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Coronavirus and immigration: a Government re-think?

The outbreak and on-going battle against the coronavirus has dominated politics. Yet, in the midst of the intense debate over the recent lockdown-easing proposals, the emergence of a new Immigration Bill has prompted debate about the benefits that immigration has brought to the UK. As immigration law firm from the Uk, we think that it's super important to re-think about immigration and the consequences of the corona virus.

On the 18th May the UK Government’s Immigration Bill was given initial approval by MPs in the House of Commons. The Bill aims to repeal free movement of persons, as was formerly guaranteed in UK law by the UK’s membership to the European Union. To replace free movement of persons, the Government has said that it intends to bring in a points-based system. Under this system applicants are allocated points according to certain criteria and the granting of a visa is contingent on the accumulation of the required threshold of points. Notably, under the scheme only “high skilled” workers will accumulate enough points to be allowed a visa to come to the UK. Whether or not the worker is judged as being “high skilled” will largely depend on job salary. 

A key criticism of the points-based system is that it views migrants as a purely economic commodity and thereby fails to recognise the social and cultural value of immigration. Moreover, under the points-based system care workers would be labeled  “low skilled”. When the need for NHS workers and care workers has been more urgent than ever, to label care workers “low skilled” is nothing short of insulting.

A further criticism of the Bill concerns the Immigration Health Surcharge. At the moment, non-EU migrants who come to the UK pay a £400 charge that goes towards the NHS, and the sum is set to rise in autumn to £624. This payment, of course, is in addition to visa fees and the taxes that are paid once in the UK. Controversially, under the new Immigration Bill, all NHS and care workers coming from overseas would have to pay the surcharge. Keir Starmer, in the questions he put to Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions, emphasised the unfairness of this and he also pointed out how the £400 current charge would require working 70 hours on the national living wage in order to pay off. Mr Starmer’s comments must be right. Health workers, of all people, should not be forced to pay twice for our health service – firstly through the Immigration Health Surcharge and secondly through taxation.

Thankfully it appears that the Government has now recognised that it is not fair to levy the charge on NHS workers and carers because on 21st May it announced that it would be repealing the Immigration Health Surcharge for healthcare workers “as soon as possible”. The U-turn is significant and surely right. However, whether or not it will mark a determinative shift away from the anti-immigrant tone that has become the norm over the last few years is yet to be seen. Let us hope that one positive that might be salvaged from the coronavirus crisis is that it prompts us to more openly acknowledge the positive contribution that immigrants have had, and continue to have, on our society.


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