12 September 2021: StatusNow: A grant of Indefinite Leave to Remain to people without status would help ease labour shortages
“The Government should grant status to all those who currently reside in the UK, as well as bring forward legislation to improve workers rights on pay and end insecure employment practices such as zero hours contracts. These are actions to address some of the reasons why employers are unable to recruit,” Ian Hodson, national president of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU)
Status Now urges the UK Government to offer immigration settlement status to all people who have made the UK their home. This is one contribution to easing the current labour shortage.
Since the mid-1970s, there has been a systematic decline in British wages as a percentage of gross domestic product. This factor interrelates with the impact of Brexit and, most recently, Government failures to tackle the challenges of the COVID pandemic through comprehensive public health measures. They make up the backdrop to the recent call in the cross-industry report of the UK food and drink sector for a Covid Recovery Visa enabling all involved throughout that supply chain to recruit from abroad.
Status Now believes that part of the answer is domestic: the food and drink sector report highlights the impact the pandemic and the UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy is having on the sector’s ability to recruit key workers. It highlights an average vacancy rate of 13% and estimates more than 500,000 vacancies across food and drink businesses. Ian Hodson of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), a Status Now signatory, told us:
“At our recent conference, delegates confirmed their position of support for the right to status for undocumented migrants, many of whom have lived in the UK since childhood. They expressed a strong belief that the current situation facing too many in our society is unfair and discriminatory. For as long as so many are denied a right to work in the UK the recent demands by Tories and Business to bring changes to the current worker visa controls to help out with alleged ‘worker shortage’ is, in our opinion, wrong. The Government should grant status to all those who currently reside in the UK, as well as bring forward legislation to improve workers rights on pay and end insecure employment practices such as zero hours contracts. These are actions to address some of the reasons why employers are unable to recruit.”
Other sectors, such as adult social care and construction, have been screaming for attention for years. But, without tearing up the stringent immigration rules that exploit migrants as expendable resources who, once they have served their purpose, are carelessly discarded by the State, the situation can only worsen: there is no point in inviting new people to the UK who then fall foul of irrational rules; all that does is increase the number of people without the status needed to access their human rights.
Most people who find themselves living without equitable access to housing, healthcare and food become undocumented because our immigration system is so unresponsive to human circumstances. Factors beyond individual people’s control, such as errors in Home Office decision-making and unrealistic and exploitative settlement pathways, alongside illness, relationship breakdown, domestic violence, inadequate or misleading legal advice and a lack of money to pay extortionate immigration fees, all contribute to the people living here without their immigration status. Many Status Now network organisations have many members who have been in the UK for decades but who are not allowed to work.
Peachybelle* is a qualified midwife who, when her husband died in 2004, left the Philippines for the UK in a bid to provide for her three teenage daughters. Her three-year work visa was sponsored by a nursing home, where she worked as a carer. Despite the expertise and relationships she developed, her application to renew the visa was refused. Peachybelle estimates that she has spent over £5,000 on applications and received no legal aid. She is still in the UK, living in limbo.
Meanwhile, John*, a qualified nurse in the Philippines, arrived in the UK with a student visa in 2008. In the midst of an economic recession, the nursing home where he worked was unable to sponsor him. He enrolled multiple times as a student with unscrupulous institutions, paying up to £8,000 for each enrolment. Finally, in 2015, he exhausted his finances and became undocumented.
These stories are included in a report published last year by Status Now member organisations The Kanlungan Filipino Consortium and human rights charity RAPAR, which documented the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and the lockdown restrictions in the UK on precarious Filipino migrants.
The Government can easily enable dignity for undocumented migrants in the UK: to live without the dangers of being exploited and discriminated against by employers, sexual predators and others that flow from living without secure immigration status. We have a British Prime Minister who, before his ascendance to this position, talked about regularising undocumented immigrants who “played by the rules”. He once said: “Are we really, as a society, going to go around telling people who put down roots, who have children, who might have grandchildren here “You know, I’m sorry, you’re going home because of the circumstances in which you came?”
It’s about time Boris Johnson ‘unleashed’ the potential of undocumented migrants in the UK, granting leave so that individuals without immigration status gain fundamental rights through which they live with dignity: participating in society fully and freely; working openly and safely; contributing to the economy and the public purse; accessing housing and being able to rent without the risk of being discriminated against or exploited by landlords; accessing healthcare including vaccines if they wish; and breathing without fear of detention or deportation.
Status Now understands that, hand in hand with reversing the steady decline in wages, the estimated 800,000 to 1.2 million undocumented migrants currently living in the UK are part of the solution. Alongside the denial of their fundamental human right to work, this barrier is excluding people who understand what UK ways of life consist of, and who have already done their best to integrate.
Status Now urges the government to look inside the UK and grant Indefinite Leave to Remain to people who are already in the UK without immigration status. This is a sensible, humane, and reasonable course of action for the UK Government to pursue.
*Names changed to protect privacy