At the first Prime Minister’s Question after the summer recess, I asked the Prime Minister if she agrees with me that immigration is essential to the strength of the UK economy, as well as enhancing diversity and our cultural fabric.
It’s not just the rhetoric from the UK government which is dangerous, but their policies and their leaked proposals. These are creating huge alarm for EU nationals who live here, as well as creating a stain on our society by painting the UK as an inward-looking nation.
Last October, the Prime Minister was forced into a humiliating U-turn on proposals to have foreign workers registered. In May, it was reported the Tories plan to charge companies £2,000 a year for non-EU skilled migrant workers. These are regressive moves which would undoubtedly have encouraged “anti-foreigner” resentment.
During the summer, 100 EU nationals resident in the UK received deportation notices in error causing alarm to them and many others. And now we have a leaked Home Office report creating more concern and uncertainty.
These leaked proposals are a disgrace. The policies as proposed will effectively break up family units, which only exacerbates the uncertainty already experienced by EU citizens who have chosen to make the UK their home. The paper serves to placate the Hard Brexiteers and further destroys any shred of goodwill with our European partners during a crucial time of the exit negotiations.
It’s a further example of the UK government’s one-size-fits all approach to immigration, which fails to recognise the benefits of immigration. The registration of EU nationals will only increase the burden on a Home Office that can’t cope with the current system.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the hostile language from the UK government has had an impact on the levels of EU citizens who want to come here. These new proposals will amplify the effect.
Freedom of movement of labour is particularly important to Scotland, because of the need to address skills gaps and deal with an ageing population. We propose a fair, robust and secure immigration system that meets Scotland’s social and economic needs.
I asked Theresa May if she would in the first instance, remove international students from the net migration target.
International students who come to the UK to study at our world-leading universities is something to be celebrated and encouraged. The SNP has repeatedly called for the reintroduction of the post-study work visa, which allowed international students to remain in Scotland and work after graduation. The call has been backed by businesses, colleges and universities, and has cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament amongst every political party represented in Holyrood.
The real concern is that, so long as Theresa May has any remaining influence and this Tory government continues down this path, a government review of policy on international students will simply mean more misguided crackdowns.
Students from across the world, from within the EU and outside, contribute socially and economically to the UK. Their skills and talents should be harnessed here in the UK, rather than being at the centre of Home Office reviews.
The SNP has called for, and will continue to call for the reinstatement of the post-study work visa, to help encourage students who have studied at our universities to remain and contribute to the UK after they have graduated.
The Prime Minister must stop dancing to the tune of her right-wing backbenchers and apologise for the disgraceful treatment her government has shown migrants in the UK. We need to cherish those who are here, not chase them away.
Ian Blackford is the SNP MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, and the leader of the SNP at Westminster.