MRN expresses concerned over Labour’s stand on immigration

`Worrying signs Labour will support measures to reduce migration’ 5th October 2010: The Migrants’ Rights Network has expressed concerned over Labour’s stand on immigration.
It has asserted: There are worrying signs that Labour will support measures to reduce migration for settlement from its position on the opposition benches. We need to think about ways to challenge this if it is confirmed as policy.

The assertion came soon after head of the opposition Labour Party Ed Miliband, in his debut address, said the party was wrong on mass immigration. Miliband said his answer to immigration was not a cap, but less flexible labour markets and stronger workers’ rights.

The MRN said Labour conference in Manchester week was an opportunity to sniff out moods amongst constituency activists and the political worthies on how the party is likely to shape up on the issue of immigration during what might be a long period on the opposition benches.

“Despite the fact that the New Labour government’s inadequacies on migration have been held by so many as one of the principal reasons for its election defeat, discussion on the conference floor was virtually non-existent. 

“GMB equalities officer, Kameljeet Jandu, intervened on one occasion to urge conference delegates to address the issues raised by migration from more progressive standpoint”.

MRN said Milliband’s first speech to Labour in his new role did contain references to immigration.  During a passage in his hour-long address he said, “We need to learn some painful truths about where we went wrong and how we lost touch… We have to understand why people felt they couldn’t support us. We have to show we understand the problems people face today” 

Discussion on the conference fringe looked a little further into the detail of what this might mean.  Three meetings, organised respectively by the GMB, the Refugee Council and Voluntary Services Overseas, and covered immigration topics, and all had the former immigration minister, Phil Woolas, on their platforms.

“In Woolas’s view, the status of ‘indefinite leave to remain (ILR)’ – or settlement – is wrong – and needs to be brought to an end.  The distinction between those whose migration route leads to permanent settlement should be emphasised and maintained in law and policy.

“This might be an important straw in the wind showing how Labour might square up to immigration during its period in opposition.  The coalition’s immigration minister, Damian Green, has similarly expressed an eagerness to bear down on the numbers of immigration routes which potentially lead to permanent stay, with students and some categories of migrant workers being in the immediate firing line.

“It remains to be seen whether Woolas’s analysis will retain any influence over the thinking of Labour under Milliband’s leadership, but the absence of perspectives from other parts of the party which suggest a challenge to this approach must be considered worrying.

“If the Labour opposition does adopt this approach it is likely that they will not mount any sort of resistance to the plans which the coalition seems to be developing to clamp down on migration for settlement.  This would be a big mistake.  The existence of the status of ILR has been an important and positive feature of UK immigration policy for many decades.  It has allowed immigrant communities to reach a place of comparative security with regard to status and has allowed them to plan for the medium and longer term futures.

“The ending of ILR and the closure of routes to settlement would increase the levels of insecurity which generate a range of hazards for migrants, exposing them to longer periods of hardship and the risk of exploitation in the sectors of the economy where they are confined for work opportunities.  The position of the Labour opposition’s front bench will have to be watched very closely in the coming weeks to see if there is any sign of it tracking in this dangerous direction, MRN said.

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