The first goal that the government of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rushed to define for the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union is its planned treatment of European immigrants, which is based on rules of an illiberal and almost contemptuous nature.
Johnson wants Brexit to give way to a privileged relationship with Europe, but only when it comes to goods and the market, while ignoring people.
The points-based system that London wants to introduce for these workers seeks to classify them into castes, and if it had been applied earlier, it would have meant doing without 70% of current European residents in the United Kingdom.
Applicants will have to produce a job offer, earn around €30,000 a year and demonstrate proficiency in English. They will also have to pay €500 a year to have access to public healthcare – as though it were a private system – and will not be able to claim benefits until they have lived in the UK for five years.
Deep down, the system that the British prime minister wants to introduce harks back to the days of selective suffrage when only registered property-owning individuals had the right to vote. These days, the list would be made up of graduates with savings.
The supposed economic justification for this form of discrimination rests on false assumptions. It is not true that society only benefits from immigration that is adjusted to the foreseeable needs for professionals in the national economy.
Scientific studies, especially by British and German scholars, show that it is immigration as a whole, and not just its most qualified parts, that brings a positive balance to the host country. These studies also show that it is not possible to analyze the immigration balance exclusively from the perspective of labor, as it involves many other commercial, strategic and financial factors.
To limit workers’ access to one’s own market while demanding infinite space for the movement of capital and services implies an asymmetrical relation that puts people in a humiliating position. From a broad cultural, human and labor perspective, migration is a very sensitive issue and it should be handled delicately, without excluding incentives for those who meet urgent labor market needs, but treating the latter as complementary elements.
In a space that offers a single market and free movement of capital, the priority, as much as possible, should be the free movement of people. Democratic, social liberalism is based on the principle that the market is there to serve the people. Not the other way around.
English version by Susana Urra.