On 12 December 2019, the UK public will vote in a general election, the third since 2015. We’ve taken a look at what each of the three main parties is saying about immigration (we’ve tried our very best to remain neutral..!).
The three main political parties, the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats have now all released their manifestos in which they set out their intentions should they be elected. Each party has stated its position on the future of UK immigration.
The Conservative manifesto
The Conservative party’s ‘Get Brexit Done’ and ‘Unleash Britain’s Potential’ manifesto contains a pledge to ‘fix our immigration system’.
They intend to do this primarily by introducing a ‘firmer and fairer Australian-style points-based immigration system’ so that decisions on who can come to the UK will be made ‘on the basis of the skills they have and the contribution they can make’.
Because they are also committing to taking the UK out of the EU, both EU and non-EU citizens will fall under the new immigration system (depending on their date of arrival in the UK).
The manifesto sets out that most people will require a job offer under the new work-based routes. Priority will be given to those who:
- have a good grasp of English;
- have been law-abiding citizens in their own country; and
- have good education and qualifications.
The manifesto also sets out that:
- migrants will contribute to the NHS – and ‘pay in’ before they can receive benefits;
- there will be fewer lower-skilled migrants and overall numbers will come down (but no specific target);
- bespoke visa schemes will be created for new migrants who will fill shortages in public services and build the companies and innovations of the future;
- an NHS visa will be introduced to fast-track the applications of qualified doctors, nurses and health professionals with a job offer from the NHS;
- there will be more opportunities for exceptionally talented individuals;
- a graduate visa will be introduced;
- serious criminals will not be allowed into the country.
The Labour manifesto
The Labour party’s ‘radical, hopeful…people focused’ manifesto contains a pledge to put an end to the ‘hostile environment‘.
Labour’s key theme is to create a more ‘humane immigration system’. In its manifesto the party has proposed the following:
- The Immigration Act 2014 will be scrapped. What exactly ‘scrapping’ it will entail is not clear, but we expect to see a welcome end to the Immigration Health Surcharge and many hostile environment features, such as right to rent checks.
- The financial requirement for family visas, which sees individuals needing to have an annual income of at least £18,600 in order to be joined by their family member from outside the UK, will also end.
- Labour say that “fair compensation” will be provided to those who have suffered on account of the Windrush scandal.
- There will be an end to indefinite detention, savings from which will be put into supporting victims of modern slavery, people trafficking and domestic violence.
- A flexible work visa system will be introduced based around the UK’s economic needs and the needs of communities.
- The overseas domestic worker visa is to be restored.
- The party will be committed to establishing safe and legal routes for asylum seekers.
- Refugees will have the right to work and have access to public services whilst claiming asylum in the UK.
Labour’s position on Brexit is to negotiate a deal with the EU within three months of being elected. Within six months of Labour being elected, the public will be given the opportunity to vote on whether they want the exit deal agreed with the EU or to remain.
If the UK does remain in the EU, then free movement rights would continue for EU citizens and their family members. Labour recognises that, if the UK was to leave the EU, then decisions on EU migration would be subject to negotiations with the EU, but the party confirms that it recognises the ‘social and economic benefits that free movement has brought… [and] will seek to protect those rights’.
The Liberal Democrat manifesto
In contrast to the other parties, the Liberal Democrat manifesto outlines an ambition to revoke Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union which would ‘Stop Brexit’. The Liberal Democrats want the UK to remain in the EU and maintain the current free movement rules.
Many of the party’s further immigration policies, included in its manifesto and detailed further on its website, focus around reform to create a ‘compassionate and effective immigration system’. The main points include:
- A drastic reduction in the powers and role of the Home Office, including moving work and student immigration policymaking into the Departments for Business and Education, and establishing a ‘non-political agency’ to process applications.
- Replacing the Tier 2 route with a ‘flexible merit-based system’. It is not clear what this new system entails, however there is also the intention that industry bodies will be able to ‘sponsor work visas’, suggesting a wider number of organisations that can act as sponsors.
- Introducing a ‘Training up Britain’ programme. This has not been detailed but seems to imply a programme where migrants provide training to settled workers.
- Creating a two-year visa for students to work after graduation, which seems similar to the old two-year post study visa.
- Removing the minimum income requirement for partner visas.
- Reducing the fee for registering a child as a British citizen to the cost of administration.
- Enabling those who come to the UK as children to apply for ‘resident status’. It is unclear how this would work in practice.
- Removing the ‘hostile environment’, including ‘right to rent’ legislation, immigration checks and upfront charging in the NHS and the requirements for banks to perform immigration checks on their customers. There will also be a ‘firewall’ preventing public agencies from sharing personal information with the Home Office for the purposes of immigration enforcement.
Although the processing of applications and policymaking will be cut from the Home Office, these proposals suggest that the structure of the immigration system will remain largely in place with changes to some of the more restrictive and expensive routes.
It remains to be seen which party will win the election on 12 December, which new immigration policies will be prioritised and exactly what the detail of those policies will be in practice.
What is certain, is that we are going to experience yet another year of significant change in the UK’s immigration system in 2020…..