The ungrateful immigration policies in the age of Covid

Danielle Cohen
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor Linkedin
Danielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice.
21 May 2020

If Covid has taught us anything it is that the economic value, as measured by market wages, isn’t necessarily a great reflection of a wider social value. It is not enough to applaud health and care workers, bus drivers and supermarket staff on Thursdays, whilst at the same time excluding them from any immigration system in favour of junior Bankers.

I cannot not tell whether the Coronavirus Pandemic will cast a fresh perspective on occupations we value.  On the one hand, health workers have been praised for risking their lives on the front line, language that we previously used for brave soldiers serving in the Armed Forces.  At the same time, the tragedy in care homes and the difficulties of providing social care workers with protective equipment has cast a fresh light on the importance of the work undertaken by this sector, which is dominated by low pay.

The question of which occupations we value is one which policy makers were already having to grapple with in the wake of Brexit, and one of the consequences of the decision of leaving the EU is that we have the duty or opportunity to reshape our immigration policy.  The position of the Government post-Brexit was that an immigrant should be valued according to the skill level associated with their job. Anyone applying for a Skilled Worker visa will find it much easier to enter the country than those with unskilled occupations.  To measure skill we assume that the value of the occupation is reflected in the qualifications it requires and the salary it attracts.  However, such measures exclude those who work in social care for example, and therefore the government proposals on the Points Based System might be founded on “old thinking”.  The Government is in a rush to deliver a new immigration system in time for the end of the Brexit transition period at the end of this year, which looks hopelessly optimistic in light of the current crisis which put everything on hold.

The UK economic problems after Covid and post Brexit might mean that we want immigrants to remain in the UK and to support the recovery in social care, in restaurants and in other industries that have suffered. Therefore the Home Office should reduce the application fees and the so called NHS surcharge, which imposes an arbitrary extra tax on immigrants, including immigrants working in the NHS.

In short, Home Secretary Priti Patel should consider why she wants to stop ‘cheap, low-skilled labour’ entering the UK to work, when we have been reliant on such workers throughout this pandemic. The shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, released a statement calling Ms Patel’s attitude towards our NHS staff and care workers hypocritical, as we “clap for them on Thursday night and then tell them that they are not welcome in the UK on Monday”. He warned that the government’s bill may result in “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”.

For the system to work it is likely that it will have to be far more liberal than is currently claimed, and more fundamentally will have to stop dehumanising immigrants by categorising them as ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’.  The Government should stop judging people solely for their economic or professional utility and stop encouraging negative sentiments towards certain migrants.