Sun 17 January 2021

Priti Patel’s department has produced a damning report on its own immigration policy which acknowledges ‘potential indirect discrimination’

The Home Office has admitted that its new, points-based immigration system will likely discriminate against people with disabilities seeking to work in the UK.

Today, the Government opened applications for its new immigration regime, which will formally begin when the EU transition period expires on 31 December. The rules, devised by Home Secretary Priti Patel and her department, offer few routes for so-called “low-skilled” migrants to live and work in the UK. Instead, a mixture of requirements including salary, occupation and education are designed to restrict economic entrants.

One of the features of the scheme is the stipulation that economic migrants are “not eligible to access public funds, such as benefits, until they obtain settlement”. Gaining settled status currently requires someone to prove they have lived in the UK for five consecutive years.

Therefore, the Home Office admits, disabled people who “rely on public funding to support their daily living may not be able to make full use of some of all immigration routes”.

Indeed, the department has today released an equality impact assessment of its new points-based system, evaluating whether and how the system may discriminate against at-risk groups.

Yet, while the Home Office acknowledges that people with disabilities may suffer discrimination under the policy, it states that “the Government believes that this potential indirect discrimination is justified due to the necessity of protecting the public finances from migrants travelling to the UK with the purpose of accessing state benefits”.

It is unclear what evidence the Government holds for this. A report from Oxford Economics in 2018, for example, suggested that Europeans in the UK contribute £2,300 more to the public purse each year than the average adult.

It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the Government is prepared to discriminate against disabled people in order to pander to a right-wing myth.

Migration Targets

In other respects, the Government’s new stringent system does not seem as though it will satisfy the demands of nationalists.

The equality impact assessment notes that, in the year ending March 2020, net migration to the UK from EU countries was +58,000, compared to +313,000 from non-EU countries.

The document states that the number of long-term workers from European Economic Area (EEA) countries is expected to reduce by 70% – or between 20,000 and 40,000 a year – in the first five years of the policy. However, the new rules are actually expected to increase non-EEA workers by between 10,000 and 30,000 a year.

Consequently, the policy will actually have little impact on the number of migrants in the UK and certainly won’t drive down immigration to “tens of thousands”, as has been promised by past Conservative administrations.

An additional quirk of this new system requires foreign students wanting to take advantage of the UK’s higher education institutions to be able to speak English. So a Spanish student wanting to study French at the University of Cambridge must be able to speak English or else they will be denied entry, for instance.

This adds to the financial barriers facing foreign students, who will be required to pay an upfront bill of £818 if they want to study in the UK – double the current amount.

Immigration has been at the forefront of British politics over the past decade. Given the general evidence-free tenor of the debate, it is perhaps appropriate that the Government’s points-based immigration system – the supposed solution to this issue – is unfit for purpose.

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