Post-Brexit UK visa key worker controversy during coronavirus

Sanwar Ali comment:

There are ongoing arguments about the new UK visa system, post-Brexit and how businesses will cope once EU citizens wishing to come to the UK can no longer work freely in the UK.  There are also concerns that businesses having to deal with the coronavirus situation, and dealing with the enormous upheaval of leaving the EU system will be a disaster for the UK economy. 

If there is an agreement with the EU, free trade between the EU and the UK may very well continue.  However, how likely is it that this will happen by the end of 2020?

Many would say that the current coronavirus COVID-19 situation has already been a disaster for the UK economy.  If on top of dealing with the after-effects of the coronavirus pandemic (assuming this ends soon), businesses will have to pay huge Government visa fees that they cannot afford, to employ overseas workers who no longer come under EU free movement, this will surely cause further damage to the economy.  Most people in the UK now think, especially after coronavirus, that the UK should delay the transitional period for leaving the EU free movement system to beyond the end of the year.  A no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020 is something many people wish to avoid.

Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has sparked fury by publishing guidance on post-Brexit visa and immigration plans as the coronavirus crisis grows worse in the UK. The plans, which look to restrict entry into the UK from 1 January, 2021 for so-called ‘low skilled’ workers, have been blasted by businesses across the country.

With thousands of so-called ‘low skilled’ workers serving on the frontline amid the coronavirus pandemic, immigrant supporters have said that the health crisis has ‘clearly identified who Britain’s key workers are.’

Recently, Secretary of State Dominic Raab – standing in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is recovering after spending seven nights in hospital (three in intensive care) after contracting coronavirus – praised checkout workers and cleaners, saying: “I think you’ve certainly made us all think long and hard about who the ‘key workers’ are in our lives.”

Under the UK’s new, points-based visa and immigration system, checkout workers and cleaners, among many others, would be refused entry to the UK.

Priti Patel presses ahead with new UK visa points system

Despite the invaluable contribution being made by so-called low skilled migrants in the battle against coronavirus, and being commended by Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, the Home Secretary, somewhat heartlessly, published guidance outlining the new immigration system anyway.

UK businesses have urged Patel to delay the new system, warning that it could lead to a crisis for care homes and similar healthcare providers. Her decision to publish the guidance has been met with extreme anger by business owners and local councils who argue that sectors such as social care face ‘disaster.’

However, the response of the Home Office has been sharp in telling businesses to simply cut ties with their ‘reliance on cheap, low-skilled labour.’

New, post-Brexit UK visa and immigration rules

As part of new, post-Brexit immigration rules, non-UK nationals will need to earn a minimum of £25,600, have a job offer and speak English to a high standard in order to qualify for a UK Tier 2 work visa.

There are exceptions to the new rules for people earning £20,480 - £25,600, if they fill a role on the UK shortage occupation list, for example a nurse working for the NHS.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Shadow Home Secretary, described the release of the guidance as a ‘slap in the face.’

He said: “These last few weeks have been a stark reminder, not that one should be needed, of the incredibly important contribution frontline workers make in our communities.”

“Workers like nurses, carers, supermarket staff and refuse collectors are playing a vital role in saving lives and keeping our country running, often at risk to themselves. It will be a slap in the face to many of these workers to see themselves classed as low skilled and unwelcome in Britain,” he added.

Temporary UK immigration route for lower skilled workers

Amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the director of policy and campaigns at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) Tom Hadley, urged the Home Office to introduce a ‘temporary UK immigration route.’

Hadley said: “This is not the right time to press ahead with reforms to the UK immigration system. The national effort needs to be focused on eliminating coronavirus, protecting jobs and getting the economy back on track.”

“This nation will recover from this crisis and ensuring that UK businesses have access to the workers they need will aid that recovery. From carers and cleaners to retail workers and drivers, the coronavirus pandemic is showing us how much we depend on people at all skill levels,” Hadley added.

“A temporary immigration route is essential for meeting the needs of every business in every sector of the economy. Post-Brexit and post-virus, this will help businesses succeed and support jobs and growth here in the UK,” Hadley stated.

Government seemingly ignores contribution of key workers

Despite widespread praise for so called low skilled workers, the government will seemingly ignore the contribution made by those risking their lives. A spokesperson for the government said: “Now that we have left the EU, free movement is coming to an end and we will be introducing a new points-based immigration system from January 2021.”

“We want to give employers as much time as possible to prepare for the new system that will bring in the best and brightest to the UK, which is why we have published this guidance at this time”, the spokesperson said.

“The government is committed to helping businesses through this difficult time. We have announced unprecedented support for businesses including £330 billion in business loans and guarantees, cash grants for small businesses, paying 80% of furloughed workers’ wages, business rates holidays and tax deferrals,” the spokesperson added.

An opinion piece written in The Guardian by Maya Goodfellow, says that ‘all the encouragement we’re being given to clap NHS frontline workers, supermarket staff and more, will all be hollow if harsh new rules are not reassessed.’

Contribution of migrants should be recognised and remembered

Goodfellow said: Millions of key workers in the UK are migrants – approximately 23% of all hospital staff, including 29% of doctors and 18% of nurses, 20% of agricultural workers, more than 40% of food production workers and 18% of care workers, rising to 59% in London. These are the human beings who, for decades, politicians have blamed for holding down wages, ruining “British culture”.

“The sacrifices people are making should be recognised and remembered. But their humanity should not depend on how they help us”, Goodfellow said.

Coronavirus in the UK

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been discharged after spending seven days in hospital, three of which were in intensive care. Johnson has heaped praise on NHS workers, while personally thanking those who cared for him, saying ‘I have no doubt that the care of those tending to me saved my life.’

As the UK enters its fourth week on lockdown, as of 13 April, the coronavirus death toll has reached 10,612. Coronavirus lockdown measures are set to be reviewed on 16 April, however, many anticipate that the measures are set to stay in place for several more weeks.

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