January 1st 2021 signals the end of the Brexit transition period and the official dawning of new immigration policy for the UK. The impending points-based system represents the biggest change to immigration policy for a generation- freedom of movement will come to an end and EU nationals will be subject to the same immigration requirements as those from the rest of the world.
The United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union was promised to be ‘oven-ready’ and clean, resulting in prosperity, a renewed sense of optimism and some form of magical gateway to enhanced liberty. In reality, the process has been painful and confused, and the new Immigration Bill has further muddied the waters for many people.
The Home Secretary Priti Patel has stated that the points-based system will result in only the ‘best and brightest’ overseas nationals qualifying for entry into the UK, which essentially translates as ‘only those who provide economic benefits will be deemed acceptable’. In order to be eligible, 70 points must be accrued through meeting a combination of criteria, including;
- An offer of a job from an approved sponsor (20 points)
- English-speaking to the required level (10 points)
- A salary of £25,600 or above (20 points)
- A PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job (20 points)
The changes are indiscriminate across the UK, meaning that social and economic differences in different regions across the UK are essentially ignored. The sweeping nature of the change fails to take into account a number of key characteristics, such as average income, age of the population, and type of employment. Some industries rely more on immigration than others, a topical example being the agricultural sector.
We’ve witnessed the government pleading for its citizens to take up jobs picking fruit and vegetables to save the most recent harvest from going to waste. Agriculture is an industry heavily reliant upon migrant workers; under the new regulations, it will be impossible for a prospective migrant worker to qualify for low or middle-skilled jobs such as fruit-picking. The needs of rural areas are complex and crucial. Many coastal and rural towns and villages in the UK have an ageing population with naturally low employment as a result, so migrant workers over the past couple of decades have increasingly formed the backbone of important industries in these areas.
Similarly, the care sector relies mightily on the wonderful work of migrant nurses and care workers. The COVID-19 pandemic has electrified the country’s general awareness to the astonishing work our care workers do, yet under the points-based system, it will be practically impossible for non-NHS care workers to qualify for entry into the UK. Underemployment in the care sector is already astonishing, with tens of thousands of vacancies across the UK, and this situation may become more desperate without the positive impact of migrant care workers. Care homes in the UK have changeable reliance on migrant workers, and the poor treatment of such institutions has caused anguish and heartbreak during the pandemic. The new measures seem certain to prolong the suffering.
Different regional areas continue to report varying needs, from subtle to serious, with regard to migrant workers and migration in general. The impact of immigration is felt at the local level, and centralised decision-making on immigration, particularly when the end of free movement is factored in, will likely prove damaging for a number of regional areas. As a consequence, there have been calls from regional leaders for devolved powers on the matter. This would be relatively straightforward to authorise in Scotland, for example, as they already have devolved policy powers in other areas. However, Scottish requests for control over migration have fallen on deaf ears in Westminster.
Cumbria Tourism has expressed grave concerns about the new system and the destructive impact it could have on its crucial tourism industry. Cumbria has a rapidly-ageing population of fewer than half a million people, so requires a diverse range of workers to not only hold up the local economy but to also maintain a vibrant community. Migration is certainly needed to meet employment challenges in remote areas. It’s been suggested that, in order to assist regions such as Cumbria, the UK could follow New Zealand’s lead and incentivise migrants to settle in areas other than their major cities. Regional visas have also been mooted as a possible solution, but this seems a far-fetched idea given the government’s so-far clear, hostile, and non-negotiating approach to immigration.
As the UK’s population ages and accusations of a London-centric bias from the government show no signs of fading away, the forthcoming changes to migration policy may have a disproportionate impact upon many of the nation’s coastal and rural areas. Proceeding with a one-size-fits-all approach will likely make calls for a subnational immigration system in the UK even louder.
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