The Immigration Bill – we must replace hostility with solidarity
Today there will be the second reading of the Immigration Bill in the House of Commons. This is the Bill which, in Teresa May’s words, intends to create a ‘hostile environment' for irregular migrants. It will also target migrants who have documents but are born outside the EU. If this Bill becomes law, it would introduce charges for non-EU migrants to use the NHS and would introduce sweeping document checks across society – for landlords, at banks, for those wishing to take their driving test.
The government claims clampdowns on migrants’ use of services is needed because non-EU migrants come to the UK to use the health service as ‘health tourists’ – however there is the complete lack of evidence of this with unpaid NHS charges for overseas visitors only making up 0.01% of NHS costs. It is also a myth for EU migrants as my colleague Richard Exell blogged on Touchstone.
The government also suggests - incorrectly - that denying irregular migrants services will somehow make them disappear. It won’t – it will simply drive an already vulnerable group of workers into destitution and certain exploitation at the hands of black market landlords, backstreet doctors and money lenders.
Irregular migrants are often working, paying tax and contributing to the economy. Yet, because they have no papers, it is easy for them to be exploited. Undocumented workers in the UK – unlike Belgium and other countries - have no power to claim their employment rights. The TUC has made clear that simply increasing fines for employing undocumented workers will do nothing to stop their exploitation – only better resourced and stronger enforcement of labour regulation and labour rights for all workers would do this.
The Immigration Bill doesn’t just make migrants in society more vulnerable but will threaten us all.
The intention of the Bill is to introduce document checks on an almost unimaginable new scale – across the NHS, the housing market, the banking system and the DVLA. The bureaucratic authoritarian system the Immigration Bill would usher in has tempered the enthusiasm of the right wing press for the proposals - Daily Mail featured a bank customer with their head in their hands at the thought of the checks they would be forced to undergo under the new measures. Meanwhile trade unions are very concerned that these proposals will turn nurses, doctors and teachers and other workers into border control staff.
Preventing migrants from using the health service will endanger public health by discouraging migrants who may have highly contagious diseases like TB from getting treated. The NHS service can only be damaged by these plans as it will be lumbered with significant additional costs of treating non-EU migrants in A+E rather at a GP, as this is the only place they can get emergency treatment.
Importantly, the Bill will certainly drive discrimination as only those who do not ‘look’ or ‘sound’ British are likely to be subject to document checks. As the TUC wrote in our submission to the Department of Health plans to charge migrants to use the NHS – these checks will disproportionately affect non-white people. The Runnymede Trust has already shown there is racial discrimination in the housing market which this Bill will only increase. No wonder Shami Chakrabarti , director of Liberty, called it a ‘race relations nightmare.’
Employers – like the Director-General of the Institute of Directors speaking on Radio 4’s World at One - have also voiced concern that this Bill sends out dangerous signals that foreign workers and businesses aren’t welcome in Britain.
Tories have been worrying openly, meanwhile, that policies like the Immigration Bill will drive away non-white voters.
While the Tories are intent on driving division they have missed the common cause that unites voters – squeezed living standards, low pay and lack of opportunities. TUC research shows that the poorest half of the population receives just 12p in every pound of UK GDP.
This is why coalitions across society, united in anger at the continued austerity and discrimination promised by the Immigration Bill need to come together to lobby and protest against it. We must replace hostility with solidarity.
Rosa Crawford is Policy Officer for migration at the Trades Union Congress. Before working in the trade union movement, Rosa worked with migrant communities running language and vocational courses in adult education centres in North East London. She is currently working with trade union branches and migrants rights groups to develop new ways of communicating messages on migration which challenge negative perceptions. She sits on the European Advisory Committee for Freedom of Movement.