Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget announcement was filled with statements of hope to ‘rebuild the economy’ including immigration policy to bring in ‘the brightest and best’. Investment in securing the safety and accommodation of migrant populations impacted by the pandemic were a glaring omission.
The budget will allow increased investments for parts of society who have been hit hardest by COVID, such as sustaining the Universal Credit uplift of £20 and the extension of the furlough scheme until September. This comes as part of a £65bn package of economic measures.
Skilled work and points-based immigration
Sunak also announced a ‘new unsponsored points-based visa to attract the best and most promising international talent in science, research and tech’ and ‘new, improved visa processes for scale-ups and entrepreneurs, and radically simplified bureaucracy for high-skilled visa applications.’
Currently, outside of the skilled worker visa requiring a job offer and salary threshold of £25,600, the Innovator Visa and Global Talent schemes are for people looking to start a business or those highly skilled in specific industries such as academia or digital technology.
The solidification of a points-based immigration system that favours financial technology (fintech) corporations blatantly ignores the needs of migrants already living in the UK who have suffered from unemployment.
Framing migration in the scope of ‘international competitiveness’ which values migrants based on their level of skill and contribution to the labour market is an ongoing issue. This ignores many migrants who work in non-permanent jobs in 24-hour sectors such as nursing and care homes. In fact, only 59,610 visas were granted for skilled workers last year, accounting for 71% of visas granted throughout 2020.
On average, female migrants are 6% less likely to be employed compared to women born in the UK despite the fact that migrants make up 16% of the British labour market.
Solidification of a points-based immigration system that favours financial technology (fintech) corporations blatantly ignores the realities the labour force
Restricting migrants with so-called lower qualified skills could actually harm the economy more than benefit it. Organisations in the social care sector have warned repeatedly that the points-based changes will decimate their workforce, as the migrants they rely on will not meet the salary requirement for the new skilled worker visa. Many of the industries that have survived throughout the pandemic have done so thanks to the work of migrants, especially the hospitality sector which is receiving extra support in the new budget.
Economic benefits of diversity
In addition to this, areas with higher diversity have actually benefited economically. The Migration Advisory Committee commissioned evidence-based research into the effect immigration has on the British economy. The study found that on average, a migrants net contribution was £440 more per person than that of someone born in the UK.
In the longer term, it was discovered that a migrant would contribute over £78,000 on average throughout their life in this country
In 2016 this totalled £25bn overall. Without immigration there would have to be an increase in taxes, public service cuts or higher borrowing which, ironically, is part of the damage wrought by the pandemic the 2021 budget is trying to recover from.
Moreover, this is at a time of increased uncertainty about migration flows due to problems with data collection brought on by the pandemic. Using labour force surveys to try to counteract this, the Migration Observatory showed a large estimated decline of around 10% in the foreign-born UK population over 2020.
The Home Office sees and treats migrants -and by the same virtue asylum seekers- as financial stress on Britain’s economy when the evidence and research show the exact opposite.
Sunak’s ‘investment focused’ recovery fails to take into account the vital economic and social input of those populations. As migrant numbers have fallen in the pandemic and the divisive aftermath of Brexit, the budget’s announcements only further serve to exclude people from the social safety net.
No recourse to public funds conditions (NRPF) on the vast majority of migrants in the UK means they have no access to government support. Recent Joint Council of Welfare of Immigrants research showed over a fifth of migrants surveyed had lost their job during the pandemic, and 75% of those were subject to NRPF, thus having no external support at all.
Without other options, this population are put more at risk by not being as able to isolate at home. The implications of pushing thousands of families into destitution is huge, primarily of course on individuals but also on local authorities put under pressure to house people by such a cruel and impractical policy. Despite calls to suspend NRPF, the Chancellor made no such announcements.
The Home Office sees and treats migrants -and by the same virtue asylum seekers- as financial stress on Britain’s economy when the evidence and research show the exact opposite
Shifting the blame of the country’s current economic troubles on migrants only acts to cover the real sources of the problem. One of the main ones which the budget fails to tackle well enough is the role of corporation tax and tax breaks on the economy.
Businesses being given a break means shady practices and lack of support, pushing working people – migrants included- into precarious and unsafe work are given the green light. ‘Investment focused’ recovery should also mean investment in people, especially those whose contributions have kept the country operational throughout a public health crisis.
[Header image: Cubankite, Shutterstock]