The government is plotting vicious new restrictions on the rights of migrants to Britain from European Union (EU) countries, a leaked document suggests.
A draft Home Office paper with proposals for the immigration system after Britain leaves the EU was published by the Guardian newspaper last night, Tuesday.
It focuses on making it harder for EU nationals to live or work in Britain—particularly those deemed “low skilled”.
Brexit secretary David Davis has previously pledged that EU nationals would not need ID cards.
But the document suggests that those staying beyond a few months would need a biometric “residence permit”. These will only last two years, or five years for more “skilled” migrants.
Workers will have to prove their income is above a given threshold in order to get one. But getting a job will be made harder.
The paper says that firms will have to give “preference in the job market” to British workers. It suggests several possibilities for how this could be done, all of them discriminatory.
Companies could be made to fill out special forms in order to be allowed to hire EU nationals.
The number of “unskilled” EU migrants could be capped. Or EU migrants could be restricted to applying for only certain jobs.
The proposals interfere with the right to a family life.
EU nationals would need to earn at least £18,600 a year to be allowed to bring their partner to Britain. Other relatives will be banned, except for dependents including children aged under 18.
This mirrors the cruel restrictions already in place for non-EU migrants.
So do planned checks on EU students’ funds, academic record and English speaking ability—despite the recent revelation that barely any international students overstay their visas.
The draft document may be the basis for a future white paper and subsequent new law.
It’s far from final. Home secretary Amber Rudd has already commissioned research from the Migration Advisory Committee that could serve as an excuse for changing tack.
And any plans the government makes now are as much about seeing what it can get out of negotiations with EU leaders as they are about actual polices.
But the paper is our clearest look yet at what post-Brexit immigration system is being prepared.
It demands a robust anti-racist response. Yet it has mostly been criticised for the wrong reasons.
Bosses in hospitality and agriculture rushed to condemn it for threatening labour shortages.
Senior Labour Party figures including London mayor Sadiq Khan and home affairs select committee chair Yvette Cooper slammed it in similar terms.
Cooper and others also warned that it might upset EU negotiators and make it harder to keep Britain in the neoliberal single market.
The official Labour response from Diane Abbott, shadow home secretary and leading anti-racist campaigner said, “Labour wants fair rules and reasonable management of migration in accordance with the needs of our economy and our values as a party.”
On the hard right of Labour, Frank Field, work and pensions select committee chair, embraced the Tory proposals.
“If we’d had this policy at the last election, Labour would have romped home,” he said. “It would have given employment opportunities to huge swathes of younger unemployed or casual workers.”
This pro-worker spin on immigration controls is a bald lie. Removing rights from one set of workers doesn’t lead to more jobs for others.
The number of jobs isn’t fixed. Firms that currently rely on low paid EU migrants could shut up shop, or find ways to bring in more automation. Or they could continue to hire the same migrants, but in a more precarious position that makes them easier to exploit.
Forcing migrant workers to jump through hoops or hide from the authorities only makes them more vulnerable to the bosses who push down pay.
The Tories’ proposals are an attack on the rights of individual workers on the basis of where they were born.
They would deepen the repression and bureaucracy that divides workers with the racist lie that migration is a burden.
Labour should reject them firmly, and demand that EU migrants keep all their existing rights after Brexit.
We need stronger workers’ organisation and trade unions, not stronger immigration controls.