It’s clear that Immigration is going to be a big issues for the Conservative Party judging by the volume of legislation they are proposing.
As with UKIP, their aim is to have migration in the ‘tens of thousands’, ie less than 100,000 per year. This, along with most of the EU directed policies, simply aren’t possible without renegotiation of treaties with the EU, so it’s more accurate to call these ‘aims’ rather than ‘commitments’.
Of those EU-focused policies, it’s the maintenance requirement and English language test that will cause the biggest issue to MediVisas’ clients. We work with a large number of EU nationals and their dependents, and of course the ‘Surinder Singh’ route has become popular with UK nationals and their dependents since the rules changes of July 2012. If they were permitted to bring in these changes then it would clearly result in a large reduction of the numbers of people making such applications. However, it’s unlikely that this would ever be permitted. Picture the scene: a French man is living in France with his Tunisian wife and children, they all speak French, and he wants to come to work in the UK… and the UK government refuse his wife a visa because she speaks fluent French but hasn’t passed an English language exam! Not only is this patently unfair, but it seems inconceivable that the French (or any other EU head of State) would allow the UK to introduce such measures.
With regard to non-EEA migration, the biggest issue is of course the removal of in-country rights of appeal for all but asylum applicants. As we know, the Administrative Review process has now replaced the appeal process in most cases anyway, and these are thankfully still conducted whilst the applicant is in the UK.
I ask myself how realistic is it that appeals are all going to be dealt with overseas. I can think of some clients I have now, perhaps with serious illnesses, very young children, evidence that they would be destitute in their home countries, and I wonder how they can realistically be removed. In some cases the government would struggle to find an airline willing to remove them. I suspect that, should there be a Conservative government elected, that they would have to water this proposal down further. If they don’t then I’d envisage every appeal having an Article 3 aspect, possibly frivolous, but advised by reps in order to stall removal.
Ah, silly me. I only read the ‘immigration’ section of the manifesto, so I missed out on the key policy of ‘scrap the Human Rights Act’. So clearly no Article 3 claims after all. There will be a British Bill of Rights, which will probably maintain the principles of Articles 2 & 3, but will almost certainly restrict significantly anything similar to the current Article 8.
I’ll admit to being surprised about the brevity and vagueness of the immigration content in the Labour manifesto. They only really have a few points, none of which are likely to make a huge difference to anyone.
Stopping EU nationals from claiming benefits for two years is likely to be seen as a watered down version of the Conservative policy. The charge for non-visa nationals is apparently going to pay for 1000 new border staff, and there is no indication that this has been adequately costed or that the charge will as small as they suggest, so there is no way of knowing the impact of this measure.
Other than that, we of course have the commitment to end indefinite detention and the detention of pregnant women and victims of domestic abuse and trafficking. I remain sceptical. The detention of pregnant women is already supposed to have stopped but clearly hasn’t, victims of trafficking or abuse are not always believed when they make their claims. It seems that this is a somewhat half-hearted attempt to address the issues, and while it may be a positive thing and an indication that Labour aren’t trying to ‘out-UKIP UKIP’ on immigration, previous form makes me think that they either have a lot of other nasty things up their sleeves or they are planning on making it up as they go along.
As with Labour, the Lib Dem policy is quite vague. They will stay in the EU and continue to allow high skilled migration, which may suggest a reduction in low-skilled migration, but with no indication of how. They would bring back the post-study work visa, which would almost certainly result in an increase of student visa applications. They will end indefinite detention and speed up application processing times, although there appears to be no suggestion of increasing staff numbers. The promise to reduce the amount of time refugees need to be resident before they can settle may indicate a return to the granting of ILR for recognised refugees, but this is not made explicit. Essentially they have addressed none of the concerns of either the migrant populations or of those who want to cut migrant numbers.
Unsurprisingly, the Greens are the most progressive on migration, addressing many of the issues which affect MediVisas’ clients. Remaining within the EU and maintaining the current free movement policies is at the forefront of their policy. They would scrap the £18,600 earning requirement for spousal sponsorship, bring back a post-study work visa, widen the Youth Mobility programme and bring back a path for UK nationals to bring in dependent relatives, something which was scrapped under the current government and which has been seen as quite inhumane by many. Controversially they would introduce what could be called an amnesty for those who have been in the UK illegally for the past three years. Although explicitly rejecting an open borders policy, they seem to want to return to the pre-July 2012 rules in many ways, which were considered to be far more egalitarian than the rules now. If the Greens end up holding any balance of power in a new government, the vagueness of the Labour policy may mean that several of the Green proposals could be considered.
Equally unsurprisingly, it is UKIP who would bring in the most restrictions on migration. Leaving the EU would result in all potential migrants being treated equally, and this would go along with a limit of 50,000 highly skilled visas and a five year ban on low skilled visas. The latter would suggest the scrapping of the Youth Mobility scheme, the Ancestral Visa scheme and domestic workers. As UKIP have an aim of having net migration at no more than 30,000, it is unclear where spousal visas will come into their equation. Over 35,000 family related visas were granted in the year ending March 2014, 26,000 of which were partners. Some of these would have been EEA dependents, who would no longer be eligible, but I still find it curious that the only manifesto commitment on family based applications is to ‘review’ the system.
With regards to highly skilled migrants, UKIP talk about an ‘Australian style points system’, without given any indication of how this will work. As we know, the current system is ‘points based’ to an extent, and there is no explanation of what the reforms will be. Given the figure of 50,000, it is likely that they will either restrict salary requirements or only allow visas for those in shortage areas. This will have implications in several sectors of British industry, most notably the NHS and Information Technology.
Barring ‘foreign criminals’ from getting visas could also have implications for families, especially if this is a blanket ban as suggested; currently those with minor convictions or spent convictions do not have bans if the conviction is declared.
Although the requirement for all migrants to have private health insurance and be barred from using non-Emergency NHS services will take some pressure off the NHS, my assessment is that pressure would be added by the vast restrictions on work visas. I can’t see how these restrictions would be anything other than damaging to the economy, especially during a time of relatively low unemployment, and I feel that we may end up with a shortage of non- and low-skilled workers.
*The views within this document are those of the author and not of MediVisas UK LLP*