Over the last couple of weeks, there has been considerable debate about levels of immigration to the UK following the latest statistics which showed a sharp increase in the number coming here under working visas.
There is often a danger that the issue of illegal migration and the crisis in the asylum system often gets conflated with legal routes of migration. The humanitarian disaster of desperate people risking their lives to make a dangerous crossing by boat and attempt to illegally enter the UK is a major challenge. It creates huge pressure on housing in the UK and creates years of legal turmoil in each case. The solutions are not easy. It requires coordination and cooperation with other nations such as France and it's a phenomenon that every European country is wrestling with. I have tended to support the approach that the Government is taking to try to remove the incentives for people to risk their lives to enter the UK illegally.
When it comes to legal migration, I take a different view to many. I have never agreed with the Government's so-called "skills-based immigration policy" which favours people with formal qualifications over people who do hard graft. It means that lawyers, economists, PR professionals, orchestra conductors and DJs can all come in without any problem while care workers, cleaners and people who work in food factories are not allowed in. It is a policy written by people in Whitehall who went to university and have a social prejudice about what certain jobs are "worth" but which bears no resemblance to reality.
In my view, we should have a "needs-based" immigration policy where we allow time-limited working visas for those who want to come and work in sectors where we have chronic staff shortages but close off migration routes to all those who just have a paper qualification and are looking for a cosy, pen-pushing job. We have no shortage of lawyers, bankers, accountants, economists, PR agents and DJs in this country. We just don't need any more so let's close off that route to get numbers down if we are worried about the numbers. Instead, let's allow in people to work in social care and food factories so that these vitally important sectors have access to the labour they need but currently struggle to find. Everyone will expect there to be turkeys and Brussels sprouts in the shops for Christmas but how many people will go to work in the slaughterhouse to kill turkeys or go out in the wind and rain to pick sprouts? Not many.
Unfortunately, I am something of a lone voice in arguing against the "skills-based" prejudice that pervades our immigration system. I hope that in time this will change. As a society, we need to re-appraise how we value jobs. There is a terrible attitude in the Home Office that holds that people with paper qualifications are "the brightest and the best" and are somehow worth more. What message does that send to those in this country who do real, manual work? The current system also holds that those on higher pay must be doing more important jobs but that's just wrong. Those who work in law or accountancy are not worth more than carers, they simply benefit from a high-pay culture.
Much of the debate this past week has focused on the number of people who have come in to work in nursing homes in the country. The reason the government finally and belatedly created a care worker visa route last year was because there was a chronic shortage of staff in care homes, hospitals could not discharge patients and ambulances were queued at the door of hospitals because they could not admit patients. The real question people should ask is what would have happened if these people had not come to our country's aid?