Government proposals for a new, tiered immigration system would be “devastating for migrants, communities, businesses and public services,” said Jean Lambert MEP today (25 September).
Lambert last week published an in-depth document looking at migration after Brexit, responding to a report from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) that was described as “ignorant and elitist” in its approach.
The MAC report into EEA (European Economic Area) migration in the UK recommended that with an end to freedom of movement after Brexit, EEA workers earning less than £30,000 a year be banned from obtaining visas to work in the UK. As of yesterday, Cabinet has reportedly agreed on these proposals, to be formally announced at the Conservative Party conference next week.
Lambert’s own report, titled ‘Migration and Brexit’, seeks to counter government attitudes to migrants with 12 essays from migrants' rights organisations, trade unions and sector bodies (including the National Farmers’ Union, the Creative Industries Federation and the British Medical Association), as well as 10 recommendations for what UK post-Brexit migration policy could look like, with particular reference to EU nationals.
In her introduction to the report, she explains that as well as the 1.3 million UK nationals living in the EU and the 3.6 million EU citizens residing in the UK, there are a huge number of people who need to move between countries on a temporary basis for work.
‘An overwhelming message emerging from this publication is that work patterns are becoming more flexible,’ she writes. ‘Many jobs now require an element of either long-term or short-term travel, while the number of freelancers or ‘digital nomads’ without a permanent base has soared. If the UK’s immigration law is to work effectively, it will need to respect the flexibility of modern life, not seek to constrain it.’
We need an open, fair, humane and efficient immigration policy that will benefit all
Commenting on the government’s new immigration plans, Lambert said: “Theresa May’s decision to end free movement will be devastating for migrants, communities, businesses and public services.
“My new report highlighted that agriculture is not the only sector that relies on workers who earn less than £30,000 to flourish and grow. Without these workers the manufacturing sector could grind to a halt, small businesses be forced to shut their doors and the creative sector stifled. That’s not to mention the shattering blow that could be inflicted on the construction, haulage, hospitality, health and social care sectors, if the government gets this wrong.
“It’s important to remember that any deal on citizens’ rights is likely to be reciprocal. This decision throws 1.6 million UK nationals living in the EU27 under the Brexit bus – snatching away their rights to continue living and working freely in other European countries. It’s also a disaster for our young people, who did not vote for this, and who will miss out on a wealth of social, cultural and educational opportunities.
“Let’s not pretend this move is in the genuine interests of the country. It’s born of Theresa May’s obsession with cutting migration to the ‘tens of thousands’ – the same sentiment that led to ‘Go Home’ vans on our streets, and the hostile environment in our schools and hospitals. It’s a policy designed to appease elements of her own party as she clings onto the leadership by her fingertips.
“Rather than pandering to fears, ministers should act in the overwhelming public interest. This would involve abandoning its arbitrary net migration target, protecting the benefits of free movement, and investing in integration schemes that foster better connections within communities.
“Rather than slamming the door shut on EEA nationals, we need an open, fair, humane and efficient immigration policy that will benefit all.”
Lambert’s recommendations for UK immigration policy include an end to detention centres, more transparent and simpler application processes, and for the government to scrap its ‘unrealistic and harmful goal’ of reducing net migration to ‘tens of thousands’.
The full report and its recommendations – ‘Migration and Brexit: A call from migrants, communities and sectors for a UK migration policy that benefits all’ – can be read on Lambert’s website.