The shadow home secretary has accused the government of “rank hypocrisy” for closing the door to low-skilled immigration while cheering NHS workers.
As home secretary Priti Patel prepares to bring the immigration bill to the House of Commons for its second reading on Monday, Nick Thomas-Symonds has written to her urging her to “think again”.
“I believe the government’s plan to rush through this immigration legislation is an insult to our incredible NHS staff and care workers,” he said. “It is, frankly, rank hypocrisy from the government towards EU nationals – over 180,000 in England and Wales alone – who are currently working in our NHS and in the care sector, for ministers to stand and clap for them on a Thursday night, and then tell them that they are not welcome in the UK on a Monday.”
He suggested the new policy was “a threat to the national interest”.
The strongly worded letter is the latest example of a more muscular style of opposition from Keir Starmer’s party, after a period of relative quiescence while the coronavirus pandemic was at its peak.
Patel described the immigration bill as historic. It brings to fruition the promise of an “Australian-style points-based system” first outlined by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove when they were fronting the Vote Leave campaign during the 2016 referendum.
With a Tory majority of 80, the bill should pass easily. “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,” Patel said.
“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.”
And she highlighted the promise of a fast-track NHS visa, saying it would make it easier and quicker for medical professionals to work in the health service.
Touted by Johnson during last December’s general election campaign, the NHS visa promises lower fees and rapid processing for qualified applicants such as overseas doctors who have secured an NHS job offer.
However, Thomas-Symonds echoed the charge of his predecessor, Diane Abbott, that the government is continuing to write off lower-paid workers. “The government is labelling workers – from carers to retail staff, local government workers to refuse collectors – as ‘low-skilled’ when they have been on the front line keeping this country running throughout the crisis,” he said.
Full details of the new immigration rules, which will see EU and non-EU migrants treated equally, will not be published until later this year, but are expected to include minimum salary thresholds. The new system will come into force in January, when the status quo transition period is due to come to an end.