The government’s highly anticipated Immigration Bill has been condemned as a “slap in the face” for NHS and care sector migrant workers fighting against the coronavirus.
“The current crisis has shone a light on how we value those who provide compassionate care across health and social care,” said the home secretary Priti Patel, who dismissed all criticism as she introduced the bill to the Commons today (Monday).
Patel told MPs that ending free movement will enable a “firmer, fairer and simpler system” that will “play a vital role in our recovery plans [from the pandemic] for the future,” and said the new points based system “will attract people we need to drive our country through the recovery stage of coronavirus, laying the foundation of a high wage, high skill productive economy.”
‘Are care workers the Cinderella service, forgotten once again?’
“Bad in principle, bad in practice,” summed up Diane Abbot, the former shadow home secretary, describing the bill as a “slap in the face for the thousands of migrants, including EU migrants, working so hard for the NHS and care sector in this time of Covid crisis”.
Former Tory immigration minister Caroline Nokes said: “We know that one in six of those brave care workers on the front line of the battle against coronavirus are non-UK nationals. I commend the Home Secretary for her commitment to extend visas for doctors and nurses, but what of care workers – are they to be the Cinderella service, forgotten once again?
“And what of ancillary staff in our hospitals, so crucial in a war against a virus when repeated deep cleaning is an absolute imperative? We cannot open hospitals if we cannot clean the loos.”
Are care workers unskilled?
The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill repeals EU freedom of movement legislation and introduces a new framework for immigration. The details will be published later this year. The new system will require separate legislation and is based on the Australian points-system, which Patel said will lead to a “high skill” economy.
“Are shop workers unskilled? Are refuse collectors? Are local government workers? Are NHS staff? Are care workers? Of course they are not,” said shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds.
The Labour frontbencher told the Commons that the amount someone earns does not reflect their contribution to society, especially when it comes to frontline workers.
He castigated MPs supporting the bill as hypocrites, saying: “Those who clapped [key workers] on Thursday are only too happy to vote through a bill that will send a powerful message to those same people – that they are not considered by this government to be skilled workers.”
PM’s majority means bill will be passed
The bill was first introduced to the Commons in December 2018 but was delayed by the series of events that led to the eventual downfall of Theresa May’s minority government. Given Boris Johnson enjoys a commanding 80-seat majority, the immigration bill is expected to sail through parliament despite the criticism from its many opponents.
The Scottish government has asked the home secretary to “pause and reconsider” her plans given how the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the country’s need for immigration in frontline services.