Unease in London over May's plans on immigration

Foreigners enjoying the beach in Clacton-on-Sea, a town in eastern England. British Prime Minister Theresa May has interpreted Britain's 52 per cent to 48 per cent referendum outcome as an anti-immigration message that gives her a mandate to enact st
Foreigners enjoying the beach in Clacton-on-Sea, a town in eastern England. British Prime Minister Theresa May has interpreted Britain's 52 per cent to 48 per cent referendum outcome as an anti-immigration message that gives her a mandate to enact stringent measures to cut down on the numbers coming into the country.PHOTO: REUTERS

Foreigners reeling from proposal to force firms to reveal number of non-British staff

LONDON • If British Prime Minister Theresa May gets her way on immigration, Mr Victor Villar might just leave London.

The 31-year-old Mexican portfolio analytics consultant is among the many foreigners in the city who are reeling from the government's proposal to force companies to reveal how many non- British workers they hire as a way to push them to put natives first.

"If things get worse because they approve some anti-immigrant policies in Parliament, I would definitely consider a job in the United States or somewhere else," Mr Villar, who has been living in the British capital for 21/2 years, said in an interview.

Mrs May's plan is "like shooting yourself in your own foot because many people who come to work here are skilled workers with graduate degrees", he added.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd this week proposed to punish banks and landlords who fail to make checks on foreigners doing business with them.

She also announced major new restrictions on overseas students, who account for 167,000 of the 600,000 new migrants each year. The plans include a multi-tiered student visa system, under which rights to bring in families and their right to work, to go on to post-study jobs or to come without passing an English language test would be tied to the quality of the course and the university involved. This would affect students enrolling in poorer quality universities and courses.

These are part of the government's strategy to address public concerns about immigration that were laid bare by Britain's vote to quit the European Union.

A YouGov poll on Wednesday of 5,875 adults found that 59 per cent support those policies, showing that Ms Rudd and Mrs May are in tune with voters.

That is of little comfort to the swathes of foreign-born Londoners, many of whom have become naturalised British citizens. For some, there are parallels with pre-World War II Germany.

LBC radio host James O'Brien touched a nerve when he read passages of Adolf Hitler's autobiography that had echoes in the Home Office proposals.

"If you are going to have a sharp line of distinction between people born here and people who just work here, you are enacting chapter two of Mein Kampf," he said.

From Brexit to the rise of US anti-migrant presidential nominee Donald Trump, populism in Western democracies is threatening to do away with a post-war political order and usher into power a new brand of leadership willing to crack down on immigration and revert to isolationist policies.

Economic hardship has turned voters against beliefs that open borders, tariff-free trade and greater integration would narrow income inequality and bring about greater well-being.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond has dismissed mounting speculation that the British government is turning anti-business as it prepares to leave the EU.

In a Bloomberg Television interview on Thursday during his first trip to New York's Wall Street as finance minister, Mr Hammond said Mrs May's administration is not pursuing a so-called hard Brexit; instead, it recognises the value of the country's finance industry and will continue to welcome high- skilled foreigners.

But he added: "We have to recognise that part of the mood in Britain that drove the referendum decision is a mood about pressure on wages on entry-level jobs from high-level immigration."

After triggering an uproar, Ms Rudd walked back some of her comments by stressing that the listing of foreign workers is only a proposal that would be part of a wider review of immigration regulations.

Nevertheless, it is clear that Mrs May has interpreted Britain's 52 per cent to 48 per cent referendum outcome as an anti-immigration message that gives her a mandate to bring in stringent measures to cut down on the numbers coming into the country. She aims to cut net annual immigration to below 100,000, from more than 300,000 currently. 

BLOOMBERG, GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline 'Unease in London over May's plans on immigration'. Print Edition | Subscribe