So, the Conservatives have finally decided what they mean by a “points-based immigration system”. They want to assively restrict the ability of UK employers to hire the workers they need. Impose reams of additional red tape on both businesses and individuals. Expose thousands more people to the nasty “hostile environment”. Rush these changes into force in just ten months. And put it all in the hands of the discredited, dysfunctional Home Office.
It’s a recipe for chaos.
These Conservative immigration proposals will be a disaster for the small businesses that power the UK economy. Many are already struggling to hire the workers they need, and now the Tories want to stop them recruiting anyone from abroad who doesn’t meet their arbitrary salary threshold. As if the contributions people make to our society and our economy are measured merely by home much they are paid.
This will lead to huge shortages in the construction and hospitality sectors, and make the existing social care crisis even worse. These sectors have benefited hugely from EU free movement. Tens of thousands of EU citizens build our homes, staff our hotels and cafés and care for people who are old, sick or have disabilities.
The Tories regularly boast that unemployment is at its lowest rate in more than 40 years. There simply aren’t queues of British people waiting to take on those jobs. So who will do them? The Government has no answer.
The Conservatives’ insistence on their arbitrary salary threshold will be especially bad for parts of the country outside London and the South East, where earnings are generally lower. Employers there will find it particularly hard to recruit from abroad. It will also hit women particularly hard, given the Tories’ refusal to make allowances for part-time workers with lower annual salaries, most of whom are women.
All of this makes it clear: these Tory polices are based on xenophobia, not the social and economic needs of our country.
To make things worse, ten months is nowhere near enough time for either employers or the Home Office to get ready for these new rules and all the extra bureaucracy they will bring. Only 2 per cent of employers currently sponsor visas for non-EU nationals. Thousands more would now have to do so when hiring EU citizens, and spend huge amounts of time and money grappling with the Home Office’s complex, costly system.
Far from restoring public confidence in the immigration system, this will just cause chaos and confusion. The Liberal Democrat approach couldn’t be more different. We must welcome people who choose to come to the UK to work. They make enormous contributions to our society, our economy and our communities, and we should celebrate that.
Instead of chasing headlines with their unworkable plans, the government must focus on building a fair immigration system that works for our economy and treats everyone with dignity and respect.
Christine Jardine is the Home Affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats