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Do not value migrants just for their ‘productivity’

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We mustn’t let business interests dominate arguments against the Tories’ vicious immigration bill, says Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue 2690
 False divisions help to strengthen racism against all migrants (Pic: Guy Smallman)

As Boris Johnson prepares to push through a vicious immigration bill, big business interests threaten to dominate arguments against it.

Under Tory proposals, migrants who meet the required skills and incomes thresholds would be allowed in.

Those deemed to be lower skilled will most likely only be allowed to come on a “temporary visa route” and will not be allowed to bring family over.

Some of the evidence in last month’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) report into a points-based system is useful.

Its chair, Professor Alan Manning, branded a points-based system a “soundbite”.

On wages and job opportunities, Manning said that “pretty much the impact is there will be zero effect”.

And he said it would “likely reduce the future growth of the UK population and economy compared to freedom of movement”.

But simply saying migrants are “productive” or “good for the economy” isn’t enough.


As socialists we should argue that reducing the argument to the productivity of migrants reinforces the idea that there are “good migrants” and “bad migrants”.

On the one hand there are doctors, nurses or teachers, on the other migrants’ family members who don’t work, pensioners, students or refugees.

This false division helps to strengthen racism against all migrants.

In Britain, the “low skilled” would face a supercharged hostile environment with restricted access to health and other public services.

Capitalism relies on divide and rule of working class people. Anti-migrant rhetoric is one of the most powerful forms of racist scapegoating.

Bosses are mounting pressure on the Tories to “keep our economy open” ahead of the bill being put before parliament in March.

They fear that the proposed “Australian-style points-based system” will lead to labour shortages and hit their profits.

Bosses rely on immigration to meet their needs for more labour.

This is particularly true during times of capitalist expansion, for instance, after 1945 when the “Windrush Generation” came, or during the growth of eastern European immigration in the 2000s.

In the rows over Brexit, a tension between the Tories and sections of big business has been created.


The Tories, playing to their base, pledged to dump free movement and ramped up scapegoating of European Union (EU) migrants.

Bosses were desperate to stay in the neoliberal EU and at times seemed like a champions of migrants’ rights.

But this isn’t the case. Bosses care about their ability to fill labour shortages, not workers’ wages or working conditions.

One submission from the Federation of Small Business (FSB) supported a “temporary route which effectively meets the needs of small businesses requiring low skilled labour”.

Bosses and migrant workers do not have the same interests.

To combat racism, the left needs to put forward a defence of immigration that doesn’t rely on what’s good or bad for big business.

This means first and foremost defending freedom of movement for all migrants, and standing in solidarity with any group under attack.

Any form of division between workers—British-born and migrants, skilled or low skilled—weakens the ability of the working class to fight back.

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