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If Priti Patel backs this unfair minimum salary threshold for migrants, people like me won’t stand a chance

It seems the minimum for our annual earnings can be raised at a whim. So what’s to stop the government from changing its stance on settled status, the scheme that is meant to safeguard our rights?

Almara Abgarian
Wednesday 14 August 2019 12:00 BST
Priti Patel in profile

A few days ago, EU nationals in the UK were dealt another blow as Iain Duncan Smith, co-founder of the Centre for Social Justice, urged Priti Patel, the home secretary, to raise the minimum salary threshold for immigrants from £30,000 to £36,700 per year.

As an EU national from Sweden who has lived and worked in the UK for nine years, I am outraged. But first, let’s consider how this new proposal, if approved, will cripple several industries in the country that rely on an EU workforce, such as the NHS and the hospitality industry.

Last year, the National Institute of Economics and Social Research reported that between 5,000 to 10,000 nurses will leave the UK by 2021. Other statistics reveal that most of them have already gone.

Meanwhile, EU nationals account for more than half of applicants for jobs in the hospitality industry, according to The Change Group, but this figure dropped by 8.5 per cent in 2018.

Set aside how the British economy will be affected – and that the median annual salary in the UK is £28,677 (far below the proposed threshold) – and consider the message this sends to immigrants.

On the one hand, it adds monetary value to a person’s worth. It suggests that the only way to be of use to the UK is by earning a certain level of cash (and by proxy, paying a certain amount of tax).

Furthermore, it suggests that choosing passion and purpose over a lucrative career, such as being a nurse or working in a creative field that has a low base salary, is a foolish endeavour.

I take this personally; I gave up a great job in PR to become a journalist – a notoriously badly paid gig – because I wanted to follow my dream but also contribute to society by informing, educating and entertaining the British public.

This proposal is also a slap in the face to anyone who has built a life here or intends to do so in the future – especially when it comes to young people trying to get a foot on the career ladder.

If this threshold had been implemented when I first arrived in the UK in 2010, I would never have been able to stay here. I was 20 years old and working as a venue manager for a popular nightclub in central London.

Thanks to living costs in the capital, my monthly salary just about allowed me to pay my rent, buy a weekly travelcard and enjoy a cheap bottle of wine with my housemates at the local pub on the weekend.

I earned around £20,000 to £25,000 per year, working an average of 60 hours or more in a job where I managed 30 team members and was responsible for all customers walking into the venue.

Unfortunately, according to new standards, this isn’t enough of an effort from one person – because I wasn’t raking in the dough.

What makes matters infinitely worse is that many politicians insist that EU nationals are the reason wages are so low. The issue with this claim is that it doesn’t take into account that many people are taken advantage of or accept low-paying jobs because they lack the skills required for the well-paid ones.

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I’m not disputing the possibility that someone out there from an EU country may be willingly living off benefits. In fact, I’m confident that’s happening, just as I am confident that some British-born people are probably doing the exact same thing right now.

By using EU nationals as scapegoats to take the fall when needed, the government only perpetuates the idea that we are different or somehow scrounging off the UK. It’s even more insulting when we’re used by politicians as tools in Brexit negotiations without them acknowledging the many ways we contribute to this country.

If the threshold for the annual salary can be raised at a whim, then what’s to stop the government from changing its stance on settled status, the scheme that is meant to safeguard our rights? This is even more of a concern if we leave the EU without a deal.

I love living in Britain and plan to spend the rest of my life here, but I fear what will happen if I one day decide to quit journalism (a trade that is considered a specialism and is often exempt from thresholds of this kind) – despite the fact I have already secured settled status for myself.

Will this mean I have to move somewhere else, leaving behind the friends I’ve made and everything I have worked for? I sincerely hope not, but only time will tell.

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