New UK migration plan 'discriminates against women'

Proposals by the UK government for a new immigration system once Brexit is complete could worsen discrimination against women migrants, according to research by an Oxford University academic.

NHS careworker looking after elderly woman
Catherine Briddick, Martin James Departmental lecturer in gender and forced migration, says her research shows that under existing immigration laws, which apply to arrivals from outside the EU, men are significantly more likely than women to benefit from key opportunities – including the ability to work as skilled labour migrants.

Unlawfully discriminating against women

"Not only do the immigration rules that distribute these opportunities disadvantage women, they may also unlawfully discriminate against them. It is these rules that the government plans to extend and build upon after Brexit," she says in an article for theconversation.com website.In December, the government published its long-awaited white paper for an immigration regime to come into force when Brexit ends freedom of movement for nationals in the European Economic Area.The government pledged to, “reset the conversation on migration” by introducing a single, skills-based system for all foreigners. There was also a proposal for those considered to be low-skilled to be offered temporary visas entitling them to work in the UK for up to 12 months.
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Ms Briddick's research looked at how different migration statuses had affected women over a ten-year period, “I found that certain key family and labour migration statuses are distributed differently to women and men – to the disadvantage of women," she writes.

Three quarters of women are granted disadvantageous status

"While three-quarters of those granted the advantageous status of 'skilled' labour migrant are men, three-quarters of those granted the highly disadvantageous status of 'domestic worker' are women. Nearly three-quarters of those granted the relatively disadvantageous status of 'partner' are women."The rules which distribute these migration statuses indirectly discriminate against women because they are premised on stereotypes."Labour migration statuses are distributed on the basis of skill. Feminist analyses of the labour market have highlighted the sexed and gendered stereotypes that underlie the categorisations of certain types of work and worker as either low- or high-skilled."Such analyses have also questioned the idea that a person’s 'skill' can itself be determined objectively."

Low-skilled stereotypes

Ms Briddick says that these stereotypes – such as women being particularly suited to undertake social care and that such work is almost, by definition, low-skilled – affect almost every aspect of women’s participation in the jobs market.She cites research by Eleonore Kofman, professor of social policy at Middlesex University, who argues that while immigration rules 'skills' rankings appear to be gender neutral, they do, in fact, privilege certain types of knowledge and discount others in a highly gendered way."I argue that they do so because the rules that determine who is 'skilled' or not, or who is a 'partner' – and what type of relationship this involves – are rooted in stereotypical understandings of women’s and men’s roles and abilities," Ms Briddick says."Debates about labour migration post-Brexit are beginning to consider the ability of the NHS and others to employ the staff they need if the proposals in the white paper are implemented. My research indicates that the consequences of these proposals could be more significant than is currently appreciated.”

A hierarchical labour migration system

"The establishment of an even more segmented and hierarchical labour migration system, which relies on stereotypes to differentiate between workers and which significantly disadvantages those it considers unskilled, is likely to have particularly negative consequences for women."She says the ending of free movement will profoundly change the nature of migration to and from the UK. One potential result of this change could be the introduction of a system that amplifies parts of the current system that disadvantage and discriminate against women."This is concerning not only for those whose right to remain in the UK is currently determined by British immigration law, but all those EU citizens who face being made subject to it following Britain’s departure from the EU," Ms Briddick maintains."A reset of British immigration law is required, but it’s not the one that the government is proposing."
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