The Tories have based their cruel immigration policy on divisive myths for too long – it’s time for a different approach

25 Sep 2018
It has been widely trailed that Theresa May will announce a clampdown on immigration in her speech to the Conservative conference. Yet again.
Labour and Tory policies could hardly be further apart on key issues of the economy, on the need to rebuild our public services, on housing, on foreign policy and all aspects of home affairs, such as crime and policing. But that diametrical opposition on policies now also includes immigration policy too.
I have set out Labour’s new immigration policy, whereas the government has still not produced its immigration white paper, and we are no closer to knowing what their proposed post-Brexit policy might be.
The gulf between the Tories and Labour when it comes to the immigration policy our country needs will become even clearer during this conference season. Labour’s new policy is a rational one, based on the needs of our economy and improving our living standards. It is not based on sowing division, chasing cheap headlines and dog-whistle politics.
Is there anything more cynical in British politics than a prime minister, in deep trouble in her own party and with the electorate, who reaches for the tabloid headlines by announcing an “immigration clampdown”? Last week, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), an independent advisory body to government, produced a report demolishing many of the myths peddled about migrants.
They don’t take jobs, or drive down wages, reduce training of the existing workforce or put a strain on public services. In fact, they make a net contribution to our economy, to our public services and to our society.
We were told that the MAC report would inform the government’s forthcoming Immigration Bill, due later this year. But with the Tory party split from top to bottom and a prime minister clinging grimly to her job, we should not hold our collective breath.
The next Labour government will fulfil our existing legal and moral obligations to the Windrush generation. We also have a moral and legal obligation to the 3 million EU citizens who have made our country their home. A Brexit deal with the EU27 is likely to include some form of agreed migration access for their workers and for ours. The same is true of all future trade deals too. We will want access for some of our workers, and those countries will want the same for theirs.
Under Labour these trade deals come first. Our new work visa system will work alongside any deals that we strike to meet the needs of our economy and address the shortages of skills and  labour in key sectors that are crucial for our nation’s wellbeing and prosperity. These shortages include doctors, nurses, social care workers and others.
Our work visa system will apply to the skills we need. The government draws a ludicrous and damaging distinction between “high-skilled”, by which it means highly paid migrants, and others with  the skills we need. This means the government prevents nurses coming here, while allowing derivatives traders.
In the clamour surrounding its failed numerical net migration target and Theresa May’s deport-first ask-questions-later approach, this Tory government has been illegally detaining and deporting our citizens. It has been refusing work visas for doctors and nurses even though the staff shortage in the NHS is now well over 100,000, leading to longer waiting times for all of us and unbearable  pressures on those who do work in the NHS. The seasonal agricultural workers scheme has effectively collapsed under this government, and crops have been left to rot in the fields as a result. With another “clampdown” we can expect more of the same.
Our policies will put an end to all this. We will increase the training and skills of our workforce, and demand that employers do the same. We will increase the national minimum wage and enforce pay legislation. And we will issue work visas to all the workers we need for our own prosperity.
There is a further major difference with this government. We will offer everyone legally here equal treatment. We will end state-sanctioned discrimination against migrants with a legal right to be here. We will end the hostile environment that has caused so much grief, trauma and injustice. There will be no second-class citizens or second-class migrants under a Labour government.
The Windrush generation are now being denied access to British citizenship by Sajid Javid, adding insult to injury.
We will uphold the right to a family life. We will remove the minimum income requirement that prevents the spouses of people entitled to be in Britain from coming here. We will end the deportations that break up families.
This is a policy that works for all of us. The new migrants who arrive here will be here because we have agreed they will benefit us all. And when they come, we will treat them fairly.

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