If it wasn’t obvious before, these last few weeks have shown just how rotten the UK government and its immigration systems in particular are for those unfortunate enough to experience them.
They have themselves made a far stronger case for devolving immigration & asylum powers to Scotland than we could ourselves, causing untold damage to families, communities and our national economy in the name of Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ policies and obsession with slashing the number of people coming to this country.
The prospect of the hostile environment approach applying to EU citizens in the coming months and years should send a chill down the spine of anyone who wants a progressive and internationalist society.
Let’s consider some of Westminster’s recent calamities.
The Windrush generation scandal has seen thousands of British citizens have their lives turned upside-down. Jobs have been lost, people made homeless, some refused cancer treatment and others refused entry back into the UK after visiting friends of family abroad.
Appallingly, the top civil servant responsible for deportations has now admitted 8,000 cases are under review for wrongful deportation. Eight thousand people who did nothing wrong. Eight thousand British citizens.
Others who have migrated to the UK more recently and made enormous contributions have also been caught up. Just recently, a woman originally from India who was employed as a scientist making anti-cancer drugs was made unemployed and homeless because her accountant made a simple mistake, causing her to be denied leave to remain in the UK. Many others have suffered similar fates.
Families have been torn apart and lives ruined because of the UK Government’s crass attitude towards those who come to live and work here.
If something does not change, after Brexit this hostile environment may very well be targeted towards EU citizens as well.
Just last year, EU citizens with every right to be here were sent letters by the Home Office telling them to leave the country. According to the UK Government, this was a mistake. Mistake or not, I don’t doubt it was a consequence of Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ culture at the Home Office.
Scotland can be better than this. The Greens want us to have the powers to be better than this and whilst independence will make that a reality, Scotland can have the powers we need for this long before we becoming independent.
Supporting immigration to Scotland isn’t just about being a progressive and internationalist country. It also brings benefits to the economy and the workforce, helping to ensure that we have the skills we need.
Our NHS in particular relies on workers from all over the world. Holyrood’s Health Committee recently conducted an inquiry into the impact of Brexit on healthcare. Its report, which draws on experts across the sector, raised serious concerns about the UK Government’s hostility towards migration and it’s impact on recruitment of medical professionals and our capacity to undertake high quality medical research. It also suggested powers over non-EU visas are devolved to ensure we can recruit the best talent from all over the world.
But it is not just the NHS that benefits from migration. Across the labour market, Scotland benefits from those who have chosen to build a life here. Whether it is in hospitality, farming, social care, or university research and teaching, migrants have contributed so much.
This is critical, given Scotland’s decades of depopulation problems, which only ended with European freedom of movement and the expansion of the EU.
Devolving migration powers to Scotland is vital if we want to ensure our economy thrives and we can benefit from high quality services like the NHS. Current restrictions on overseas migration are already making things difficult. The expansion of these restrictions to European citizens would be disastrous.
We already know that devolved migration policies work in other countries. Spain, Australia, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, and many other countries all permit some level of regional control over aspects of migration. Quebec, for example, has extensive control over migration powers, including sole responsibility for establishing immigration levels to the province and selection.
Regional approaches to migration are not even unheard of within the UK. The Fresh Talent Working in Scotland scheme allowed international graduates of Scottish universities to stay for two years after graduation and work in Scotland. Unfortunately, this scheme was rolled up into broader UK migration policy in 2008 and then abolished altogether in 2012.
As other countries have demonstrated, the technical issues can be overcome. The only real barrier to devolving migration powers to Scotland is political will. The Scottish Greens and the SNP are in favour of devolving powers over migration, but it is really up to Labour and the Conservatives to agree to this at Westminster.
Until they do we will not stop making the case that Scotland can be a thriving, welcoming and internationalist country. We just need the tools to make it happen.
This article first appeared in The National.