KEEPING CITIZENSHIP JUST OUT OF REACH
Female, non-white or disabled? Then you can forget becoming a British citizen – a new bill gives you little chance…
If you’re a migrant and you happen also to be either female, not white or disabled, then the government’s message in its new citizenship bill is simply; you need not apply.
Due for a second reading in the House of Commons today, the borders, citizenship and immigration bill sets out just who the UK will in future regard as British citizens enjoying full rights of membership, including the right of abode, unrestricted access to the labour market/welfare state and the right to vote – together with new the route for securing this.
So who’s in and who’s out then? Well, if you’re a migrant and also either female, not white or disabled, while there’s nothing technically stopping you from making an application for citizenship, your chances of success will be greatly diminished for two reasons; firstly the bill introduces for migrant workers who have worked in the UK for several years, and are already required to be in work, an additional requirement to show that for a further period ordinarily lasting three years they have been not just in employment but in uninterrupted continuous employment. Secondly, there’s to be a new mechanism through which migrants will be able to reduce the extended timeframes for securing citizenship – unpaid community service. The detail surrounding this is fuzzy; however, there is a suggestion that there will be no cap on the time migrants are required to devote to this, with the question initially instead being left to the individual for whom one happens to undertake the free labour.
It’s no secret that women, the disabled and non-white employees tend to be particularly vulnerable to discrimination in the labour market. Indeed, what is now the Equality and Human Rights Commission previously estimated that every year about 30,000 women are pushed out of work on account of pregnancy alone. It’s also far from controversial that on average these groups tend also to be disproportionately located in insecure employment, earn less and experience higher rates of economic inactivity than their counterparts. And as liberated as we are, the reality is that women still overwhelmingly assume child and other caring responsibilities, which necessitates both time out of the labour market and responsibilities well after most men clock off from work. It doesn’t therefore take the likes of Gail Trimble to figure how this will work in practice.
The government asserts that the discretionary powers in the bill to overlook brief periods of unemployment and treat certain prescribed individuals as though they meet the community service requirements is sufficient to deal with concerns. But the limited circumstances in which it has committed to employing this power, together with the lack of commitment to undertake to meet basic associated costs of “community service” such as childcare costs, means that these measures will be woefully inadequate in addressing these concerns.
It’s also plain to see that these measures have an even more corrosive dimension to them. Indeed employers and other recipients of “community service” are to be given nothing less than carte blanche to exploit and discriminate against migrant workers with particularly acute effects for those above. Thus the female migrant worker who is sexually harassed by her employer, demoted for “poor performance” following her rejection of his advances and unable to locate alternative employment in an often restricted labour market will find herself between a rock and a hard place. If she takes legal action against her employer, or leaves without finding another job, the ultimate result may well be denial of citizenship and her removal from the UK, given that there is a real risk that she will not be treated as having fulfilled the “continuous employment” requirement.
Inevitably, the response of some will simply be to stick out ill-treatment until they secure citizenship. Others may take the plunge but suspend their lives, and carry with them for years on end the anxiety and insecurity generated by the knowledge that after several years of contributing to the British economy, building lives and family ties here and (according to the government’s own green paper) actually subsidising the host community’s use of the welfare state, nothing more than a set of removal directions awaits them at the conclusion of their journey to British citizenship.
An innovative, liberal tool destined to bring about integration and promote civic participation, or yet another regrettable chapter in the ignominious history of British nationality law? Let’s see what the House of Commons thinks…