Labour has presented its points-based immigration system for people coming to live and work in Britain as a crackdown – a new spirit of tough action.
But Labour has in fact been formulating ever more punitive policies against migrants and asylum seekers for its 12 years in government.
And far from being a “soft touch” for migrants, the British immigration system is racist, bureaucratic and extremely hostile to most migrants.
Labour’s new system targets not only those coming to work but also those on student visas – a system the government claims is being abused.
Thousands of people are already refused entry and visa extensions every year for trivial reasons, such as having the wrong heading on a document or the wrong formulation of a sentence in acceptance letters to colleges.
Many applicants who simply want to seek work, an education or join their family are forced into long and costly legal battles or face being deported.
Labour’s immigration policies divide families. Just to apply to join your spouse in Britain costs around £600, and an application for indefinite leave to remain costs around £800.
Immigration lawyer Ed Mynott told Socialist Worker, “Being married isn’t enough for the home office to grant residency to foreign nationals.
“There is a widespread culture of disbelief in visa offices.”
The idea that migrants use false marriages to get into the country to live off the state is a red herring.
Those who are allowed to join their spouses are given a two-year work visa but have no access to public funds such as means-tested benefits.
Labour has said much about what it expects from those deemed worthy to be allowed into Britain.
In August, Labour minister Phil Woolas told the BBC, “We think it’s right to say if we are asking the new citizen to have an oath of allegiance, that it’s right to try to define in some objective terms what that means.
“And clearly an acceptance of the democratic rule of law and the principle behind that we think is important and we think it’s fair to ask that.”
But Labour has itself been breaching the “democratic rule of law” in its treatment of asylum seekers and migrants.
So asylum seekers have had to fight in the courts just to win the minimal rights they are supposed to have under British law.
For example, if an asylum claim is outstanding by 12 months or more, claimants are supposed to be allowed to work.
But the government has attempted to block this in case after case. The rapid changes to immigration rules mean people become trapped in the system.
In 2007 the home office raised the minimum age of spouses coming to Britain from 18 to 21.
Ed explained, “This was presented as a way to prevent forced marriages, but the home office’s own research shows that it is counter-productive.
“It has resulted in yet more claims being refused from the Indian sub-continent even when investigations show that the marriage is consensual and voluntary.”
Labour’s latest changes to the immigration system will increase the problems migrant workers and their families face trying to come to Britain for work or study.
The accompanying anti-migrant rhetoric is also ratcheting up the hostility and racism people are likely to face when they arrive.
Council worker: ‘Migrants are scapegoated’
Mladen Maric, Brent council worker and trade unionist
‘I came to Britain in the early 1990s from the former Yugoslavia.
I started out doing jobs for peanuts and slowly worked my way up. I’ve lived here for almost 20 years now.
Back then there wasn’t the constant, daily talk about immigration in the newspapers.
Now the goalposts are moving. Mainstream politicians seem to be trying to please the extreme right.
That’s worrying, particularly at a time of economic crisis. Migrants are being scapegoated.
The government’s policy towards migrants is shockingly cruel, so it’s upsetting to see all the myths that get put around. There’s no compassion, no empathy – it’s dehumanising.
Migrant workers contribute far more than they consume in services. When workers create the wealth, surely they should get to use the services.
Look at a big city like London. It would struggle to function without its migrant workforce.
The real issue isn’t migrant workers. It’s the lack of investment in public services. They’re not building enough schools, hospitals and council houses.
Instead society’s priorities are all wrong – the money gets spent on war and bailing out banks.’
Russian student: ‘It gets harder all the time’
Asya came to Britain from Russia as a student five years ago and now lives in London
‘In the beginning the process seemed straightforward. I’d applied for a visa to study at a well-known university.
But they need to see records of your finances to see that you can support yourself.
Although you’re allowed to work 20 hours a week during term time and full-time in holidays, this money can’t be used for your studies.
So there’s already a disadvantage there.
When I first came I thought all the measures were fair enough. But you soon realise there is no support.
My course cost me thousands of pounds. I still had one year left to go at university when I reached my financial limit.
The whole migration process is very bureaucratic and it gets tougher every year.
I talk to my friends who are trying to stay here now.
We say it’s like jumping on the last carriage of the train – it’s getting harder all the time.
I have an “unmarried partner” visa now, so I can work. Maybe in a couple of years I’ll be able to complete my course.
When I applied for the visa the piles of papers we needed were enormous.
I was very scared – if you’re missing one thing you can fail your whole application.’