Author: Afzal Khan
Earlier this month Labour’s shadow home secretary set out Labour’s vision for a post-Brexit immigration system. In her speech at Portcullis House in Westminster on 13 September, Diane Abbott reinforced some established principles – justice for the Windrush generation, dismantling the hostile environment, and abandoning the net migration target. But she also went further, to set out what a new immigration system based on Labour principles would look like.
Over this conference, and during the next year in parliament, I am committed to furthering these principles, by providing a constant challenge to Tory immigration policies, and by fighting for a Labour government to implement the fair, reasonable and managed migration system our country desperately needs.
Eight years of Tory-led government have produced an immigration system that is both ineffective and inhumane.
The Windrush scandal was essential to revealing the extent of the damage of the ‘hostile environment’. British citizens without the right paperwork have been treated as if they were here illegally. Labour is committed to repealing the 2014 Immigration Act, which laid the foundations of the hostile environment and the Windrush scandal.
But the Windrush generation is far from the only group that has suffered under the hostile environment.
The doctors and nurses that our NHS desperately needs have been turned away, even when they already have a job offer in the UK, because an arbitrary cap on numbers has been reached.
International students enhance our society and culture, subsidise the fees of UK students, and generate £25bn for our economy. Yet many have been put off applying to the UK because our net migration target means we are not seen as a ‘welcoming’ place to study.
The UK charges exorbitant fees for visa applications. In some cases, the Home Office is making 800% profit. The cost of a settlement visa for a dependent relative has increased by 450% over the last 10 years. This is not right.
We have an inhumane immigration detention system that locks people up indefinitely, flouting the principles of natural justice, and in contrast with almost every other country in Europe.
But we must do more than simply say what we are against.
Labour has a vision for a post-Brexit immigration system that will be fair, reasonable and managed.
Less than 200 days out from Brexit, we have heard nothing like a substantial plan on immigration from this government. I strongly suspect the immigration white paper we were first promised over a year ago is still largely blank pages. The Tory party cannot get beyond fighting among themselves to set out a plan. As Brexit-day approaches, this situation is getting more and more urgent.
A Labour government will establish a completely reformed work visa policy, to work alongside our existing visas for business, students, visitors and tourists.
This new system will treat migrants from the EU the same as those from non-EU countries. It will be flexible, and apply to a range of jobs, not just those deemed ‘highly skilled’, which currently means simply ‘highly paid’.
We have a skills shortage in our country. Of course, we can increase training and increase the skills of our workforce. But it takes eight to 10 years to train a doctor. We have a shortage of doctors now. Under this policy, a fully qualified doctor from Pakistan will be treated just like a fully qualified doctor from Poland, and vice versa.
It is vital that we address those who come to the UK illegally. At the moment, the Home Office is extraordinarily inefficient at removing them. Unlike the Tories, who cut the size of the border force, we will add 500 extra border guards.
Labour has no intention of scapegoating migrants. We will abandon the hostile environment, which caused injustice to the Windrush generation, and so many others.