Labour claims Immigration Bill a ‘threat to health and social care sector’ amid coronavirus pandemic
Nick Thomas-Symonds hit out at the ‘rushed’ Immigration Bill.
Labour has accused the Government of posing a “threat to our health and social care sector” as ministers press ahead with a wide-ranging shake-up of the immigration system amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Frontbencher Nick Thomas-Symonds urged the Government to “think again”, as he warned that the frontline of the fight against the disease could be hit under plans to curb “low-skilled” labour.
But Home Secretary Priti Patel said the Immigration Bill - which repeals EU free movement rules and paves the way for a new points-based immigration system - would make for a “firmer, fairer, and simpler“ system giving the UK “full control” of its borders.
The Immigration Bill will undergo its second reading in the Commons on Monday, and give ministers the power to shape the new system, with those coming to the UK expected to be asked to meet strict skills criteria when the full rules are drawn up later.
EU, EEA and Swiss citizens - currently covered by free movement rules - will now be subject to UK immigration controls, while the Home Secretary will be given new powers to tighten the system.
But Mr Thomas-Symonds asked why the Government was bringing the flagship bill forward “at the height of the crisis” caused by Covid-19.
And he told the BBC’s Today programme: “It seems to be saying that your salary reflects your contribution to society.
“And if this crisis has shown us one thing, it should show us that that is wrong.
“The very people that we have relied upon to get us through this, whether it's in the social care sector, whether it's in the wider retail sector, for example, refuse collectors, local government workers, all these workers would be deemed as low-skilled and unwelcome under the system the government is proposing and that's why I'm asking them to think again."
The Shadow Home Secretary said: “We see the clap for carers on a Thursday evening. It is wrong to then say on a Monday that you are unskilled, and that people with those skills are not welcome in this country.
“That's why I'm asking the Government to think again. We can't support an immigration bill today that is a threat to our health and social care sector."
NHS SURCHARGE ‘TOTALLY UNFAIR’
Ministers are also facing renewed calls to axe the so-called ‘immigration health surcharge’, which sees those granted leave to remain in the UK asked to pay between £300 and £400 per year to use the NHS. That figure is set to rise further to £625 later this year.
In March the Home Office confirmed that NHS staff and their family members whose visas were due for renewal would automatically have them extended for a year free of charge, alongside an exemption from the surcharge.
But both the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association have demanded a more wide-ranging review of the surcharge amid a “huge outpouring of support for our frontline staff”.
Speaking on Monday, Mr Thomas-Symonds said it was “totally unfair on the one hand, to be saying thank you to those foreign born workers we have in our NHS, and then charging them for actually using it”.
The Labour frontbencher added: "Now the Home Secretary has actually waived it for those healthcare staff who've had their visas extended from October. She then promised to review it for other staff in the NHS.
“She apparently now isn't reviewing it and I think that's the wrong thing to do. And I think it really does speak to whether we value what people have been doing to help us through this crisis or not."
But Ms Patel said ahead of the Bill’s second reading: "This historic piece of legislation gives the UK full control of our immigration system for the first time in decades and the power to determine who comes to this country.
"Our new points-based system is firmer, fairer, and simpler.
"It will attract the people we need to drive our economy forward and lay the foundation for a high wage, high skill, high productivity economy."
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe