Every day, at 8PM, millions of people across the country clap for our healthcare workers, an initiative which has been encouraged by the government. Meanwhile, as coronavirus numbers soar to almost a thousand deaths a day in the UK, the Home Office published updated guidance for employers on navigating working visas once the new points-based immigration system comes into force on 1 January 2021. Whilst encouraging signs of solidarity, the government is thus detailing the ins and outs of an immigration system which will likely stop many of the people we clap for from coming to work in the UK once it becomes law.
The new guidance lays out that all workers will have to be sufficiently qualified (at the minimum, they must have A-level equivalence) and speak sufficient English in order to get a visa. Highly skilled workers are the only ones who can come to the UK without a job offer. In order to do so, they need to get an endorsement from a relevant competent body in order to obtain a Global Talent Visa.
Any other individual who wants to come work in the UK will need to have a job offer from an approved sponsor. To become an approved sponsor, employers who want to recruit migrant workers will need to take active steps. They will have to check that their business is eligible, and choose which type of workers they are looking to hire: skilled workers with long-term job offers, or temporary workers. Employers will then have to put in place a framework within their business to deal with the sponsorship process, apply online and pay an application fee ranging from £536 to £1,476, depending on the type of business. The whole process usually takes about 8 weeks. Once they become an approved sponsor, they can recruit people without UK residency to fill their job openings.
If an individual, then, receives a job offer from an approved sponsor, they will need to meet a minimum income threshold on top of the language and skill requirements. The general minimum salary threshold is set at £25,600. For some jobs, the threshold may be higher, if the Home Office estimates that it is a higher paid occupation.
If an individual does not meet the income threshold, they may still be eligible for a visa if they can demonstrate that they have a job offer in a specific shortage occupation or a PhD relevant to the job. For these occupations, the income threshold is lowered to £20,480. The list of shortage occupations, which includes doctors and nurses, is published by the Migrant Advisory Committee.
Concerning lower-skilled workers, the guidance explicitly reiterates that “there will NOT be an immigration route specifically for those who do not meet the skills or salary threshold for the skilled worker route.” The skill level for different jobs can be found in Appendix J of the Immigration Rules.
Considering that the average health care worker in the UK makes £19,080 a year, the timing of this publication seems peculiar to say the least. As our Director suggests, how does it make sense for the Home Office state that care workers, nurses, hospital porters, cleaners, logistics personnel, postal workers, etc. will not be able to apply for visa under the new immigration system in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis? It is hard to imagine that the Home Office has a valid reason for needlessly doubling down on an immigration policy which fails to take care of the workers who, in times of crisis, put everything at risk to take care of us.
Over 3.6million Syrian refugees made Turkey their home since civil war tore their country apart in the 2010s. Polls show that most of the Turkish population want them to leave. On February 28th, President Erdogan announced that his government would heed that request, and Turkey would no longer stop refugees from crossing over to Greece.
Mr. Erdogan’s promise of free passage to Europe led tens of thousands of migrants to leave Turkey and resume their journey to Europe. What the President failed to mention was that on the European side of state lines, borders would remain closed.
The current political impasse originates from the 2015 refugee crisis, when over 1 million migrants entered Europe from Turkey. In an attempt to stop the influx, the EU struck a deal with Mr. Erdogan. As part of that deal, the EU gave Turkey over 6.0 billion euros in aid. In exchange, Turkey promised to keep the refugees inside their borders and prevent them from migrating to Europe through Greece. When Turkey ran out of aid last year, Mr. Erdogan requested more funding to keep up his end of the bargain, but the two parties failed to reach an agreement.
In response to the arrival of so many people, Greece doubled down on their border security. The government sent riot police, armoured vehicles and 1000 soldiers to the Turkish border, and suspended the right to apply for asylum for a month. Greek authorities as well as rogue actors detained, assaulted, robbed, and stripped asylum seekers and migrants, and then forced them back to Turkey. Tens of thousands of people now find themselves in limbo between borders.
Greece, like all EU countries, is bound by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Charter recognises the right to seek asylum and guarantees protection from forcible return of anyone at real risk of persecution or other serious harm. Greece’s suspension of the right to claim asylum, in combination with their appalling treatment of migrants on the border, is a gross violation of human rights.
Yet this violation has received very little scrutiny. As the spread of COVID-19 pushed the images of men being shot, children being hit, and faces behind barbed wire to the back of the news cycle, these breaches of the 1951 UN refugee convention and EU law went unnoticed. Instead, Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, announced the distribution of a £609 million aid package to help and support Greece’s border infrastructure. She called Greece “our European shield”, and praised the country for its tough response, as it has helped avoid another “crisis” like the one in 2015.
Instead of taking collective responsibility, the EU, yet again, has shown lack of leadership on the issue of migration at an astronomical human cost. The only solution to this endless plight remains unchanged from 2015: meaningful change to EU asylum policy allowing for coordinated resettlement and shared responsibility for all EU member states. The UK should be leading the charge, accepting a number for resettlement and providing for safe routes to claim asylum in the UK. Instead, in the midst of a global health crisis, the violence and human suffering at the border persist. We should fight to end it and create an immigration which actually reflects the European discourse of enlightenment and human rights in practice, rather than the dysfunctional and divisive system that is in place now.
The UK is one of many countries that has implemented lockdown measures to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. These measures include strict travel restrictions, and in over 50 countries around the world, they go as far as a complete aerial lockdown.
Immigration detention is only lawful if there is a prospect of imminent removal. With borders closing worldwide and flights suspended, that prospect is non-existent. That is why Detention Action, an NGO which fights for immigration detainees’ rights in the UK, issued judicial review proceedings on 18 March 2020. The proceedings challenged the lawfulness of continued detention, in particular of persons with medical conditions placing them at increased risk from COVID-19.
In response, the Home Office has committed to reviewing all detainees’ case files to release as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, unless they pose a grave danger to the public. When the government began their case-by-case review, one case of COVID-19 had already been confirmed in Yarl’s Wood IRC, two cases had been reported in Brook House, and symptoms were recorded in most other removal centres.
Under the current circumstances, detention centres are at risk of becoming hotbeds of coronavirus spreading, as both detainees and staff are constantly in close contact with each other and amongst themselves. In efforts to prevent the virus from spreading within the centres, some facilities have isolated detainees and barred them from leaving their rooms, effectively turning their bedroom into a prison cell.
Nevertheless, Detention Action lost their case in the High Court, and the Home Office still refuses to systematically release all individuals currently held in detention, putting all individuals involved in this system at continued risk of ill health.
Government action, however, shows awareness that keeping detainees locked up could come back to bite them. Since Detention Action launched their claim, the Home Office released over 350 people held under immigration powers. The courts are also playing their part, as a solicitor from Bail for Immigration Detainees (BiD), a London-based charity, reported that ever since the travel restrictions and lockdown were enforced, 13 of his clients were granted bail and no applications were refused.
This is good news, but it is not enough. People currently held under immigration powers still need to go through the process of applying for bail if they are to be released, a process which has been made significantly more complicated by the pandemic itself.
On 20 March 2020, visits to immigration detention centres were indefinitely suspended as part of measures to contain the virus. This does not only have devastating implications for detainees on a personal level, as they can no longer see their loved ones. It also means that lawyers can no longer visit their clients in immigration removal centres.
Meanwhile, the Tribunal has started holding hearings remotely, but it seems that the courts do not lean itself to the online sphere easily, and their infrastructure is not ready to make the transition. This failure of court proceedings weakens detainees’ access to justice even further, as bail hearings are frustrated by the practicalities of online hearings.
This situation is not sustainable. After calls from Strasbourg and the Council of Europe to release immigration detainees in the face of this crisis, it is time to release everyone currently held under immigration powers, close detention centres and ensure that every individual receives the necessary care and support they need and deserve during these unprecedented times.