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I will not take my full six minutes. I merely want to touch on two separate components of this Bill: the proposed employment levy on immigrant workers, and the availability of bank accounts and driving licences for failed immigration applicants.
I fear this Bill, and these particular sections, will only fuel the misconceptions that surround immigration. They risk tarring every immigrant with the same ill-informed brush. Worse still, they risk disfranchising many UK citizens, purely on the basis that they may have a foreign- sounding name, a bank account and, heaven forbid, a driving licence and a car. This, of course, may not be the intention of the Bill—I hope it is not—but it is the unintended consequences which concern me, and we in this place should be alive to them.
This Bill creates powers to impose an immigration skills charge on employers for skilled workers they sponsor from outside the EU. I would prefer to call it the “immigrant tax” to be paid by small and medium-sized enterprises, a potentially devastating combination. This provision will deter employers from employing people from outside the EU. We will see genuinely skilled migrants, many of whom might even have a world-class education from one of our universities in the UK or Scotland, slip through our fingers. The message it sends out is clear: immigrants are considered different, more expensive—unwanted. It flies in the face of substantial empirical and personal evidence which outlines the greatly positive fiscal and social contribution immigrants have made to the UK—it is not, as the Home Secretary said at the weekend, close to zero.
I fear we would not have an NHS had this policy been implemented a generation ago. What will the next generation look like? This is unacceptable at a time when the country as a whole should be tasked with innovating and expanding its ambitions. We can only do this if we welcome thinkers and innovators from outside our shores, as well as supporting those inside them.