Call to UK government to encourage immigration

The UK government has been accused of getting its priorities completely wrong over its immigration policies.

Young woman at an airport with suitcase
Instead of focusing on current legislation aimed at curbing and punishing illegal immigration, ministers "need to think about how to attract people to the UK", according to Katie Newbury, a partner in the immigration team at leading law firm Kingsley Napley.

UK Nationality and Borders Bill: the "wrong priorities"

Writing in the Law Society Gazette, she says the Nationality and Borders Bill represents the wrong priorities at a time when the UK is in the midst of a wider immigration crisis - the shortage of foreign workers in the wake of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.The bill, currently at its committee stage in parliament, aims to deter illegal entry into the UK and remove people with no right to be in the country, after a summer when thousands of refugees and asylum seekers crossed the English Channel from France in small boats.But if, as planned, the bill becomes law in the spring, it looks bound to attract court challenges from human rights lawyers who say the legislation is potentially in breach of both the UN refugee convention and the European Convention on Human Rights.However, Ms Newbury's argument is not about the legality of the bill but, rather, that "the current obsession with asylum seekers is a manufactured crisis at a time when we are living through a real one".She says: "Our inability to provide essential services and support those industries, such as hospitality, which have suffered so much over the last 18 months, is based on a common source of pain: a lack of staff."We have an immigration problem but it really isn’t the one the government is focused on."Ms Newbury says the introduction of the Nationality and Borders Bill would suggest the nation's biggest problem was an influx of asylum seekers, even though current totals remain "very low" compared to historic figures in both the UK and continental Europe.

Emergency, short-term visa scheme "will neither meet the demand, nor attract workers to fill these crucial vacancies"

Meanwhile, the government has tried to solve the current, chronic shortage of workers by introducing an emergency, short-term visa scheme for the likes of truck drivers and agricultural workers, which "will neither meet the demand, nor attract workers to fill these crucial vacancies".She says: "While it may not be the sole reason, it is disingenuous to disregard Brexit and the decision to end free movement when considering how we ended up in our current crisis."We are told that Brexit was simultaneously about the opportunity to ‘take back control’ of our borders, but also that it was not about being racist or anti-immigration."If that is truly the case, then we should consider that taking back control does not simply have to mean allowing less of something. We can exercise control while implementing a compassionate immigration system grounded in fact and realistic about our needs as a country."Fixing our current crisis will not be achieved with short-term visas, which treat those who deliver these essential services as less worthy than those in so called ‘skilled’ occupations."

UK immigration policy needs a "fundamental rethink"

Ms Newbury says that it is that if the UK is to be economically successful in future, immigration policy needs a fundamental rethink. Instead of a preoccupation with limiting migration, "we need to think about how migration has been and remains a force for good".She adds: "Instead of focusing our energies on legislation which shows us to be unwelcoming and stingy of spirit, we need to think about how to attract people to the UK."If the government wants a country that can prosper post-Brexit and recover post-pandemic, it is time to identify these issues clearly and realistically and start doing the work to actually address them." 

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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