Immigration Blues

Amin Rali

Immigration is a problem everywhere. (Source: Fibonacci Blue, CC BY-SA 4.0, Flickr)

The “I am an immigrant” poster campaign is an initiative taken by Movement Against Xenophobia, part of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, to battle the ever-strengthening bout of displeasure against immigrants that has become a rather serious issue in developed countries in modern times. Each poster design shows the picture of an immigrant, details of their country of origin and their occupation here in the UK and a quote relating to how they contribute to the UK economy. With its aim to ‘celebrate, not vilify’ immigrants, its campaign posters are currently making their way throughout the nation, with 400 of them already placed at London Tube stations. “I am an immigrant” is one of the many campaigns that has caught people’s attention to fighting xenophobia here in the UK. As immigration has become a key issue raised by the parties contending in the general election, I feel that this matter should be addressed in light of the principles held by the United Nations. In early May of last year, the Immigration Act was passed resulting in a new legal modus operandi for “access of services, facilities and employment”, “marriage and civil partnership” and “acquisition… [and] removal of citizenship” for migrants in the UK. What this includes is that migrants now:

  • can only apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK, to be considered as ‘ordinarily resident’, after a minimum of 5 years being in the UK. (temporary migrants such as students and workers will no longer be considered ordinarily resident)
  • have to deal with the introduction of a new charge upon applying for a visa (when I applied for my visa last year, I had to pay an already-hefty fee of USD530.00)
  • must bear more than a twofold increase for the cost of treatment in the NHS if they are from outside the EU
  • will have to pay an annual charge of £200 for healthcare, if they are temporary migrants staying for more than six months

The Race Equality Foundation, Equanomics-UK, other members of CORE, the Entitlement Working Group (EWG), ILPA, JCWI and MAX have all expressed concerns over the passing of this Act. They are concerned that, given the implementation of these new regulations, the wider migrant and BME (black and minority) communities are negatively affected. This Act would also burden patients to prove their eligibility to free NHS services, including when seeking emergency healthcare. Other unpleasant probabilities are lack of privacy and security for immigrants as landlords and ordinary employees have access to sensitive information and increased potential for the spread of serious infectious diseases which are already rampant in BME groups.

Obviously, such monumental regulations would not have happened without there being very serious problems in the first place. What better way to find out what these problems are than by looking at the manifestos of both the Conservative and Labour parties? After all, you know that a problem is deemed serious if it gets addressed in a contending party’s manifesto. Looking at the Labour Party’s manifesto, the problem is seen to be the “historically high levels of immigration in recent years, including low-skilled migration, which has given rise to public anxiety about its effects on wages, on our public services, and on our shared way of life.” Basic economic theory suggests that low-skilled migrants pushes wage rates down as the supply of labour increases, making everyone looking for work to compete amongst themselves by offering their services at lower ‘prices’. How does the Labour Party intend to solve this? As written in their manifesto, it is by recruiting an extra 1,000 borders staff financed by a levy on non-visa visitors to the UK, banning recruitment agencies from exclusively hiring immigrants,  halting employers from undercutting wages by abusing workers’ rights and putting into place the requirement of speaking English for public servants. Sounds like a plan.

We now turn our attention to what the Conservative Party has to say. “When immigration is out of control, it puts pressure on schools, hospitals and transport; and it can cause social pressures if communities find it hard to integrate.” Basically the same thing is said here about immigration. In fact, even the solutions proposed are roughly equal although this manifesto contains a much more elaborate plan. Such elaborations are ending the rights of EU jobseekers to enjoy any job-seeking benefits whatsoever, reviewing the sponsor system for student visas, requiring landlords to monitor the immigration status of their tenants and introducing a new Controlling Migration Fund to reduce pressure on services and to fund extra immigration enforcement.

This last plan seems a bit far-fetched in my opinion. How will this fund be financed? Will it be through increased taxes, which obviously will not go well with British nationals and immigrants alike? Will it be through extra charges on immigrants coming here, which would seem odd as immigrants would pay more money to get more of their rights abolished? Will it then be through a levy on British nationals, which would really make it difficult for immigrants to integrate into the surrounding communities as their British counterparts are paying to get rid of them? One can only guess. However, the way I see it, irregardless of which party would triumph in the election, any crackdown on unwanted immigrants would be funded by all the immigrants here, from the home-sponsored students to the highly-wanted specialists, as taxing the British residents would be a huge no for any political party.

Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, said, “We have a National Health Service not an international health service and I am determined to wipe out abuse in the system.” He was right in addressing this issue of health tourism. However, he was wrong in assuming that every foreigner coming here wants to abuse and exploit the public services offered.

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