The UK government is pressing ahead with a radical shakeup of Britain’s immigration system, with MPs set to debate new legislation in the middle of the coronavirus crisis.
A bill that would take Britain out of the EU’s free movement rules faces its second reading on Monday afternoon in the Commons, where the Conservatives now have a sizeable majority.
The legislation paves the way for the government’s plans to significantly curb low-paid and ‘low-skilled’ immigration, particularly from eastern and central Europe.
The government has portrayed its plans for a “point-based system” and end to “cheap labour” as a response to the public mood underpinning Leave’s victory in the EU referendum in 2016.
But the coronavirus crisis has shone a stark light on the vital services many migrant workers are providing and risks they are taking in jobs classed as “low-skilled” by officials.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds hit out at the plans, calling them a “threat to our national interest.”
“It is rank hypocrisy towards our NHS and care workers, over 180,000 in England and Wales alone [from overseas], to stand and clap for them on a Thursday night, and then tell them that they are not welcome in the UK on a Monday,” he said.
“It risks the NHS not being able to fill the desperately needed roles for trained nurses and care home workers at the very moment when we rely on the NHS most.”
A recent YouGov poll for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), indicated 54% of people in the UK would support loosening immigration rules for workers defined as essential during the crisis.
“Bus drivers and lorry drivers, care workers and shop workers, nurses and cleaners – they are not ‘unskilled’ or unwelcome, they are the backbone of our country,” said Satbir Singh, chief executive of the JCWI.
But home secretary Priti Patel said: “This historic piece of legislation gives the UK full control of our immigration system for the first time in decades and the power to determine who comes to this country.
“Our new points-based system is firmer, fairer, and simpler. It will attract the people we need to drive our economy forward and lay the foundation for a high wage, high skill, high productivity economy.”
A vote on the legislation will be held at a later date, and the Home Office said more details on the new immigration system will be published later this year.
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