The UK is under pressure to spell out its position on immigration
Syed Kamall, Conservative MEP for London, who supported the victorious Leave campaign in the UK’s 2016 referendum on EU membership, told The Africa Report he was keen that: “We no longer have a racist immigration policy where we give preference to white Europeans over non-white, non-Europeans.”
Under the rules of the EU’s single market, all EU citizens currently have freedom of movement within the UK, while there are strict immigration rules, including visa caps, for people from everywhere else in the world, including Africa.
A long-awaited white paper on immigration, which had originally been delayed until autumn 2018, is now set to be published before the UK government goes on its summer recess in July.
The British government has come under mounting pressure in recent months on its immigration enforcement system, after a series of scandals highlighted problems with a policy dubbed the “hostile environment”. This has made it very difficult for people with irregular immigration status to access public services in Britain and led to many being detained indefinitely.
One scandal involved members of the so-called “Windrush generation”, who were brought over as children during the wave of post-war immigration from the Caribbean to the UK, but who were told they faced removal because they could not prove when they arrived. Meanwhile, up to a 1,000 people, including Nigerians and Zimbabweans, working in highly skilled jobs, face possible removal after the British Home Office used mistakes on their tax returns to deny them the right to remain.
Kamall said he hoped that Britain would now move towards a points-based immigration system, based on the demand for particular skills within the British economy.
“I really want people to know that when we leave the EU that we’re going to be open to the world and we’re going to welcome the best talent from across the world,” he added.
But he said he didn’t think the UK should give people from Commonwealth countries a preference. “I’d just treat everyone [from] outside the UK equally,” he said, if they have the “skills that we need in the UK”.
The details of Britain’s future relationship with the rest of the EU after Brexit are still being negotiated and the ruling Conservative party remains deeply divided on the issue. Prime Minister Theresa May’s government maintains that it wants to leave the customs union and the EU single market after Brexit, although the details of when and how it will do so are yet to be fixed.
Once outside the customs union, the British government plans to then forge new trade deals with countries such as India or the United States. Yet senior Indian politicians have already voiced their desire to see visa restrictions relaxed as part of any deal – something the British government is reluctant to promise because of concerns that it was fears over high immigration which led to a majority for Leave in the EU referendum.
Kamall says much of the pressure to relax visa rules is related to Indian multinationals who want more flexibility to move highly skilled staff to their UK sites. He says politicians should “explain it in those terms” to the British electorate, and explain why the country needs immigration, rather than stoking arguments against it.
To read more about the UK’s immigration system,
pick up The Africa Report no. 101, out now