Not even the most optimistic supporter of open borders believes that British public opinion will favour complete freedom of movement in the foreseeable future. But this doesn’t mean that UK advocates of a more pro-immigration agenda should focus entirely on changing broader societal attitudes. There are a number of high-impact liberal reforms to British immigration policy that are potentially feasible at a political level, and those who support freedom of movement should make their voices heard in support of them.
A one-off amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Just over a year ago, none other than Boris Johnson reiterated his previous calls for a one-off illegal immigration amnesty. Such a move would permit previously undocumented immigrants to participate in civil and economic life, allowing them to take advantage of legal protections that they currently lack and providing a boost to the Treasury via tax revenue. Whilst the amnesty may incentivise further illegal immigration, the extent of this ‘pull-factor’ can be limited by setting a suitable threshold for how long illegal immigrants will have to live in the UK in order to be protected by the amnesty.
Remove international students from the net migration target.
Conservative think-tank Bright Blue has repeatedly argued that the government should remove international students from the net migration target and even started a petition to demonstrate public support. Doing so would result in an influx of highly-skilled, extremely motivated wealth-creators. As the Adam Smith Institute’s Sam Bowman put it in City A.M.:
…scrapping the cap on student visas would revitalise the higher education sector, a strong export earner…less than a third of the public objects to highly skilled or student immigration…
Reintroduce the Post-Study Work Visa for postgraduates.
It’s not often that the National Union of Students concurs with a pro-business, anti-regulation organisation like The Entrepreneurs Network, yet this is precisely what has happened in their joint report on unlocking the door to international entrepreneurs. Amongst their recommendations, the reintroduction of the Post-Study Work Visa for postgraduates was described as a “vital policy”. Polling evidence suggests that the majority of the British public are in favour of this. After all, it seems intuitive to allow international postgraduates to contribute to the UK economy for a period of time following the cessation of studies.
Relax restrictions on spousal visas.
The Immigration Bill 2012 introduced a whole raft of nonsensical measures, one of the most wrongheaded being tighter restrictions on obtaining spousal visas. If you even want to apply for one, the minimum income needed is £18,600. Criticising this new system, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants highlighted its discriminatory nature:
Any income based assessment of this kind automatically discriminates against women, retired people, disabled people, the young and many minority ethnic people.
For a party that prides itself on supporting family life and fiscal responsibility, this Conservative policy breaks up thousands of families every year and costs the Treasury a surprisingly large amount.
If even one of these practical measures is adopted by the current government, the lives of immigrants and native Brits will be improved significantly. Let’s put them on the political radar.