S3 E4 A New Plan for Migration?
Michaela Benson [MB]: Welcome to season three of Who do we think we are? the podcast debunking taken for granted understandings of migration and citizenship in Britain today. In this season, we'll be considering the role of migration in the making of Global Britain, as the UK redefines its borders and seeks to reposition itself on the world stage following Brexit. I'm Michaela Benson, a sociologist specialising in citizenship and migration and your host. For this season, I'll also be joined by co-host Nando Sigona, whose research expertise includes international migration and forced displacement. Join us as we challenge public and political narratives of migration to and from Britain today, and encourage you to think differently about some of the most pressing issues of our times, charting a new understanding of Britain's migration story, after Brexit.
To my mind, the question we need to be asking is whether the rights that people have once they arrive in the UK are fair, and just what I think we're seeing in the post Brexit migration regime is quite a significant stratification of rights as what people can and can't do in this post Brexit era is increasingly differentiated, depending on what visa they hold.
Colin Yeo [CY]: And the thing that I'd get most aggravated about really with with the UK immigration system, is the treatment of people once they're here. And if we look at things like the level of fees that people are charged, if we look at the migration journey they go through once they get here, the complexities and bureaucracy of the process, there's a lot that is done that, I think sometimes deliberately and sometimes accidentally, makes their lives unnecessarily difficult.
MB: You've just heard from me and Colin Yeo, reflecting on migration from the perspective of what happens to people once they arrive in the UK. Colin is our guest in this episode, and he's a barrister, founder of the fantastic Free Movement immigration law website, and author of among other things, 'Welcome to Britain'. In this episode, we're going to focus on the UK's post Brexit reform of the system of managed migration, and further changes in immigration to the UK since Brexit. We'll be considering how these changes are viewed by those who before Brexit had exercised freedom of movement between the UK and EU, and just to clarify, these are voices that are very rarely heard in debates on migration. But before I tell you a bit more about what we've got lined up for you, here's a bit of background. To make sense of what's happened since Brexit we need to go back to the New Plan for Immigration. This was a policy paper presented to the government by the Home Secretary, at the time at Priti Patel, in March 2021. Beyond ending free movement, taking back control of the borders after Brexit meant also reforms to the immigration system, not only through the introduction of new controls on immigration, but also in respect to the government's ability to take action on what they describe as the challenge of illegal immigration. And this included plans to reform the asylum system. The new plan for immigration set out proposals for post Brexit legislation relating to immigration, organised around a central principle, fairness. Since then, as the consultations around the policy statement have unfolded, as the bills that would write these ambitions into legislation and lead to their implementation have been debated and discussed by politicians and appeared in the daily news cycle, the UK government has continued to promote their approach as fair and generous. We'll be talking more about what understanding of fairness underpins this and return to the question of generosity in a subsequent episode, when we talk about the UK's provision of humanitarian visas for the people of Hong Kong and Ukraine. But crucially, for this episode, we want to ask the question of whether fairness goes far enough? Or is there more going on here than meets the eye? And what concepts might be useful for exploring this? So, to these ends, we're going to introduce you to the idea of the 'migration regime'. Catherine Craven will break down for us what researchers mean when they talk about migration regimes and she'll be offering some examples that bring this to life. We'll hear more from Colin about what has and hasn't changed in the UK's approach to migration since Brexit. He offers his thoughts on the short and long term impacts of changes to the UK's approach to migration for those subject to immigration controls, and why policies aimed at deterrence are unlikely to achieve their publicly stated goals. And he explains why he thinks that the Illegal Immigration Act might be unworkable. Just a note, we actually recorded Colin's contribution a few weeks before the Illegal Immigration Act completed its passage through the Houses of Parliament, but we think that the argument that he presents still stands. And in addition to all of that Nando and I considered the politicisation of migration within the post Brexit migration regime, and how this is reflected in rhetoric and the framing of new legislation, policy and guidelines. We ask the question of whether the post Brexit regime can be considered as just, in this way, shifting the focus away from conversations about fairness. And we'll also be introducing you to what some of those taking part in our research, EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU, had to say about the emerging post Brexit migration regime in the UK. But now it's over to Catherine to hear more about what we mean by migration regime.
Catherine Craven [CC]: To understand what we mean by migration regime, and why it is useful for making sense of global Britain's migration story, let us first look at the meaning of the term 'regime'. Broadly, the term can be understood as describing a form of government or a way of ordering things. Regimes rely on norms, rules, procedures and policies to support this work of ordering. Regimes can exist at different scales, meaning that they can operate globally, regionally or more locally. Although it is important to note that even global or international regimes are rarely universal. One example of an international regime with new global reach is the international human rights regime, institutionalised in the United Nations institutions, in particular, the UN Human Rights Council. How then, might we understand a migration regime? A migration regime can be understood as a constellation of truths, assumptions, norms, procedures, and policies on migration as a whole. This means that it contains assumptions or ideas about how we should think about migrants, what is considered migration and what is not, how migration should be legislated, and what kind of policies are made in relation to people on the move. It might more commonly be understood as how the state maintains and exercises its power to control movement, including determining who has the right to move in and out of a territory, and on what terms. A migration regime requires a vast range of tools, mechanisms and technologies to govern migration in practice. First, to set norms and political agendas around migration, a regime might rely on institutions that produce or circulate knowledge on migration, such as advocacy organisations, universities, think tanks, or the media. To legislate, that is, to determine the rules and procedures on migration, it requires policies and procedures such as asylum laws, visa schemes, including visa exemptions, which might be tied to international or bilateral agreements between states. And finally, to implement, monitor and enforce these rules, a regime relies on a range of agencies and structures that engage in border control. Border Control might be practised by bureaucrats or the police and may involve technologies such as passports, digital and biometric residence permits, and e-border gates. Together, they control who can physically enter and stay in a country. So what is an example of a migration regime? The EU's migration regime is the set of rules, policies and procedures that regulate migration to and within the EU. It can therefore be considered a regional migration regime. In last month's episode of this podcast, we spoke about EU freedom of movement. So, what can freedom of movement tell us about the EU's migration regime? Ultimately, the EU's migration regime is built on the assumption that intra EU mobility facilitated by freedom of movement is not migration. The assumption is that when EU nationals move across intra EU borders, they do so as mobile EU citizens taking advantage of their freedom of movement rights. According to the EU, freedom of movement then is not part of its migration regime. Instead, the EU suggests that the EU migration regime is the set of rules, policies and procedures that regulate the migration of non-EU nationals to and within the EU. The EU refers to these non-EU nationals as 'Third Country Nationals'. The EU migration regime therefore relies on a powerful regime of truth that constructs and upholds a firm distinction between EU and so-called third country nationals. This distinction manifests, on the one hand, as the absence of border controls, but also of integration and migrants' settlement procedures for EU citizens moving within the EU. On the other hand, it requires a complex set of norms, policies and procedures, regulating entry to and movement within the EU for third country nationals. Together, the second set of norms, policies and procedures constitute what many refer to as 'Fortress Europe'. The UK, of course, has its own migration regime, and not just since Brexit. However, Brexit has made it possible, or necessary, perhaps, for the UK government to spell out what its migration regime looks like outside of the EU, to demonstrate that it holds the power to decide what is true and untrue about migration, what processes and legislation should be in place to regulate and police it. So, what are the key characteristics of the UK migration regime after Brexit? And would it be fair to describe it as 'Fortress Britain'?
MB: We'll be turning to that idea of Fortress Britain in a later episode when we turn our attention to what's happening in the Channel. But let's now consider the post Brexit migration regime in practice with Colin, starting from its characteristics.
CY: I'd characterise the post Brexit migration regime as being one that is really about keeping taxes low, when it comes down to it. It's not really about immigration as such, it's about trying to have things that we like and things that we need at for as low a cost as possible, and essentially, bringing in migrants to achieve that. When we're talking post Brexit, we're usually talking about economic migration, really, because there haven't really been changes to family immigration, haven't really been changes to student rules, haven't yet really been major changes to the asylum regime, either, although the government is currently legislating to make some major changes in that respect. And economic migration is basically much more liberal on the face of it than it used to be in that there are more jobs that qualify and the numbers who are entering are considerably greater under the immigration system than they were previously. Although I'm not 100% sure that that's necessarily the case, when you take into account the loss of EU free movement. And I have, yeah, I'm a lawyer, not an economist or data specialists. And I'm not quite sure how it is that researchers managed to factor in the counting EU migrants who are no longer there, because obviously, they weren't counted in or counted, counted out in the same way that other migrants were because visas weren't necessary under the free movement regime. But you know, on the face of it, certainly there are a lot more skilled worker visas and relatively low skill visas being issued now. If you look back at the sort of history of refugee movements into the UK, and there's often been these kinds of targeted schemes, though, I'd say they were much smaller in the past, but they've often had targeted schemes for particular groups of refugees. And you've also had irregular arrivals as well, so unplanned arrivals, and there's always been a kind of combination of those two things going on. And I think what the what the UK government has been trying to do, and they were quite open about this when Priti Patel was Home Secretary in particular, was essentially they want to withdraw from the international refugee rights regime and substitute a national scheme instead, where they have complete control over who comes in and it can be a, it's a, it's not it's not a great analogy, I kind of 'pick your own' approach to refugees where you get, you know, as the national government, you get to select who comes. And the kind of, the suggestion is that the government could be more generous than in the past in terms of the scale of refugees who arrive in the UK, but at the same time, we'd be more selective about exactly who those refugees are. But the danger is that you end up with discrimination. And discrimination is always a really interesting word. Because it's, it's very, it's got two different meanings, hasn't it? It's discrimination in the unlawful sense where you're, you're using criteria that you shouldn't like, like race or sex, or it could mean that you're discriminating in the sense that you, you exercise a fine choice and you know, you sort of connoisseurs of something. And that's what the UK is trying to do, is to discriminate in its choice of refugees. And some people would understand that using the negative sense of discrimination, and some people would understand that in the, in the positive sense, where we actually get to choose who comes. The UK government has been on the face of it very proactive about interventions in the kind of political space, in the legal space to some degree as well in migration, both on the sort of immigration side of things with economic migration, and also on the asylum humanitarian side of things as well. I think the reality is that a lot of those interventions are about short term politics rather than making meaningful changes. And there are exceptions to that, the Ukraine scheme, the Hong Kong scheme, those are, I think, significant changes in state policy that we haven't seen previously in the UK. But things like removing the resident market labour test, expanding the shortage occupation list, I don't think those are really major interventions in economic migration, and they do potentially enable more people to qualify, and sometimes you can see the impact of that in the in the immigration statistics. So for example, suddenly making care workers eligible to enter to work in care homes. There's 40,000, I think, entered in the last year, so that is a significant change to the rules. But the UK isn't alone in seeing high net migration. We've seen - I'm a non-expert in what happens in other countries, but I've been sort of trying to track what's been going on in different places to some degree, and it's been a big review in Australia on their immigration strategy, there's just been a big review in Germany, as I was reading the other day, it's been a big review in Poland, with actually actively proactively seeking more migrants and to recruit labourers from abroad. And we're talking about hundreds of thousands of people here in all those cases. So the UK is not that unusual. And the government's interventions don't necessarily have that much of a kind of long-term impact quite often. There's 's other things going on, that really determine whether people want to come to the UK to claim asylum, whether the economy requires workers, whether there's a recession, and those are the things I mean, can we step back from things, step back from the day-to-day politics, those are the things that really have the biggest impact on immigration. I think in some ways UK, immigration governance might be said to be fairer than in the past in the sense that no set of countries or countries have preference in the same way that EU countries had preference during our membership of the European Union. And, you know, before that, Commonwealth countries had preferential access to the UK in previous decades. I wouldn't characterise it, I wouldn't myself ever say that UK, immigration governance is fair and generous, taken as a whole though, you know, just that question of which countries do qualify for entry is, is a really very narrow understanding of what 'fair' might mean. And the thing that I get most aggravated about, really, with the UK immigration system, is the treatment of people once they're here. And if we look at things like the level of fees that people are charged, if we look at the migration journey they go through once they get here, the complexities and bureaucracy of the process, there's a lot that is done that I think sometimes deliberately and sometimes accidentally makes their lives unnecessarily difficult. It makes it very hard for them to integrate, because they are sort of handicapped, they've got almost one hand tied behind their back compared to other comparable families, you know, just the financial penalty of the fees, and then obviously, it's an element of hypocrisy in any immigration lawyer saying this, but the the fees that they have to pay to lawyers as well, because the rules are so complicated, it's really difficult to make an immigration application by yourself these days. And that's, that makes it very hard for migrants once they're here. And it doesn't put them off coming, and they don't necessarily understand what's going to happen to them when they get here. So it doesn't have the kind of deterrent effects, I think maybe the government and ministers, civil servants thought that they might have these kinds of policies. But it does make life harder for the people who do come. I don't think there have been any major changes, really, to the to the immigration system since Brexit, there are changes that are kind of going on, but they haven't really fully happened yet. So for example, EU citizens now subject to this kind of digital identity process where they don't have documentary proof of their status, and that's likely to be applied to everybody. And that's, that's quite a significant change over time, I think. But the main thing is that it's just kind of continuity with the past. But a lot more people are now subject to it. And I think that's one of the interesting things going forward, that might lead to some pressure for change. So EU citizens there are, you know, there have been sort of over 6 million applications. That's a lot of extra people who've just been granted status by the Home Office, and who are subject, at least to some degree, to the immigration regime. And I do wonder whether that might lead to pressure for change over time. So the Rwanda Plan is the idea that basically, anybody who arrives in the UK to claim asylum will be removed to a Safe Third Country, and that Safe Third Country will then become responsible for processing their asylum claim and for either settling them in that country or removing them back to their home country. And I think the UK Government is genuinely committed to that idea. But I just I just don't think the UK Government has really recognised how hard it is to actually enact that, in practice, or at least they didn't realise that when they when they decided to adopt it as a good idea. And certainly to do it unilaterally, without some kind of, you know, block like the EU, doing it in cooperation. The terms of the Illegal Migration Bill require the government to remove everybody who's arrived since the seventh of March 2023, to Rwanda. They expect that to be about 85,000 people by the end of this year, that's their own internal estimates that were revealed in a National Audit Office report last week. And so the idea that you can force that 85,000 people onto planes to Rwanda, a country they've got no connection to, and where they really don't want to go, and that you can find them, detain them, and then get them onto that plane, just seems so unreal, in a practical sense. And then, aside from the morality of it, actually is an awful thing to do to somebody in some sort of ditch them in this country, they've got no connection to no realistic future in. And just the practicality of doing that is, is immense, and there's no way they can. And then they seem to have pinned all of their hopes, in public at least, on the idea that word will pass from refugee to refugee somehow, and that once people find out that a few people have been put onto a flight that suddenly nobody else will come and that the problem kind of solves itself. It's it seems to those of us who sort of used to looking at this, we're familiar with some of the research on it, we've actually met these people and talked to them that seems so unreal and unrealistic as to be just fantasy when it comes down to it. I don't think that the Illegal Migration Bill is going to lead to long term meaningful changes, it seems really obvious that a government is very quickly going to have to reverse those changes and deal with the people who are left in the UK in the long term, just like they've already started to undo the legislation that was passed in 2022, you know, one of the key planks of that was treating refugees differently depending on their mode of arrival, and the government announced quite recently that they're stopping doing that, because it was, it was counterproductive. It just created more work for the Home Office, and it deterred nobody from coming. So I expect we'll be seeing something along those lines happening in a year or two. With the Illegal Migration Bill as well.
MB: You're listening to Who do we think we are? presents Global Britain, a podcast all about migration and citizenship in the UK after Brexit, hosted by me, Michaela Benson and my co-host Nando Sigona. If you like what you've heard, follow and rate us on your preferred podcast platform. This means that you'll be the first to hear when our episodes drop, and it also helps more people to discover the podcast. We just heard from Colin about his views on the UK's migration regime after Brexit, and in particular, what is and might not be so new about this. But I thought that we should start by breaking down the characteristics of that migration regime writ large, or perhaps the trajectory that we've seen policy and legislation moving since then. So Nando what would you say about that?
Nando Sigona [NS]: Since the, you know, even during the Brexit implementation period, one of the key sort of policy concern of the government has been to start to reimagine migration. The reference points of this new immigration regime being constructed was very much the Australian point-based system, an idea that there will be clear rules for people to apply for visa, there are different kinds of visas, and there is no preference for one nationality versus another. So that's actually how the government has been presenting it, framing it. However, what we started to see almost immediately, in parallel to this Australian point-based system kind of model, has been the increased use of ad hoc measures like short term measures that were targeting specific needs in the labour market. Many will remember, for example, the lack of lorry drivers and the fact that the shelves in supermarkets were empty. So the government came up with a scheme for recruiting lorry drivers to deal with the specific needs. And they've been using this tool also for other categories of labour, migrant workers. Besides the labour migration side, we also had some important changes as far as the humanitarian migration and mobilities in two main directions. One is very much with the introduction of schemes such as the scheme providing humanitarian protection to Ukrainian nationals escaping from the war in Ukraine, and also the one dealing with the Hong Kongers, leaving Hong Kong.
MB: I think that those changes that you've kind of highlighted there are part of that commitment by the government or the objective by the government to kind of increase fairness and what they call efficacy in the system. So, streamlining that system of people arriving in the UK, but actually, the objectives that they laid out themselves in the original New Plan for Immigration, had an extraordinary weight on issues related to illegality, but also asylum and the possibilities for them in terms of deportation. So there's that side of it as well, isn't there?
NS: Yeah. And it's almost striking, in a sense that we're talking about a relatively small number of migrants or a small section of the migrant population in the country, those that come applying for asylum or those who come irregularly. But if you look at the documents and the statements by the current government, they seem really to see it as the main policy priority. So, for example, in the introduction to the New Plan for Immigration, that was the document championed by the then Home Secretary Priti Patel, you will see that the older narrative very much is constructed in response to this alleged invasion of irregular migrants across the Channel and what we need to be done to stop them. So there was, there was relatively little attention to all the rest, the majority of the migrants coming in, and we have seen this approach continuing up until yesterday in a sense, at the beginning of the new year, Rishi Sunak came up with a five point plan for immigration which was all focused on stop the boat, reducing irregular crossing, send back people that arrived through irregular crossing.
MB: So in summary, what we've seen is that promised end free movement that came with Brexit, heralding in quite a, what seems to be politically narrated as a new approach to migration. And I think it's quite interesting to think about what is new and what isn't new, as Colin was saying in his discussion with us. So thinking about the extent to which this is a change from what came before, and I suppose from a legal point of view, and I think this is what Colin was saying, is that migration has always been managed in a slightly ad hoc way. But I think that the broader context to this is something that he explained to me in a previous episode of the podcast, when he joined me and Ala Sirriyeh to talk about what was going on beyond the headlines in respect to Suella Braverman. What he explained then was in respect to primary legislation, when it comes to immigration, there isn't really much more that the government can do because they've got quite extensive powers in a way that means that there's actually no real need to legislate for anything in respect to immigration, because they can change what they like, because all of those powers have already been given to the Home Secretary. So the question might be, why is this always a focus, when they don't really need to be doing this?
NS: Yeah, I mean, the centrality of taking back control of the borders to the narrative around Brexit, and the extent to which the current government and key people in the current government have, in a sense, championed that kind of narrative. So for them, the current data on net migration, the large increase in the number of immigrants, in a sense almost provides a potential deadly threat to the basis on which they've built their political capital. And so you'll see those, these attempt to engage continuously with the boat, with the smugglers, to shift the responsibility away from them, in terms of why we get so many more migrants. To me, I don't think that that's a problem at all. I mean, it's a way, it's a misplaced focus for the policy on migration, if it's not just about the number, it's about the quality and the condition in which people leave, the possibilities they have to enjoy life in Britain, to build, to contribute. But the focus here in the current rhetoric is all around the figures.
MB: So what you're saying Nando is that when we look at the kind of net migration figures, we see that those are actually higher than we might have assumed in the context of a government that has argued that they've taken back control of the borders. And so in some ways, this focus on all this renewed focus on people entering the UK illegally or via unsafe routes, is a way of displacing some of that responsibility for actually their inability to deliver on that promise. And as you said, I neither your I believe that that is necessary to drive down migration figures, but to think about why the UK government wants to pursue these kinds of political arguments that I suppose that brings us to the point of actually talking about what's happened to those migration flows. What are we seeing, beyond those kinds of rhetoric, beyond the principles? What are we seeing in practice, when it comes to migration to the UK since Brexit?
NS: I think the whole conversation around the net migration and the high figures is actually misplaced, and the question we should ask to the government is, actually what's the problem with high immigration numbers? They never address it, because you could argue that having a high number of immigrants coming in is partly the result of their own policy, but it's also an indicator of the economy that is recovering from COVID, is recovering from the shock of Brexit. It is also an important instrument to build this Global Britain with our connection with the world outside Europe. So, what I see here is a tension within the narrative of the government between those who are more projected towards the outside and those are much more attached to the agenda of just limit the number of migrants for the sake of it. So it's a tension, you can read it in the way that the different ministers debate this issue.
MB: I think that's really interesting. And yes, we'd certainly want to turn that question around. Because I think they take for granted that everyone will agree with them, that net migration figures should be lower than they are and that that's where their political capital lies in driving down those numbers. And in a while, we'll come to what some of the people who took part in our research had to say about that. But to go back to this question of the numbers, what are we actually seeing? How are these shifted?
NS: What we're seeing here is on the one end, the mobility and migration from the European Union is going down very significantly. We also saw the number of emigration, the emigration of EU nationals from the UK back to Europe, has increased. We have and it's something also some of our respondents have pointed out, almost a replacement process, they see this new measure in migration policy as a way to substitute the population from Europe that is not coming anymore with new migrants. We can tell - sorry, this is a quite a complicated issue, because it's also linked to the debate around fairness, which is interesting, and it's something that was echoed by Colin, and to what extent the statement by the government that the current system is fairer than the previous one is true. So what the point is, is that the way that the government has justified this claim is that the system before was discriminating in favour of European nationals. So EU national could come anytime they want, everyone else has to go through very sort of strict rules, instead, the new system treats everyone the same. So in a sense, is less discriminatory. But is this a just system is another question? Because this is where also our work, I think, is really trying to contribute to the debate. And I think the point is that the condition under which the people come to the UK, are more just, are more fair than before is the point that we need to analyse.
MB: I think that's really interesting, because certainly they seem to have so at the point of entry, they might be able to make the argument that, you know, they've reduced the discrimination in the system by removing free movement. But I think what we'll come on to is the question of whether the rights that people then have once they arrive, the extent to which we might even consider them as fair, because they're certainly parity is not a word that you could use to explain those rights. And I think what we're seeing is quite a significant stratification of rights there. So yeah, so perhaps that's that's where to go next, is to think about the kind of conditions of settlement of people and the consequences of those changes, of this kind of streamlining of the immigration regime in the way that they have, the government have imagined it since Brexit, and how that links to the production of particular forms of migrant subjectivity, where people have more or less precarious rights, where we might see new forms of dependency being introduced, and where we're seeing significant changes in respect to people's rights as migrant workers.
NS: It's a really fundamental shift, I think that we need to unpack. On the one hand, yes, everyone, that is, everyone who fits within the eligibility criteria may have a shot to come in. However, they have to pay very high fees for the visa, they have to pay the NHS, a tax, in order to have access to the National Health Service, they have stricter conditions for the terms of the visa, they are stricter. So just to give you an example, there has been a big debate, now, during this period of strikes in many sectors of the labour markets around to what extent migrant workers had the right to strike and under what condition. Because you could argue, and this is actually to some extent has been argued by the government, and in some cases, also from the employer, is that by losing days of work, people were breaching the terms of their visa and that in a sense could also lead to withdraw the working visa from them. Now there has been a clarification around this, and the unions have pointed out how the right to strike is still there. However, they're also very aware that there are different ways in which this record rules are implemented in different areas and sectors of the labour market, and this is why were the migrant worker and the impact that the fact that you have worker in the labour market which have less rights, so they feel more precarious, and more vulnerable to the decision of their employers, to the decision of the government, it's in a sense affecting all society. And this is where we make the argument all the time about the extent to which migration and citizenship are connected and the condition of migrants also shape the condition of the national workers. And this also why wide alliances between migrant worker organisation and trade unions are really important and fundamental to fight for the rights of all workers in the country.
MB: Yeah, I think that's a really good example. And I can think of several other examples as well. I mean, most people will be familiar with the recent statement by Suella Braverman that she wanted to remove the right from students to bring family members to the UK. Of course, this one has a much longer history and it's happened before, in respect to other forms of workers. So when we look at people who are in the UK now as seasonal workers, they have no rights to family reunion. And they also, in addition to that, have no rights to use the NHS except for emergency care. They're not expected to pay the immigration NHS surcharge that other people are expected to pay in order to access health care. But that also means that they don't have any access to it. But similarly, they have no right to settlement. And I think that increasingly, we are seeing the introduction of visas that do not permit a route to settlement. And I think we might want to ask what those different sets of rights, rights to settlements, right to strike, right to family reunion, what looking at those might have to tell us about the fairness of the system?
NS: Yeah, I think you're definitely right on this. And I was thinking about the extent to which what's the problem with the family members of the students. I mean, the government didn't even bother about explaining why these measures are important. The only justification is because the net migration figures are high. And this is what it seems to be guiding the policy. And as we discussed in the previous episode, on emigration, it's almost paradoxical, where we're saying here: a very large part of the number of people leaving the country are actually these students or other people on short term visa. So you could, what is happening here, and this is partly why the figures start to be confusing, is that you have that since after the pandemic, we have seen a very significant large increase in the number of working visas, student visas been given by the home office. But these visa are short term. So by the end of the period of the visa, suddenly you have a large number of people leaving. So in many ways, the net migration figure, in this sense, is almost following the trajectory of the same people over different periods of time from their arrivals from when the left and that same time is dictating our government responses to immigration more generally, which is very confusing, and I think also quite misleading.
MB: Before we wrap up, Nando, we really do need to hear from some of the people that have taken part in the research about what they think about all of this. Now, we've spoken to EU nationals in the UK, British citizens in the EU, and I wondered where you see the kind of the general trend in their responses. When they're thinking about these issues.
NS: We asked them two main things: one was about, do you see a problem in the number of migrants coming into the country? And then we went more in details asking them about specific schemes that the government had been introducing, for example the Rwanda plan, but also the short terms, temporary working permits, etc. So in terms of the overall approach, how people see immigration, there is a general sort of positive attitude. What I mean is that over, almost 80% of the people that responded to our survey said that they really see a problem with the high immigration figure, they couldn't really see it. And actually what they pointed out, and maybe we can hear from some of them in a second is that migration is a sign of a thriving economy. It's a, migrants contribute to the company, bring their capitals, that they have skills, they also bring culture and innovation that comes with it. They also, they show concern for the direction where that the the government rhetoric is going.
MB: For example, I mean, we can see this in the words of this Dutch woman who was living in the UK who was in her 50s.
Voiceover – EU National in UK 1: Immigration is good for the country, particularly in times of skill shortages. Immigrants are usually highly motivated and hardworking. The UK has not invested in education for 10+ years and in vocational training for even longer. So immigration is vital.
MB: But I think that there's also a sense in which for some of them, it is a reflection that reminds them of their own fate, through Brexit, which is, you know, that once they were able to freely move and they were able to come,
NS: Especially, at the beginning, the shock was very much in seeing themselves losing that project, that sense of belonging that was come from being Europeans in UK, and then accept of a time that now they had to experience immigration control, they that now have a direct experience of the hostile environment. Although I must say, our research also showed that the Hostile Environment was experienced in different ways by different EU nationals. So with some groups like people from Central Eastern Europe, or ethnic minority, already well aware about the hostility, especially from the tabloids against foreigners, while others like people from Western Europe, mostly, they had much sort of more a different experience of what was Britain to them in terms of being not constructed as 'problematic migrants', in inverted commas.
MB: Yeah, but I think the other thing that really stood out to me from reading what they had to say to us about the new migration regime after Brexit was the sense in which they expressed significant concern for the conditions of life in the UK, for those people who have been newly arriving through those schemes, reflecting there on what they could identify as kind of increasingly restrictive or punitive measures that the government was taking. And they drew their, and I think this is really important, in making those assessments, they were drawing, in part, at least on some of their experiences as well. And I think this is really, really clear in this quotation from a Portuguese woman in her 30s, who was living in the UK
Voiceover – EU National in UK 2: I am not concerned at all about migration, per se, but about the conditions these migrants would have. And the potential measures the government might take to again try to reduce migration to the UK.
MB: So I think what we're seeing is kind of the emergence of some forms of solidarity to a certain degree, a little bit like what you were highlighting before Nando, when you were talking about the right to strike and how important it is to see migrant workers’ rights as workers’ rights, which may potentially affect all of us in one way or another. But also, we're seeing it in terms of how they reflect more generally on what migration is and isn't questioning, you know, what's the problem with high migration, for example? I think some of this solidarity that I'm referring to can be seen when people reflect directly on some of the kinds of immigration controversies alive in the moment that they're writing to us. And that came out very clearly in this example, an Italian woman living in the UK aged in her 50s wrote to us at the time of the controversy around the Marston immigration processing centre, which was opened in 2022 to house people while the British government tried to manage and process their claims. And I think that communicates this best
Voiceover – EU National in UK 3: Lack of planning is making the situation very difficult for migrants. The disastrous conditions at Marston, weeks and month in unsuitable hotel accommodation, and for hosts who are not prepared to deal with this.
MB: Closing on those points about solidarity shows how people resist the migration regime, and the truths and values that it tries to project. This for me offers a glimmer of hope in the midst of quite dark times in respect to migration in the UK. As I mentioned at the start of the episode, we recorded most of the elements before the Illegal Immigration Bill completed its passage through the Houses of Parliament. And sadly, this has now passed. I want to leave you with the words about the passing of the Act offered by the UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through the Languages and the Arts based at the University of Glasgow. 'The violence embedded by the authors and legislators in this domestic lawmaking is the latest combination in the erosion of precious covenants produced at the end of the Second World War. It represents a rule of decrees eroding the protections every person in the UK has enjoyed in the recent past, this is an act of breathtaking international irresponsibility and domestic selfishness against people seeking refuge and against future generations. It is a legislation that deprives people of their livelihoods'. Thank you for listening to this episode of Who do we think we are presents global Britain. Just a reminder, the podcast is produced and presented by me Michaela Benson and Nando Sigona as part of the research project 'Rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit'. And that's funded by the Economic and Social Research Council via their Governance after Brexit initiative. You can find out more about the [email protected]. That's M-I-G-Z-E-N.net. A big thank you to our guest on this episode, Colin Yeo, and to those academics moonlighting as voiceover artists in this episode, Elena Zambelli, Rolien Hoyng and Angela Marquez Philippe. A special thanks to Emma Houlton at Brilliant Audio for her production and postproduction support, to Catherine Craven for the additional research for the episode, and to George Kalivis for the cover art and social media assets. If you head over to whodowethinkweare.org you'll find transcripts and enhanced show notes that include active listening questions, our podcasts, pics, and where you can go to find out more about the topics we've discussed. And just a last call. If you like what you've heard, please do take a moment to follow and rate us on your preferred podcast platform. Reach out to us via our socials or even just recommend us to a friend or family member. That's all for now, but we'll be back with another episode very soon!
End of Transcript
What’s changed in the UK’s approach to migration since Brexit? How has this impacted on migration flows? Who is and isn’t migrating to the UK?
In A New Plan for Migration? we consider the shape and structure of the UK’s regulation and governance of migration since leaving the European Union. Catherine Craven explains what we mean when we talk about Migration Regimes, and shows how this works in practice. Barrister, author and Founder of Free Movement Law Colin Yeo, shares his thoughts on what has and hasn’t changed in terms of laws and policies on UK immigration since Brexit. And our presenters Michaela Benson and Nando Sigona consider the politicisation of migration, and how this is reflected in rhetoric and the framing of new legislation, policy and guidelines, and what EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU have to say about it. And they ask the question is the post Brexit regime just?
In this episode we cover …
- Migration regimes
- New plan for migration
- Post-Brexit borders and immigration controls
Find out more about …
- Why some migrants are deemed more deserving than others in Global Britain in Michaela and Nando’s piece for Open Democracy
- The injustices inherent in the UK’s current immigration system from Colin’s book Welcome to Britain: Fixing Our Broken Immigration System
- An early call for the institution of a fair global migration regime in this article by Stephen Castles
Our podcast picks ...
- Colin on the Politico podcast: Westminster Insider: Can Rishi Sunak ‘Stop the boats’?
- Listen to the Free Movement podcast for regular updates and commentaries on UK immigration law
- Check this episode of WDWTWA Beyond the Headlines where Colin joined Michaela and Ala Sirriyeh to discuss Suella Braverman
Call to action
- Follow the podcast on all major podcasting platforms or through our RSS Feed.
- Get all the latest updates from the MIGZEN research project on Twitter and Instagram
- Follow Who do we think we are? on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
Active listening questions
- How would you define a migration regime?
- What do migration regimes do for states?
- In what ways has the UK’s migration regime changed since Brexit, if at all?