A brief thought on migration and the hierarchy of privilege

Britain’s immigration laws intentionally create a kind of hierarchy of privilege, based on the accident of birth: with British citizens at the top, then EU nationals and their dependants, then foreign nationals who are “non-visa nationals” (mostly from affluent developed countries), and then, facing the greatest barriers to entry, foreign nationals who are “visa nationals” (mostly from developing and/or refugee-producing countries). Within this, the structure of the rules which apply to admission of non-EU migrants, through the “points-based system” for economic migration and through the stringent rules that now apply to family reunions, is carefully designed to privilege those who are wealthy and can pay their own way, while excluding poor people. Meanwhile, while Britain nominally adheres to its international treaty obligations, in practice the state seeks to deter people in need from coming here to claim asylum or humanitarian protection, both by making it as hard as possible for them to get here in the first place – through visa requirements, carrier sanctions and border policing – and by detaining them in hellhole “removal centres” and treating them with great cruelty once they arrive.

This isn’t an accidental feature of the system; it’s entirely by design. Given this, how can anyone deny that the system of immigration control is racist and classist? Discrimination isn’t an incidental or unforeseen effect of immigration control, it’s built into the fabric of the system at every level. It’s telling that the Equality Act contains an “immigration exception” explicitly allowing immigration authorities, unlike other public authorities, to discriminate on the basis of “ethnic and national origin” – otherwise the whole system of immigration control would have to be regarded as a breach of equality principles, as indeed, in a less awful world, it would be.

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