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2019 UK General Election and immigration: party manifestos explained

Written by Marta Foresti


Immigration remains a polarising issue politically, sitting at the heart of debates about British identity, and the UK’s role globally. Yet since the 2016 EU referendum, the salience of immigration as a policy issue has dropped, as highlighted in ODI’s recent profile of public narratives and immigration in the UK.  

With Brexit still occupying the number one spot on the political agenda ahead of upcoming UK General Election on 12 December, it should come as no surprise that all major party immigration policies are shaped by their stance on EU membership. They are also all committed to learn from past mistakes, from the Windrush scandal to failing to deliver on net immigration targets.  

Where the policies do differ though is in relation to what a fit for purpose immigration system should look like to sustain the NHS, to attract talent to the British economy or to secure fair treatments in the workplace.   

So is the end of the ‘hostile environment’ in sight? With all major parties now having released their manifestos, Marta Foresti, Director of ODI’s Human Mobility Initiative, shares her take (via Twitter) on how each party's proposals on immigration stack up:  

Frequently asked questions

The Conservative Party

(1) The #ConservativeManifesto on #immigration* End of #freedomofmovement: equal treatment of #EU and non EU #immigrants* Attract high skilled #migrants through Australian-style points-based system* Contributions to #NHS and other services #GE2019https://t.co/RYBQc0iAw7— Marta Foresti (@martaforesti) November 24, 2019(3) A departure from #hostileenvironment: 'Our society has been enriched by #immigration and we will always recognise the contribution of those who have helped build our public services'Yet proposals will make it harder for #migrants to access and contribute to services:— Marta Foresti (@martaforesti) November 24, 2019(5) All in all, a departure from irrational targets and vile anti- immigration rhetoric (which still features in the campaign though). The multiple failures of the #hostileenvironment and #Windrush scandal have changed the tune. Yet,it is not quite enough https://t.co/jmcTUe0LFM— Marta Foresti (@martaforesti) November 25, 2019(7) On #refugees: the #UK will continue to grant #asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution, but with the aim of “helping them to return home if it is safe to do so”. A somewhat mixed messageUseful @colinyeo overview of #ConservativeManifesto https://t.co/enyfM460Kg— Marta Foresti (@martaforesti) November 25, 2019

Frequently asked questions

The Labour Party

THREAD (last today)-What do political parties’ manifestos for #GeneralElection2019 say about #immigration and #asylum? @UKLabour also wants to end #HostileEnvironment, does half u-turn on #FreedomOfMovement, has a vision but limited offers #LabourManifesto https://t.co/o8hsqzrkfm— Marta Foresti (@martaforesti) November 21, 2019(3) The vision: 'Our immigration system must allow us to recruit the people we need, and to welcome them and their families. Our work visa system must fill any skills or labour shortages that arise. The movement of people around the world has enriched our society/economy/culture'— Marta Foresti (@martaforesti) November 21, 2019(5) A concrete commitment to close #YarlsWood and #BrookHouse, and put savings in £20M fund to support the survivors of modern slavery, people trafficking and domestic violence'This video was more radical and certainly clearer than the #LabourManifesto https://t.co/LzVbGzrhV5— Marta Foresti (@martaforesti) November 21, 2019

Frequently asked questions

Liberal Democrats

(2) the most interesting proposals are on skills and jobs: ‘Move policymaking on work permits and student visas out of the Home Office and into the Departments for Business and Education respectively, and establish a new arms-length non-political agency to take over applications’— Marta Foresti (@martaforesti) November 21, 2019(4) But: they fall short to recognise that #immigration not just a matter of domestic affairs and legislation, and requires international cooperation as recently recommended by @CommonsForeign. So where are @foreignoffice and @DFID_UK in #LibDemManifesto? https://t.co/nC4dHeCfLw https://t.co/MXMQDE3Fbr— Marta Foresti (@martaforesti) November 21, 2019(6) All in all: balanced and interesting proposals aiming to redress #HostileEnvironment by limiting #HomeOffice powers. Not enough on reducing irregular #migration through #legalpathways. More on what British voters want in this @ODIdev brief #GE2019 https://t.co/g1IhUPlI3Y— Marta Foresti (@martaforesti) November 21, 2019

Frequently asked questions

The Green Party

(2) Overall theme is end of #HostileEnvironment and call for a humane approach to #immigration and #asylum, by closing detention centres and immediate suspension of #deportation flights. But details of proactive/concrete and systemic policies thin on ground— Marta Foresti (@martaforesti) November 21, 2019(4) Biggest disappointment is no mention of #humanmobility and #migrant workers in their #GreenNewDeal - it recognises need for new #skills to support low carbon transitions, but where will workers be coming from, and how? No mention of #legalpathways #GeneralElection2019— Marta Foresti (@martaforesti) November 21, 2019

Frequently asked questions

Scottish National Party

(2) The @theSNP wants a Scottish needs based #migration System for growing its population, to avoid sending working-age population into decline, threatening tax revenues and serious staffing shortages in #NHS, care services and tourism, agriculture and construction. But.....— Marta Foresti (@martaforesti) November 27, 2019 (4) All in all a pretty distinct and pragmatic approach:#migration tailored to needs of local economy and communities-recognising the benefits it brings to ageing societies and the shortcomings of one size fits all national policies #SNPmanifesto @theSNP #GeneralElection2019 2019— Marta Foresti (@martaforesti) November 27, 2019