COVID-19 and immigration – a re-think for the Government?


Date: 15 May 2020

Migrant workers harvest strawberries in a poly tunnel

The monumental shift to life as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic across the world, has prompted new questions about our working habits, the environment and society as a whole.

Despite the crisis, the Government has maintained that the Brexit negotiations will be concluded by the end of this year. Earlier this year, it was announced that after the conclusion of these negotiations, the UK will implement a "points style" immigration system, which will apply to both EU and non-EU migrants. Under a points-based system, applicants are allocated points according to certain criteria and the granting of a visa is contingent on the accumulation of the required threshold of points.

Since then, the world has been hit by the coronavirus. The virus has undoubtedly shed a light on the importance of immigration on many business sectors. Despite this, the UK Government hasn't announced a change in either its Brexit or proposed immigration policy.

This article reflects on three sectorial areas in which the coronavirus has highlighted the impact of immigration on UK society and it asks the question of whether or not the Government's seemingly entrenched desire to implement a more restrictive immigration policy is a desirable one.

Immigration and health and social care

The first area is health and social care. There are concerns that the Government's proposed post-Brexit points-style immigration policy would be disastrous for this sector. Back in February London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, warned that the Government plans would damage the NHS and social care sectors. Mark Dayan, who leads the program on Brexit at the Nuffield Trust, expressed that the Government should ensure that migration into the care sector could continue.

With the value of our health and social care workers being more apparent than ever, perhaps the Government will have to re-think its plans so that it can be certain that future immigration policy is flexible enough to allow workers from outside the UK to continue to support the UK's provision of health and social care.

The impact of immigration controls on the agricultural sector

The reliance of the fruit and vegetable picking industry on immigration has also been highlighted. Last month the BBC reported that "thousands" have applied to become fruit and vegetable pickers, after the restrictions in travel caused by COVID-19 led to a shortage of workers in this sector. In fact, Totaljobs said it had seen an 83% increase in applications for agricultural roles from March – April!

Under the Government's proposed post-Brexit immigration plans, EU workers in fruit picking jobs would be classed as "low skilled". This would make it harder for them to come to the UK to work. Maybe the dependence on this sector on overseas workers will prompt the Government to re-think its allocation of points in the proposed points-based system?

Overseas workers in the hospitality sector

A final area of focus is the hospitality sector. Many fear that this sector will be the worst hit by COVID-19. Although the prime minister, in his televised broadcast on 10 May, said that some hospitality businesses might be able to open in July, the economic hit for these businesses may prove to be devastating.

However, some are describing the impact of the coronavirus as contributing to a "double-hit" to the hospitality sector, the first hit being the points-based immigration policies announced earlier this year. This is because the hospitality industry is heavily reliant on overseas workers who, under the new proposals, will be classed as "low skilled" and who, like the fruit and vegetable pickers, will find it harder to enter the UK.

So far, the major change caused by the COVID crisis for those wanting to come into the UK has been the travel restriction policies and the quarantine policies. Whether the crisis will prompt any long-term change in direction remains to be seen and might even be crucial to the economic recovery that will need to happen once we come to the end of the fight against the coronavirus.

Copyright 2020. Featured post made possible by Danielle Cohen from Danielle Cohen immigration law solicitors

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