The Government has yesterday responded to the petition to ‘scrap the £35k threshold for non-EU citizens settling in the UK’. A very timely response indeed, as it coincides rather fittingly with the ongoing discussions around our relationship with the EU. This, conveniently, means the response is both buried amongst much more hotly discussed topics surrounding migration, but it also casts David Cameron as the fierce and unrelenting conqueror of ‘uncontrolled, mass immigration’. It’s a good light to be cast under, considering the attacks he’s currently facing on his EU reform deal.
The first reality is this: immigration from outside of the EU is, by anyone’s standards, actually very controlled – or at the very least those that the government is targeting with this measure are. Under that category, non-EU citizens can only live and work in the UK if they are sponsored by a licensed employer, if their job is directly related to the studies they undertook at university, and if they meet a certain salary threshold – a relatively fair threshold that is dependent on one’s job, and nowhere near as mindless or as high as the one proposed in this measure. Their employer will also need to complete a resident labour market test to show that there is a shortage of people with the relevant skills in the UK.
They pay their taxes and national insurance contributions, (and yet) they pay the immigration health surcharge, and (yet) they are not eligible to any public funds – not housing or child benefits, disability allowance or income support. Their application for a Tier 2 visa costs a hefty £1,702, they have to prove fluency in the English language, they have to prove they have sufficient funds to sustain their life in the UK – the only evidence accepted being 3/6 monthly bank statements showing an ongoing minimum balance of £900 at any one time. And they are only allowed to live and work under these conditions for a maximum of six years before they need to either leave, or switch to another immigration route for which they might be eligible. For an average Joe who does not have family members or spouses settled in the UK, or who does not have £2,000,000 or more to invest in the UK economy, options are very limited indeed.
The second reality is this: this measure, while claiming to help tackle ‘mass migration’, will in actual fact only affect the 40,000 or so people already living and working in the UK.
The Government’s response, while unsurprising, is deeply disappointing. The Government states that it does “not believe there should be an automatic link between coming to work in the UK temporarily and staying permanently.” This implies that there is such a link currently in existence, when in actual fact, there are years and years of bureaucracy between coming to work in the UK temporarily and staying permanently. Years of paperwork and interviews, extortionate fees, ludicrous exams (the Life in the UK test, which the Prime Minister himself failed not too long ago) and the very real possibility of facing deportation at any time – if they lose their job, if their job description changes, or, among many other occurrences, if new measures such as these are introduced.
The good news for some is that there are exemptions for migrants who are in a recognised shortage occupation, such as engineers, nurses and several other healthcare professionals. The bad news for others is that no-one, least of all the Government, seems to be all that bothered about the hundreds of other professions and the thousands of other people who will end up deported as a result.
Still, at the time of writing this, the petition holds almost 93,000 signatures. It promises that “At 100,000 signatures, this petition will be considered for debate in Parliament” – and while few realise the weight of the significance behind the word “considered” – there is some hope yet.