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Controversial immigration changes

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has announced changes to immigration rules intended to prevent low-skilled workers from coming to live and work in the UK. These rules will come into force next January. The changes are obviously linked to Brexit. Announcing the changes Ms. Patel said, “We’re ending free movement, taking back control of our borders and delivering on the people’s priorities by introducing a new UK points-based immigration system, which will bring overall migration numbers down.”

The Government thinks 70% of immigrants from the EU currently here would not qualify for entry to the UK in 2021 but the 3.2 million EU citizens already here and wishing to remain would be allowed to stay. Henceforth, potential immigrants will have to be fluent in English, have a job offer with a salary of at least £25,600, except in special cases, such as nursing, for which the minimum threshold would be £20,480. The changes block self-employed builders and plumbers coming to work here. Highly skilled workers, artists, musicians and sports people will still be welcome. Employers will be encouraged not to look overseas for low and unskilled workers.

Many of those who voted for us to leave the EU will welcome these changes. They are symbolic of their wish for us to leave the EU and having to follow rules and policies set by them.  They were also conscious of the density of population in many parts of England, class sizes in schools, NHS waiting times and the shortage of housing. On the other hand, the need for immigrant construction workers in the building industry is a serious issue at a time when we need more houses built.

Other sectors that will not welcome the proposed changes include agriculture and the hospitality sector. Historically, unskilled workers came from the EU to pick fruit and vegetables but last autumn thousands of tons of fruit and vegetables were left to rot in the fields because Brexit deterred those who previously came to pick them. Measures to prevent a recurrence will necessitate a relaxation of the new rules.

Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, recognizes this. She says there would need to be many exemptions to the new rules, including the NHS and social care. “Ultimately, it will also be very difficult to attract the workers we need at all skill levels while the Tories’ hostile environment is in place.” Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson, also described the Government’s intentions as xenophobic. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is equally hostile to the new policy. She says Scotland needs to attract more people and “getting power over migration in the Scottish Parliament is now a necessity for our future prosperity”.

There is another, Christian concern about the implications of the new policy for potential unskilled migrants from parts of the world becoming uninhabitable because of climate change. Parts of Africa are already virtually uninhabitable because global warming is leaving them without rainwater and the possibility of growing their food. Other countries, such as Bangladesh, are already experiencing the effects of climate change. 20 million people in coastal areas are already affected by salinity in their drinking water. In time, rising sea levels will flood low-lying areas and force them to migrate.

The affluent industrial nations, including the UK, created these conditions so we have a moral duty to help those seeking to come here, simply to survive. The Government seems to acknowledge the reality of global warming and climate change but not its human consequences and our moral duty to help its victims. The same applies to people seeking to come to the UK to escape religious persecution, tyrannical Governments and warfare in such countries as Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic and the Congo. Surely, we cannot take everyone but our colonial history surely requires us to help as many as we can.

Whatever our political loyalties do we not have a Christian duty to pray for our Government to recognize a need to be open to those fleeing oppression? “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God” (Proverbs 14:31; Luke 4:18-19).