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Lessons from lock-down: Challenging the plans for the post-Brexit immigration system

May 4th 2020

Coronavirus has shone a light on the vital contribution migrants make to our society. Claire Thomas asks if this provides a new opportunity to challenge the UK Governments approach to immigration

In February this year the Government laid out its proposals to redesign the immigration system and introduce a points-based system which seeks to reduce levels of immigration overall, give top priority to high skills and provide no route for general low skilled or temporary work. If introduced it would mean applicants who are earning under £25,650 would find it harder to come and work and live in Wales.

In February it was largely accepted that the Bill would meet very little opposition in parliament, yet the Coronavirus crisis has highlighted the positive contribution migrants play in the many sectors that affect our daily lives and this could lead to a reassessment of the principles behind the proposed new system.

Assessing the impact of the post-Brexit immigration system in the context of Coronavirus

In the past two months we have seen story after story documenting the role migrants have played in the Coronavirus crisis. We have all been touched by the tragic cases of migrants who have lost their life trying to care for others. Migrants working in the NHS, in social care, in the retail and food sectors have all been praised for their vital contribution, and this has been demonstrated by the thousands who come out and clap on their doorstep in appreciation of this every Thursday.

Yet despite the support shown, many of those who are vital in the fight against Coronavirus would not have been able to come to work and live in Wales if the new immigration system had been in place.

It is not too late to reassess what a fair immigration system would look like. The UK Government shelved the Immigration Bill last week, and has already made concessions such as automatically granting free visa extensions to overseas health and care workers and “reviewing” the surcharge that some migrant doctors and nurses working in the NHS must pay to access the health service.

More say for Wales?

We have previously called for the National Assembly of Wales to play a role in deciding who comes to work, live and study in Wales. In our report ‘Life after free movement’ we highlighted the invaluable role that migrants play in many vital sectors in Wales, including health and social care. Not only will the current proposals prevent many of those so-called ‘unskilled’ workers that we rely on migrating to Wales, it will also make it difficult to attract “skilled-workers” in the future as the proposed salary threshold only just falls below the average gross salary for full-time workers in Wales, which in 2017 was £26,024.

Clearly there is a need to focus all effort on managing the current crisis, but the future of the immigration system should be considered in the context of Coronavirus, and more pressure should be placed on the UK Government to recognise this as a clear ‘lesson from lock-down’ and consider the needs of Wales.

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