LONDON

British MPs debated on Monday the second reading of an immigration bill, labelled a “threat to national interest” by the opposition, that would ban low-skilled immigration despite the country’s reliance on foreign workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill will transition the country to a points-based immigration system, that will come into force from 2021.

The UK has left the EU but remains bound by its rules until December 2020 while a trade deal is negotiated. From 2021, the UK will no longer automatically have freedom of movement with EU countries and thus needs a new immigration system.

The UK has said it will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally and wants to reduce unskilled immigration.

The government’s proposed immigration policy will award points based on certain criteria, such as speaking good English, having a job offer from an approved employer, and meeting a salary threshold of £25,600 ($31,219), as well as having certain qualifications such as PhD, and working in a sector with a labor shortage.

The bill was first introduced by former British Prime Minister Theresa May in December 2018 during her minority administration, but lacked the votes to win key Brexit issues. Current British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a majority of 80 in the House of Commons, and the bill is expected to pass.

Today, MPs debated the bill’s second reading and it will now work its way through the parliamentary process.

Rank hypocrisy

Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said of the bill: “It is rank hypocrisy towards our NHS [National Health Service] and care workers, over 180,000 in England and Wales alone, to stand and clap for them on a Thursday night, and then tell them that they are not welcome in the UK on a Monday.

“The Home Secretary has been invisible throughout this crisis – and now her first major intervention is a Bill that will make workers in the NHS and the care sector feel unwelcome in this country, as well as labelling retail workers, carers, local government workers, refuse collectors, and many more as ‘low skilled’ – the very same workers who have been keeping this country running throughout the crisis.”

“This Bill creates a threat to our national interest. It risks the NHS not being able to fill the desperately needed roles for trained nurses and care home workers at the very moment when we rely on the NHS most.”

On the issue of NHS workers, the government in March introduced a special visa allowing doctors, nurses and other health professionals to work in the NHS.

However, the immigration surcharge, which charges immigrants to use the NHS, still applies to immigrants actually working in the NHS. Despite debate and controversy the charge is still levied against immigrant health workers.

Furthermore, the British government’s list of key workers includes people who work in food production and processing, delivery drivers, waste disposal and other occupations — all of which are sectors with large immigrant workforces.

Full control

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “This historic piece of legislation gives the UK full control of our immigration system for the first time in decades and the power to determine who comes to this country.

“Our new points-based system is firmer, fairer, and simpler. It will attract the people we need to drive our economy forward and lay the foundation for a high wage, high skill, high productivity economy.”

A poll carried out by YouGov for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), showed that 54% of Brits would support easing immigration restrictions for workers who were deemed essential during the outbreak.

JCWI Chief Executive Satbir Singh said: “The fight against COVID-19 has shown us all just how much our survival and wellbeing depends on our key workers. So many of them have come from other countries and help keep this one running.

“Bus drivers and lorry drivers, care workers and shop workers, nurses and cleaners – they are not ‘unskilled’ or unwelcome, they are the backbone of our country and they deserve the security of knowing that this place can be their home too.”

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