British immigration controls after Brexit

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At the start of September a Home Office document containing proposals for immigration policy following Brexit was leaked. Hiding behind apparent public concern about unrestricted migration, the document sets out a plan for greater control.

The hostility of large sections of the British population to migrants has been actively promoted by the ruling class; yet it also creates problems for them. Key sectors of the economy rely on low-waged migrant labour, but anti-migrant hostility has been used by the ruling class to justify restrictions on migrants’ rights; this in turn enables more intense exploitation and undermines resistance to austerity and wage cuts. Brexit has brought these contradictions to a head.

The report attempts to manage these contradictions by striking ‘the right balance between the economic growth that immigration can generate and its social impacts’, and ‘a balance between economic growth and immigration control by ensuring that economic migrants really are the brightest and best, and that family migrants are capable of integrating’. The government is seeking to make the most of Brexit to further restrict the rights of working class migrants, increase lab­our discipline and further fine-tune immigration to the needs of capital. As the report states: ‘It is not a question of stopping EU migration. Rather, it is a question of ending the position where we are unable to exercise controls, because free movement rights can be exercised at the discretion of the migrant.’

The proposal leaves open the possibility for different immigration rules to be applied to EU citizens compared to those for migrants from outside the EU, including the option of reintroducing a scheme for temporary or seasonal workers. Such specific immigration schemes previously existed for the agriculture, hospitality and food-processing sectors, but were discontinued in 2013 because the availability of EU migrants had made them redundant.

The document repeats earlier commitments to give EU citizens who arrived before an unspecified date the opportunity to apply for settled status. For anybody arriving after this date, an implementation period is proposed for at least two years after Brexit, during which new arrivals will be allowed to work or conduct another ‘legitimate activity’ such as studying or tourism, for a few months. Beyond this they will need to register for the right to reside, which will require proof of self-sufficiency, a minimum income threshold and a criminal records check.

The proposed right to reside will last three to five years for highly-skilled workers or those with a contract for over 12 months, and two years for everyone else. Those in highly-skilled occupations will be allowed to settle permanently after five years. Rules for family reunion will be the same as those that already apply to migrants from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) – in other words, they will favour the wealthy and middle class. The implication is that working-class migrants are here to work, not to live. Family members from outside the EEA will be required to seek permission to enter Britain, even during the implementation period, and EU case law that currently protects the rights of family members will cease to apply.

Beyond the implementation peri­od, the document proposes that rules for EU citizens will be similar to those for non-EEA migrants, including requirements for some categories of migrants to already have a job offer before they enter Britain. There will also be restrictions on migration in occupations where there is not a skills shortage, or where migrants cannot meet a minimum earning threshold, currently set at £30,000 for non-EEA migrants.

The report suggests requirements will also be imposed on employers, landlords, and service providers to monitor EU migrants’ immigration status, as they do already for non-EEA migrants.

While there may be further changes, the Home Office document confirms what FRFI has long argued: that Brexit will not end migration from the EU but will be used to further restrict migrants’ rights and create super-exploited sections of the working class. Britain’s racist immigration controls are an attack on the working class and need to be resisted.

Tom Vickers

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 260 October/November 2017