Piers Morgan and Immigration
It has been oddly satisfying to watch Piers Morgan grill Government ministers over their response to the coronavirus pandemic – particularly as he is a person I do not usually agree with.
But his outrage struck a new tone when Morgan gave praise to Filipino staff working in the NHS. He stated "let's not continue to have hysterical debates about who we should let into the country ", and "at the end of this I hope we have a different sentiment, a different feeling about what immigration has done for this country."
Morgan is right that we need a new narrative around migration, but there is a risk that by focussing on those who work for the NHS, we will continue to perpetuate the idea that migrants can only be valued for the contributions they make. At a time when the public is reckoning with a new vision of both the economy and what the future of work looks like, it's vital that not only recognise those who are keeping our country going, but that we rectify all the wrongs in our immigration system.
Politicians from across the spectrum have been calling for new ways to treat migrants who work for the NHS. Whilst proposals like automatic indefinite leave for those working for the NHS are a good starting point, the reality is that without comprehensive reform, policy proposals like this risk adding further complexity to the Home Office's immigration policy – much of which is founded on the idea that some migrants are more valuable than others.
This is particularly poignant as the Government barrels ahead with its plans for a "points-based" system, which differentiates between who can enter the country and who can't, based on their skill level. Under that system, cleaners, delivery drivers, care-workers, shop keepers and restaurant workers would not even be allowed to enter the UK, and it's clear that we would be lost without them.
But it isn't enough to value people on what they have provided the country during a crisis, particularly as the immigration system itself directly causes social, racial and economic inequalities. As politicians, including Theresa May, have been fond of saying the "horrific virus doesn't discriminate". Theresa May, the protagonist of the Hostile Environment well knows, this isn't the problem. The problem is that our systems do discriminate. The same system which barred the Windrush generation from accessing basic services is still barring those who need protection the most from impacts of Coronavirus. What's more, the Hostile Environment has already placed them in such difficult circumstances, that challenging the impacts of the crisis are much harder.
There are provisions that many migrants desperately need right now which have seen little movement from the Government. A coalition of more than 30 organisations wrote to the Home Secretary asking them to not only suspend immigration enforcement for the benefit of public health, but to release migrants from detention, and give everyone recourse to public funds.
Refugee rights groups have highlighted how asylum seekers are amongst those most affected by coronavirus, living in cramped housing and forced to survive on just £35 a week. The Government has not made any attempt to suspend NHS charging or data-sharing with the Home Office – both of which act as a deterrent for migrants who need desperately need to access healthcare.
Whilst Piers Morgan has drawn attention to the fact we need a re-imagining of our migration system, it is perhaps Susanna Reid who more accurately echoes where we are as a nation when she said " I think we particularly value them – right now". There is a risk that we will simply go back to business as usual after this crisis, perhaps with new rights for NHS workers but with little change to a system which only values contribution.
What this crisis has shown us that we are all connected, that collectively, we are only as protected as the least protected amongst us, and that should be our focus for migrants too. Let's ensure that in a post-Coronavirus world, all migrants have their rights levelled-up and that reform of the immigration system is a top priority.
- Minnie Rahman is Public Affairs and Campaigns Manager for JCWI (Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants)