As the UK General Election on the 8th June draws steadily nearer, we take a look at how each party could affect UK immigration policy if they were to take power. Based on their respective manifestos, we look at how the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats will address EU immigration, non-EU immigration and refugees and asylum seekers
The Conservative party manifesto makes it clear that they intend to embrace the Brexit that was voted for by the UK public. While negotiations are still to be made they promise that they will try and secure the entitlements of EU national in Britain, as well as British national in the EU. They also promise to try and maintain the Common Travel Area and, for the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as smooth a border as possible for people, goods and service. The party do say that they will reduce and control the number of EU workers who come to the UK, but they are open to skilled workers needed by the economy.
For the Conservatives, the current net migration value of 273,000 is too high, and they believe that immigration that is “too fast and too high” prevents a “cohesive society.” They would rather cut this figure right down to only “tens of thousands.” As a result, they are looking to bear down on non-EU immigration in particular. They will increase the earning threshold for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas, toughen the visa requirements for students and expect these students to leave at the end of their course unless they meet new requirements that allow them to work in Britain after studies are finished. These students will also remain a part of the immigration statistics and therefore be a part of the reduction of net migration. The new “requirements” to help this reduction, however, are not specified.
The Conservatives also continue to pledge to ensure that Britain remains a place of sanctuary for refugees and asylum seeks, however, they will focus more on the people who need help rather than just whether they can make it to the UK. This could be very important with regards to the refugee camp at Calais, who are currently prevented by French authorities from making it to the UK, but following Brexit it is unclear whether these authorities will be quite so stringent.
The Labour party manifesto is determined to position itself against that of the Conservatives asserting that in Brexit negotiations they will favour “growth, jobs and prosperity” over “bogus immigration targets.” By identifying specific labour and skill shortages and economic needs they look to streamline the immigration process, involving more employer sponsorship and altering work permits and visa regulations. They also say that they will distinguish between migrant labour and family attachment.
Regardless of ethnicity, they seek to protect any immigrant already working in the UK, and have a large focus on ending “overseas-only recruitment practices” and the exploitation of migrant labour”, which occurs through undercutting pay and lower conditions. They will reinstate the Migrant Impact Fund and boost it will “contributions from investments required for High Net Worth Individual Visas.” International students will also be welcomed regardless of ethnicity and, unlike the Conservative party, they will not be included in immigration statistics. The Labour manifesto also pledges to “crack down on fake colleges” to prevent illegal immigration in this regard.
With regards to refugees, the Labour party will continue to take on Britain’s “fair share,” although there was no further detail on the matter.
The Liberal Democrats have promised that they will fight to prevent a “hard Brexit.” While the party “acknowledge the result of the 2016 referendum,” they promise that once negotiations have been made the British people will be offered another referendum to either vote for the negotiated deal or remain in the EU will all current EU immigration laws in place. In their battle against this hard Brexit, the Lib Dems promise that they will guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK and simplify the process and requirements for EU nationals looking to obtain permanent residence in the UK. They will also try to ensure that the same happens for UK nationals living in the EU. There will be maintained freedom of movement between the UK and the EU for work, travel, study and retirement.
The Liberal Democrats believe that immigration is essential to the UK economy and society, citing doctors, agricultural workers and scientists. As a result, they will hold an annual parliamentary debate to identify migration necessary to the UK by establishing shortfalls in skills and labour, and establish a Migration Impact Fund to ease pressure on public services and housing. High-skilled immigration will be encouraged for “key sectors” of the economy, and this also goes for international students. International students who are graduates of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects who find employment within six months of graduation will gain post-study work visas. Devolved administrations will also have the right to sponsor additional post-study work visas. The student visa process will ultimately be more transparent to accurately measure the number of students who leave at the end of their course, and students will not be included in official migration statistics due to their temporary status.
The party also believe that we should continue to uphold responsibilities to refugees, and will apply the asylum process fairly, including the processes for those who have no right to be here. They look to offer safe, legal routs for refugees to travel to the UK and end indefinite immigration detention with a 28-day limit. They also expect asylum seeks who have waited more than six months for their claim to seek work like all other benefit claimants. They will only receive benefits if unable to seek or find work, among other rules.
While each party puts forward their desires for EU immigration post-Brexit, the truth is that neither party can make any solid promises as the outcome depends solely on how they proceed with negotiations with the EU. Overall, each party does seem to want to lessen net migration, but they appear to have different priorities: The Conservatives want to set a numerical target, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats are far more concerned with filling gaps in skill and labour shortfalls. Immigration regulations for non-EU workers are certain to get stricter, although the true details of how any immigration regulations may change will only be made apparent once the 2017 UK election results are announced.