Theresa May's rules on immigration are a disturbing sign of the country we'd become under her leadership

On the surface, it might seem sensible to limit immigration to people making over £35,000. But when you look into it, you realise how destructive this could be to our society

Hannah Fearn
Monday 04 July 2016 17:45
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Front-runner for the Tory leadership Theresa May has been called a 'tough cookie'
Front-runner for the Tory leadership Theresa May has been called a 'tough cookie'

Around Westminster, the Home Secretary Theresa May is described as a “tough cookie”. Yes, it’s a sexist term (can you imagine Liam Fox being described in the same way?) but it does get to the heart of something specific about the front-runner in the race to become the next Conservative leader – she is tough, and she is the author of some of the toughest immigration policies this country has ever known.

Now touted as a prime minister-in-waiting, May’s policies are a troubling indication of the type of country she would have us become: one that places more value on asset than ability, and one that prizes cash over contribution.

This year the policy limiting the number of non-EU citizens who can qualify to live and work in the UK came into force. It requires those migrating for employment to take home a minimum of £35,000 a year – a basic earnings cap that is going to rise in coming years, reaching £35,500 by 2018. £35,000 is £8,000 higher than the average British salary – but now those who have been working here for six years on a wage lower than that can expect to have their visas revoked. (Incidentally, that average UK salary takes a FTSE100 chief executive just two and a half days to earn).

To the layman’s ear that might sound a sensible way to attract top talent to the UK – welcoming well educated, highly skilled employees who will also pay a higher rate of tax to support public services, without unnecessarily creating a huge global jobs marketplace at home for low paid, unskilled jobs which could be filled by British staff.

But then, who really earns £35,000 or more? Sure, highly trained dentists command more than that (£53,000), and so do barristers (£45,000), doctors (£70,000) and senior police officers (£58,000). But do we really want to welcome solicitors, who at £44,787 earn more than the cap, but not teachers? Why are dentists considered welcome but not midwives – or vets, for that matter?

Theresa May admits future of EU citizens living in the UK is uncertain

This is not just a financial question but a moral one. There are scores of job roles critical to the functioning of our society which will never garner a salary of £35,000, let alone after just six years’ effort.

Nurses – for the meantime – are protected from the policy; they are named on the government list of shortage occupations. But consider all these which are not: fire-fighters, teachers, adult social workers – and, ever more urgently needed given our ageing population, care workers.

According to Total Jobs, a recruitment company responsible for placing staff in live vacancies across the UK, the average care worker earns just £16,200 a year. That is based not on historic data or academic analysis, but on the most recent adverts placed – that is, the lives that people are living.

If, as future prime minister, May applies her immigration policies to new EU citizens looking to work in the UK, we’ll not only lose their taxes but their talents too, and in an economic and social climate where we can scarce afford that loss.

Look, too, to May’s policies around the rules for bringing a spouse to the UK. Bear in mind these are existing spouses, relationships that are already solidified. Applicants who want to bring a husband or wife who is a citizen of another country to live in the UK, to keep their families together, must also meet minimum income criteria. The price of love in the UK today is £18,000. This devastating decision has split up households, divided children and put partnerships under pressure – everything that a Conservative government is supposed to stand against. It is a deliberate severing of the backbone of society over the matter of money.

When the policies placing income barriers on non-EU citizens came into force, a spokesperson for May’s office said it had been too easy for businesses to identify cheap employees overseas and bring them here rather than “take the long-term decision to train our workforce here at home”. That’s fair but this is not the way to do it. Better is to encourage a flourishing economy that creates more jobs, and a supportive society that encourages each to put in more than they take out.

If May’s philosophy on immigration was stretched across all domestic and foreign policy, we’d create an isolationist society that places the ability to earn for its own sake above all else – above talent, above skill, above volunteering and participation in the community, above family. That’s a vision of a future Tory leadership that runs a chill down my spine. As the Brexit vote reminds us, we are as easily divided as we are bound together. On immigration, Theresa May has played a game of divide and rule. Her prime ministership must not condemn our whole nation to the same fate.

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