While You Were Focused On Trump Vs. Clinton, The UK Has Proposed Some Shocking New Rules for Immigrants
The US presidential debate is definitely absorbing, even for people like me who don't live there. It seems as if every piece of news coming out of the States is election-inflected; even the devastating Hurricane Matthew has had its own campaign role (Clinton decided to cancel election ads on the Weather Channel until the hurricane had passed). In the UK, however, which is where I live as an immigrant from Australia (a fact that will prove relevant shortly), the arguably biggest issue of the 2016 Clinton-Trump race — immigration — has been bubbling away in the public consciousness for years; and the last week has brought a landslide of new political proposals. And it's not only relevant for people living in the UK — US citizens considering voting on an anti-immigration platform in November really should know about them.
The last time you probably paid attention to the UK, it spectacularly voted to leave the European Union, prompting crises in both political parties, a heavy dose of public shock, and, it turns out, a big reshuffle in government policy. The Prime Minister of the ruling party (which is center-right) quit, and the new one, Theresa May (only Britain's second female Prime Minister in its history), has just revealed the core issues of her mandate at a big speech at her party's conference. The results have been... alarming.
I am, of course, a biased observer; many of the proposed policies that have come up for discussion specifically target immigrants, and as an Australian who's negotiated Britain's already extraordinarily difficult visa system (getting a non-EU visa to remain as somebody's spouse took us a year and several thousand pounds), the concept of it tightening is extremely worrying. I strongly believe that immigrants are a massive asset to the UK, but it seems that not many people agree with me. Anti-immigrant sentiment has been growing in the UK in recent years; a new poll published by YouGov last week indicated that 48 percent of Britons may hold nationalist, anti-immigrant views. And tightening immigration controls played a big role in the discussion of "Brexit," as Britain's jump out of the EU has been labelled. Control over the migration of EU citizens and other immigrants was one of the "swing issues" that led the UK to bolt; and we're now seeing the beginnings of how that might play out in the public sphere. And, reader, it's frightening.
British Firms May Soon Have To Publish Their Foreign Worker Numbers
The policy decision that got the most airtime was newly appointed Home Secretary Amber Rudd's announcement that, as part of a series of policies designed to encourage British industries to "ensure people coming here are filling gaps in the labour market, not taking jobs British people could do," they may force businesses to publicly disclose where their staff are from, presumably with the intent of "naming and shaming" those with "too many" foreign workers.
This, as you can imagine, went down like a lead balloon with the business community. The head of the British Chamber of Commerce called the entire idea a "badge of shame." The Economist noted that if Rudd actually asked any businesses to provide their numbers, "she’ll probably get a pretty rude answer. Which business would want to be named and shamed at the top of the list, with all the potential for adverse publicity, demonstrations etc? It’s all a bit reminiscent of the first world war, when shops with German-sounding names had their windows broken and the Royal family changed its name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor." Rudd's since "walked back" from the policy, saying it was only consultation. It's worth noting that businesses who want to employ somebody from outside Britain currently have to advertise the job inside the UK for 28 days first, and then prove that their foreign candidate beats out all domestic ones.
Schools Are Publishing The Immigration Status Of Children
Parents across the UK had a slightly startling week, with many being given letters explaining that their children's nationality and country of birth will be gathered as part of a nationwide school census. (Some, apparently, received this information via text message, which isn't exactly ideal.) The idea behind the data collection seems to be rather benign, with the Huffington Post UK getting a statement from the Department of Education that the information will "be used to help us better understand how children with, for example, English as an additional language perform in terms of their broader education."
But some worry that it's a more sinister collection of information; the same Huffington Post report mentions that the Home Office, which controls immigration and deportation, was given access to this sort of data back in 2012. It also seems as if schools' numbers of immigrants will be available to the public, making children potentially vulnerable to anti-immigrant crime. Various legal experts, including the Greater Manchester Law Centre, have encouraged parents to ignore the information-gathering, as "it cannot be in the best interests of children to be singled out on account of their immigration status, nationality or family history. Schools should in any event make it clear that the provision of any information is non-compulsory."
Foreign Experts Aren't Being Allowed To Consult With The Government
This is just a bizarre incident: several experts from the London School of Economics, who'd been previously advising the UK government on how to deal with the fallout from Brexit and its legal and political ramifications, got an email a few days ago saying they were no longer needed. The reason? They weren't UK citizens.
The move, which was revealed by the Danish politics professor and EU policy expert Sara Hagemann on Twitter, has been criticized by many. Dismissing foreign experts seems like the government shooting themselves in the foot. The London School Of Economics told the press, “We believe our academics, including non–UK nationals, have hugely valuable expertise, which will be vital in this time of uncertainty around the UK’s relationship with Europe and the rest of the world.” Presumably the worry is that, as immigrants, the foreign experts won't do what's best for Britain, or will somehow be beholden to other governments. At best, it's Bond-level paranoia; at worst, it's xenophobic discrimination.
Whether You Can Stay In The UK After Study Depends On The Fanciness Of Your University
The UK has some of the best universities in the world; Oxford (where, full disclosure, my husband is employed) is rated as number one worldwide, and many UK institutions aren't that far behind, with 34 in the top 200. The battle over what happens to foreign students who come to the UK to study, though, has been a big political point for years. Despite the comments by several experts that international students are "key" to both the UK economy and the high performance of its universities (foreign students pay a lot, giving universities bigger research budgets, and gifted ones who stay on to do research can massively boost university prestige), policies have increasingly attempted to make it a lot harder for students to come, study, and work.
The next big problem? Staying after graduation. One of the potential proposals announced by Amber Rudd was the idea that you'd only be allowed to stay in the UK to look for work after your degree, whether it was a PhD in astrophysics or a BA in English, if your university is highly rated. They're thinking of restricting the right to stay to graduates of Oxford, Cambridge and a handful of other universities in the "Russell Group," a collection of highly-ranked institutions. This is a bit of a problem, because being in the elite group doesn't mean the universities are the best; the University of Surrey, the Times University Of The Year 2016, isn't on the list, and some non-Russell Group universities are ranked as the best in the country on particular courses.
Beyond this being a silly idea, though, there's a wider question: is an international student's choice of university (which is dependent on a lot of things, from personal wealth to choice of course) really a good reason to kick them out — losing their skills and severing their cultural connection to the country? When it comes to who among Britain's migrants "deserves" to stay, and what their rights are in the workplace and school, it's becoming a very strange, very alarming new world.