When the UK's new government immigration policy was announced last week, the reaction from the British public, and the media, was mixed.
Those who supported leaving the European Union, especially on the grounds of immigration, were naturally delighted. This was, after all, what they voted for – taking back control of UK borders.
The response from businesses and industries, which are reliant on migrant workers, was rather different. Sectors such as hospitality and farming have long relied on European labour to fill roles that British citizens show no interest in filling.
The care industry in particular – which is already in crisis – is heavily staffed with qualified European carers. Industry leaders said that the new immigration rules could “spell absolute disaster” for the British care system.
European immigrants have often been blamed for low wages in Britain. This argument is used by those in favour of tighter restrictions, despite no supporting evidence.
The government and employers determine pay levels, rather than employees forced to accept lower wages. If those low wage levels were regarded as such an issue by the government, why has it done so little to resolve the problem during its 10 years in power?
Under the new Australian styled points-based system, new European migrants would have many more hurdles to overcome to live and work in the UK. The requirements include a minimum salary level of £25,600, minimum ‘A’-level qualifications, a job and a “required level” of English.
The new points system was unveiled by Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel (pictured above with Prime Minister Boris Johnson), Photo: AFP
Many British citizens living in the UK, and across Europe, are horrified by this new government approach to immigration. The hostile environment, encouraged by the Home Office, has already given licence to anti-immigrant sentiment and behaviour.
That atmosphere is already deterring Europeans from moving to the UK. The new immigration policy will only fuel feelings of being unwanted and unwelcome.
Brits living in the EU, while concerned for our European counterparts in the UK, are naturally worried about potential knock-on effects, should European countries choose to reciprocate.
For those already living in Spain, there’s a concern over official registration.
European citizens living in the UK have to apply for ‘settled status’, regardless of how long they have lived there. Rather than a simple registration system, they must apply to stay.
Too many applications have been rejected, or instead, a lower ‘pre-settled status’ has been granted. The UK government have also refused repeated calls to provide documentary evidence of an EU immigrant’s status, making it impossible for EU citizens to prove their legal right to stay when employers and landlords enquire.
Thankfully, in Spain, we are not being asked to apply for a status we already possess. Hopefully, we never will be.
For those considering moving to Spain, would they still do so if Spain chose to reciprocate regarding its own immigration policy?
If doors were closed to the self-employed in Spain, or there was a requirement to speak Spanish before being allowed entry, many would-be immigrants would have to reconsider their plans.
Thankfully the Spanish authorities have continued to be welcoming and supportive. The recent launch of the ‘060’ Brexit hotline is a good example.
Brits can call the helpline to ask Brexit-related queries – about healthcare, residency, driving licences etc. – and to choose Spanish or English responses. We can only hope that any helpline designed to support EU citizens in the UK has alternative language options to English, English or English.
Xenophobic attacks on EU citizens in the UK, who dare to speak with friends or family in their native language in public, are frightening and shameful. I have yet to hear of a single example of a British citizen in Spain being told to speak Spanish.
Of course it makes sense to learn English if you want to live and work in the UK, but the best way to learn is by being surrounded by the language and culture. Europeans wanting to improve their English in the future will likely head for Dublin, rather than London.
Naturally, there has been criticism of Brits living in Spain, in some cases for decades, making no effort to learn the language.
Whilst some Brits surround themselves with British neighbours, bars, pastimes and facilities, the majority want to integrate and get the most out of their surroundings.
My Spanish may not be perfect, but my efforts to improve it are rewarded with a richer experience of Spanish life, and a better understanding of the country I call home.
The UK is making European immigration more difficult and much less appealing and this is exactly what the Brexiters wanted.
The policy will make Britain poorer – not just economically but socially and culturally too. Europeans have helped shape British culture, making it more diverse, open and tolerant. Undoing all that growth and development seems a price that the government is willing to pay to “take back control”.
Let’s hope the Spanish government never decide to reciprocate.
By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain