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New immigration policy

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Written by  Daniel Trlling

If you  want to see how little the government would prefer things to change once the coronavirus pandemic has subsided, look at its immigration policy. Over the past few months the Home Office has fought hard to maintain the labyrinthine bureaucracy, exorbitant fees and harsh punishments that govern the lives of migrants from outside the European Union. Rules that ban some people from accessing NHS treatment, food banks and emergency housing have only been partially eased; while detention centres have not been fully evacuated, and the Home Office has been accused of putting pressure on immigration judgesreleasing detainees on bail. Concessions for NHS and care workers, meanwhile – on visa extensions for bereaved families, or lifting the immigration health surcharge – have only been made haltingly, after pressure from the public, the Labour party and even some Conservative MPs.

The government has pushed ahead with its plans to extend much of this migration system to include EU citizens. The home secretary, Priti Patel, who has previously been criticised for avoiding scrutinyduring the crisis, began a publicity drive for the second reading of the new immigration bill. “This historic piece of legislation,” Patel wrote in the Express, “ends the European Union’s free movement of people and lays the foundations to build a fairer, firmer, skills-led points-based immigration system.”

The bill, which passed its second reading in a parliamentary vote on 18 May, is being presented as the fulfilment of the central demand of Brexit voters. But it is better described as a leap in the dark. Rather than setting out what the new immigration system – due to come into force in January 2021 – will look like, it gives the government powers to amend the law as it sees fit, without bringing it back to parliament for full scrutiny. Key areas remain undetermined, such as rights to family union and permanent settlement, visas for NHS workers, and the treatment of trafficking victims and asylum seekers. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) describesthe bill as a “blank cheque” that will transfer EU citizens into “the same system as non-EU nationals which is dysfunctional and chaotic, with a long history of incorrect decision-making.