WBG statement on Immigration Reform: Discrimination by Design

Date Posted: Wednesday 19th February 2020

The immigration system proposed today[1] by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, would explicitly discriminate against migrant women, undermine our public services and threaten gender equality.

14% of the UK population (or 9.3 million people) was born abroad.  UK society, economy and culture has benefitted and continues to benefit from migration.

As our forthcoming report on migrant women in the UK will show, the immigration system has always had strongly gendered impacts because of the different situation of women in the economy and society. These proposed rules will impact differently on migrant women and men because of gendered patterns of employment, earnings and educational qualifications.

Impact on migrant women

The Government’s proposals privilege occupations in which women are underrepresented and are likely to mean that migrant women will find it harder  than migrant men to reach the 70-point threshold.

The Government’s  commitment to “give top priority to those with the highest skills and the greatest talents: scientists, engineers, academics and other highly-skilled worker” as well as STEM graduates, will have a gendered impact as a result of the  extreme gender disparities in these occupations: for example just 12% of those working in engineering are women.

When it comes to qualifications, PhDs in STEM are worth double the number of transferable points as other PhDs. According to global data, UK universities award an average of 45% of their PhDs to women and 55% to men with this inequality widening for Science and Engineering PhDs (40% awarded to women and 60% awarded to men) and even more for Maths and Computer Science where men are awarded 71% of PhDs compared with 21% for women.

The prioritisation of STEM not only disadvantages women, it also fails to acknowledge the extraordinary value and high-skilled work done by people (mainly women) in caring occupations such as nurses, midwives, carers and carers. Many of these occupations starting salaries fall beneath the salary threshold or, operate on zero-hour contracts or on a precarious basis. They may also not require applicants to have A Level or above qualification (which the new scheme would.)

For example, 24% of carers are on zero-hour contracts so it is nearly impossible to predict their annual salary. For those working set hours , average starting salaries fall between £16,000 and £19,500 which falls beneath the government’s minimum transferable threshold.

Although these jobs are low paid, they are not low skilled; and they are vital for the wellbeing of society and the economy.

There is an acknowledgement by the Government that “NHS workers” – 77% of whom are women – ought to also be priority given the shortages in the service but this will not cover care workers including those in social care and childcare who do not work for the NHS.

Impact on gender equality in the UK

Women are four times more likely than men to leave the paid workplace to care. This is one of the root causes of the gender pay gap and gender inequality.

The care system in the UK is already under huge amounts of pressure with 1 in 8 people over the age of 65 having unmet care needs due to shortages and precarity of home care and residential workers; only 57% of local authorities in England have enough childcare for parents who work full-time and; 40,000 nursing vacancies. The care system is reliant on labour from abroad, stopping this will result in further service shortages which will see women leave the paid workplace to care.

Although the Government has said “the MAC [Migration Advisory Committee] will be commissioned to produce a shortage occupation list covering all jobs encompassed by the skilled worker route and to keep the list under regular review” and it has been suggested that nursing will fall into this category, there is no assurance that this system does not further threaten the wider care sector which is made up of millions of high-skilled workers.

Impact on the economy

Already the Director of the CBI has expressed concerns about the impact of this system on business and industry in the UK especially industries employing disproportionate numbers of women including hospitality and social care.

The Home Secretary has suggested that there 8.5 million “economically inactive” people in the UK who can help to fill these staffing gaps. This fails to acknowledge that many of these people are women already undertaking unpaid care work which is at the bedrock of our economy. Many others are disabled or students unable to participate in the paid economy.

Overall, the proposed system is a threat to migrant women’s rights and gender equality in the UK. WBG hopes the Home Office will consider this analysis and review proposals made.

Public Sector Equality Duty

Under the Public Sector Equality Duty, contained in the 2010 Equality Act, the Government is obliged to have due regard to the impact of its policies on equality. The Government does not appear to have published an Equality Impact Assessment of its proposals meaning that it is impossible to tell whether it has met this obligation. We call on the Government to review these proposals.

[1] The 10 page document released by the Government overnight details proposals for a new points based system to replace Freedom of Movement in January 2021. 70 points will be needed to secure access to the UK. There are some non-transferable conditions including English speaking and a secured job offer and some transferable conditions including education status and salary band.

For more information contact/comment contact our Communications team on 07736658951.