The triumph of “What’s in it for us?” immigration policy
Illustration by Isabelle Roughol

The triumph of “What’s in it for us?” immigration policy

"Let them pick fruit" is not a slip up. It's a philosophy.

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol

The tweet couldn’t have been more callous. It was promptly deleted. Pressed by Labour MP Luke Pollard to allow Ukrainians without family here to find safety in the UK, Immigration Minister Kevin Foster retorted that sufficient safe routes were already open to them — such as the seasonal worker scheme. Want to escape a war? Find fruit to pick in February.

Kevin Foster may have lacked tact, but he did not misunderstand or misrepresent the policies of his office. He only signalled the triumph – most evident in Britain but certainly not limited to it – of a consumerist attitude to immigration that demands every migrant justify his or her economic value to the country before being admitted.

This “what’s in it for us?” approach is evident in a new points-based system that values individuals according to the market’s demand for their skills; in minimum income requirements that keep the foreign spouses of working-class Britons at bay; in exorbitant Home Office fees and NHS surcharges; in No Recourse to Public Funds orders; in “best and brightest” visa programmes that set the bar for being worthy at a Nobel Prize. It’s evident in the very phrase “best and brightest.”

Bring all you’ve got, ask for nothing. The Global South is a giant temp agency and Britain gets to fill its vacant roles.

I could write reams – and I will one day when I’m not putting together a newsletter at 11 pm – about the flaws of a system that only values contributions with a £ sign already attached and can only ever spot achievements, not potential. But for now a cartoon will do.

Let them pick fruit.


On the pod

🚨 There's a breaking news episode in your Borderline podcast feed. I spoke yesterday to the ever generous Colin Yeo, immigration lawyer and founder of freemovement.org about the UK and EU's response to the refugee crisis brewing in Ukraine. Half a million people have already fled the country; there could be millions more.

“In no way, shape or form, can it possibly be said that the UK is at the forefront of protecting Ukrainian refugees.”

And in case you missed it...

which would be a shame, catch up on last week's episode with Michael Rain. We talked about the intersection of being Black and an immigrant and American; multiculturalism as a superpower; how humility doesn't serve us in the workplace and why US school lunches are so confusing.

From the archives

🤨 Curious about misguided "best and brightest" immigration policy and how that relates to Beyoncé and Nicholas Cage? Check out this bit of data reporting where I went through a boatload of Wikipedia articles to establish the super male, super white and super old list of people eligible for fast-track UK immigration.

Beyoncé, Nicolas Cage and the 1335 other people worthy of fast-track UK immigration
An immigration system that promises to reliably pick winners can only pick those who’ve already won.

Coming up

Just today, I recorded a chat with author Jon Alexander exploring the consumer v. citizen approach to the world. Definitely on my mind. I'm also gearing up for a chat with Sonita Gale, director of the excellent documentary Hostile in theatres now. (Yes, more hostile environment talk, I can't look away.) Then Thierry Cruvelier, whom I met years ago in Phnom Penh covering the Khmer Rouge tribunal, will talk us through the fascinating world of international justice. Our pre-call lasted over an hour and I just could not hang up it was so good. And in two weeks, I'm talking to American journalist and activist Jose Antonio Vargas, who ten years ago was one of the first to publicly reveal his undocumented status and has been an absolute inspiration every day since.

All this sounds good to you? Help me keep doing it by becoming a member and chipping £5 a month. Borderline is 100% conceived, produced, written and edited by me, and 100% funded and kept alive by people like you. I'll be very grateful for your support. Welcome and thank you this week to new member, Lisa Wyler!

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Journalist. Founder & host of Borderline. Former international editor of LinkedIn, foreign editor at Le Figaro, reporter at The Cambodia Daily. Global soul, messy accent.