Natalie Bennett, London Assembly candidate
I was delighted to be asked to represent Green Party mayoral candidate Jenny Jones at the Migrant’ Rights Network London hustings last week.
I’m constantly horrified to see just what a concerted attack is being made on the key rights of migrants and prospective migrants to the UK. This hustings brought together many of the groups trying to deal with that.
This is very much a London issue. London has the greatest number of migrants (2.4 million foreign-born people from a population of 7.8 million in 2010) of any UK region.
The most disturbing issue of all, because it affects extremely vulnerable people, is the changes to the rules on migrant domestic workers. From this month, those brought in by one employer are unable to change jobs without losing their visa – this, as a representative of Justice 4 Domestic Workers (which works with the Unite Union) said at the meeting, is a licence for “slavery”.
But also deeply worrying are the government’s planned changes to settlement rights for non-EU migrant workers. The plan is that they’ll have to earn more than £35,000 a year to win the right to settle. That means, on the government’s own figures, that 48% of migrant nurses, 37% of primary school teachers and 35% of IT/software professionals would be excluded. The plan is that removals of people who fail to meet the thresehold will begin in 2016.
That means the UK is in effect introducing a German-style guestworker scheme – the deal is that you can come here for a few years, probably some of your most productive, healthy years when we can work you very hard – then we’ll ship you out again and replace you with a fresh batch. No sense of building a career or a life, just a slog. What that would do for morale and productivity doesn’t bear thinking about – not to mention the human cost of disrupted lives.
Then, if you think that is bad, there’s also the question of family visas. The government plans to demand the family member who’ll be supporting the incomer have a minimum income of £25,700 (£50k if you have two children – which will exclude most people in “normal” jobs). The probationary visa will also extend from two to five years. Now – although you wouldn’t think it if you read the Daily Mail or the Telegraph – family visa entrants, as do most other migrants, have their visas stamped “no recourse to public funds” – but their sponsor simply has to show that they have the funds to support them.
A gentleman in the audience from Migration Watch tried to claim that actions to reduce immigration such as these weren’t an attack on migrants already here. I and, it was clear from the response, the audience strongly disagreed. The fact is if the two parties of government, and all too often the Labour party too, are saying, or signalling, “we have to reduce migration because migrants are taking our houses/jobs/school places”, then that badly effects migrants already here (and for the record that includes me – I moved to the UK in 1999, having been born in Australia and previously spent five years in Bangkok).