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COVID-19 crisis exposes paradoxes in UK’s new migration policy

17 July 20200 comments

Migrants in the UK are winning hearts and minds among the general population because of their high level of representation among health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new study shows that attitudes towards are becoming more positive and the researchers say this may have an impact on future political decision-making about immigration policy.

The report from Oxford University’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society says that 18.2 per cent of essential health staff and 15.7 per cent of essential social work and residential care are from overseas.

It comes as the UK Government is set to introduce new post-Brexit migration legislation which will put salary and skills thresholds on new migrants.

The researchers, Mariña Fernández-Reino, Madeleine Sumption and Carlos Vargas-Silva wrote: “It is not clear that the pandemic fundamentally changes what we know about the economic consequences of migration”.

“It may thus be that the political impacts of the crisis – how it affects attitudes towards migrant workers and their contributions to society and the economy—will in the long run be more important than any change to policymakers’ understanding of how the crisis affects the economics of migration,” they said.

The researchers have also raised concerns over recent assumptions that transnational marriages are bad for integration.

They say: “The irony of a simplistic portrayal of transnational marriage is that it reinforces the negative stereotypes that are themselves a barrier to integration”.

“It should be possible to address gender inequality, and advocate services, without denigrating the family practices of entire ethnic groups.

“Instead of finger-pointing at newcomers, we could focus on unlocking the assets people bring – the under-use of migrants’ educational qualifications for instance – and the benefits of facilitating the full participation of all residents in the country’s economic, social, cultural and political life.”

The researchers say that governments should consider the role of migration alongside other potential solutions to labour demand in essential industries. These include whether demand can be met from the domestic labour force by increasing wages and improving working conditions, or by relying on labour-saving technologies.

They have also warned about the UK’s new immigration policy which focuses heavily on skills, saying it places an over-reliance on educational credentials and the exclusion of soft skills, which are valued in both the labour market and educational settings.

According to the report, more than half of EU-born and 42 percent of non-EU born full-time employees in essential occupations do not meet the proposed new immigration skills requirements or salary threshold.

Close to 45 per cent of EU-born employees and 31.7 per cent of non-EU born full-time employees in essential occupations do not meet the proposed skills requirement because the job does not meet the skills threshold of the new immigration rules, the report says.

It says there are three key aspects for governments to consider.

“First, whether the management of emergencies requires a certain type of immigration policy. Second, whether the experience of the current pandemic brings to light new information about the ‘value’ of certain types of immigration. And finally, whether immigration is the right response to pandemic-driven demand or employers should be expected to look for other alternatives,” the report says.