Catholic Bishops from Scotland and England & Wales have urged the government to rethink its latest Immigration Bill amendments, noting that the new measures"will drastically alter people's opportunities to build their lives here and contribute to society."
The new points-based immigration system will include an income threshold to stop certain "low-skill" immigrants from reaching the UK for work. Home Secretary Priti Patel insists that the government's plans will lead to a "high-skill" economy that "will attract people we need to drive our country through the recovery stage of coronavirus."
The Conservatives announced the new amendments, which are currently being considered by parliament, with a clear message. They wrote: "We're ending freedom of movement - giving the UK full control of our immigration system for the first time in decades, and delivering on your vote."
We're ending free movement to open Britain up to the world.
In response, the Catholic Bishops called for a time limit on detention, noting that "a significant permanent reduction in the use of detention will allow us to properly protect people's health and human dignity." They also propose that the minimum income threshold for family visas should be reduced and for repeal of the offence of illegal working, since "fear of prosecution currently deters people from escaping abusive employment practices or presenting themselves to the police."
The Bishops also raised concern that the minimum income threshold for family visas "unjustly separates" tens of thousands of couples, parents and children, and that the abrupt end of free movement within the EU "will result in even more families being kept apart by this policy."
They added: "Some key workers who have played a vital role during the COVID-19 pandemic are among those who cannot be reunited with their families because they do not meet the minimum income threshold. This separation not only has serious implications on family life, but also has a direct impact on the development and wellbeing of children who are isolated from their parents in another country."
Scotland's lead Bishop for migrants and refugees, Bishop William Nolan, said:
"Most Catholic dioceses previously used Tier 5 Religious Worker visas for priests to come here on essential supply placements, allowing Catholics to continue attending Mass, the new Tier 2 visas have more than doubled the costs incurred by parishes arranging supply cover
"Furthermore, seminaries that conduct formation in English are not necessarily recognised by the Home Office as meeting the English language requirement under the Tier 2 route, meaning that many priests who have been educated to post-graduate level in English are nevertheless required to take a language test with extra logistical and cost implications."
Bishop William concluded: "We strongly urge the Government to accept amendments addressing these important issues and hope that MPs from all parties will take this opportunity to help create a more just and humane immigration system."
In a statement given to Premier, a Home Office spokesperson said: “This is a once in a generation opportunity to build a better future in which the UK has the skills so that our economy thrives after coronavirus. Change is vital if we are to deliver a high-skill, high-wage and high productivity economy.
“We continue to welcome Ministers of Religion of all faiths to the UK though our Ministers of Religion visa category.”