exploitation and hostility without decriminalising migration. In order to address racism and exclusion built into the system all fees for child applicants should be removed.

The resettlement commitment of refugees does not engage with the reality of the UK’s obligations.

Overall, while all parties are lacking vision for the future, there is a clear commitment from the Liberal Democrats to substantially reform the immigration system we have now.