This article was originally published on Comment Central
One consequence of our EU membership is the disconnect between legislators and the public. Immigration is one example. Immigration has consistently ranked as the most pressing worry for a majority of Britons. 51 per cent of the population cite it as a primary concern, and over 70 per cent want to see a reduction in the number of people entering our country.
Strict EU rules on the freedom of movement have left Parliament neutered. Little could be done to repatriate control to our borders. Despite a myriad of empty promises from one government to the next, change was glacial.
For communities across the country who have been witnessing a strain on school places, seeing their wages depressed, and facing ever-growing GP waiting times – the European Union is not working for them. And, more worryingly, they have had no recourse for their grievances to be addressed. With a limited provision of public services, the fact EU immigration has run at over 100,000 since 2013, only serves to exacerbate the problem. This was confirmed last week by the Housing Minister, Dominic Raab MP, who asserted that uncontrolled immigration has led to a massive 20 per cent increase in house prices, so laying bare the scale of the problem.
The news today that across Europe one million extra people have been given EU citizenship by Member States, and thus the accompanying right to move between all 28 nations, hammers home just how little control Britain has over its borders. These individuals – primarily from countries such as Albania and Morocco – have effectively been given the right to live and work in the UK by French, Greek and German politicians without our elected representatives having a say in the matter. Many of these new EU citizens will be aware Britain is Leaving the European Union and, under Freedom of Movement rules, will be able to arrive here unobstructed until the end of 2020, with the right to bring their family members over here at a later date.
Once we Leave the economic institutions of the EU in December 2020, the UK finally has the chance to pursue an immigration policy tailored directly to the country’s needs. This would be one which addresses concerns about the disruptive pressures a rapid increase in the population can cause, but simultaneously extends the talent-pool from which we recruit future British citizens.
Our EU membership dictated we provide 500 million citizens with the right to move to our country, but our wider immigration policy has, as a result, been moulded by such an arrangement. As in many other areas, our British immigration policy has ceased to be a global one and is now influenced entirely by our membership of this bloc.
Driven by the pragmatic consideration of the UK only having a finite amount of space and resources, yet unable to anticipate the number of arrivals from European countries every year, the Government has been forced to put in place restrictive measures on the only part of immigration it can control: non-EU migration. This has meant the access of skilled doctors, lawyers, and teachers from countries who share a common heritage with Britain – such as India or Australia – are curtailed by immigration caps. Added to this, many more are deterred from even applying for entry because of the complex and restrictive visa process.
The web of forms, checks and documentation acts as a barrier to talent – turning away those who wish to bring their skills and expertise to Britain. Meanwhile, unskilled labourers, are able to enter unimpeded. Seasonal work is now the exclusive domain of unskilled workers, predominantly from European countries.
The UK is turning away the best and brightest. We need an immigration system that places a person’s skillset as the determining criteria, rather than country of birth. A well as being fairer, the system will allow the UK to become a global hub for talent. Countries such as Singapore and China are at the forefront of exciting new technological innovations. If Britain wishes to seize these opportunities and begin to develop its own industries, embracing those with the necessary expertise is essential. The number of Tier 1 ‘Exceptional talent’ visas available for people outside of the EU is capped at an alarmingly low 1,000 places. Once this threshold is reached, all subsequent applicants are turned away, irrespective of their talent. Our immigration policy should be looking to attract such people, not place hurdles in their way.
Such systems, where the individual merits of an applicant are the determining factor are prevalent across the Western world. The often touted ‘Australian points-based’ set-up is just one example of an immigration policy employed to improve the country operating it. Control over our immigration system has been frittered away so as to gain access to the Single Market.
Once out of the EU we must pursue an immigration policy which is not only fairer but which will also help our economy to grow. Curtailing the flow of unskilled labour, whilst embracing talent and innovation, will allow for the pressure on public services to be lifted and will enable those with skills to offer, the chance to help Britain thrive.
Robert Bates is a Research Executive at grassroots, cross-party campaign Get Britain Out