19 May 2020

Immigration Bill: COVID-19 boosts public support for low-paid frontline workers

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New ICM opinion polling finds that the public feels that some lower-paid migrant workers doing ‘important jobs’ – including as care workers – should be exempt from the ‘salary threshold’ that forms part of new Government immigration rules debated this week as the Immigration Bill passes through Parliament.

Media contact:
Steve Ballinger
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steve@britishfuture.com

The Government has proposed a minimum salary threshold of £25,600 per year that migrants must earn in order to get a visa to work in the UK. This was revised down from an initial proposal of £30,000. The new ICM poll finds that 61% of the public agrees that “The Government should make some exceptions for people moving to the UK to do important jobs that need doing, such as nurses and care workers.” Just 26% of people agreed with an opposing statement that “The Government should set the salary threshold and not allow anyone to move to the UK to work on a lower salary, regardless of the job they are doing.”

Two-thirds of the public (64%) agree that “The coronavirus crisis has made me value the role of ‘low-skilled’ workers, in essential services such as care homes, transport and shops, more than before.” Just 9% disagree, according to the ICM research for British Future and the Policy Institute at Kings College London.

And 70% of people agree that “The coronavirus crisis shows how important a contribution immigration makes in staffing our essential services like the NHS,” with just 8% saying they disagree.

Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, said:

There is strong public recognition of the role played in the COVID-19 crisis by lower-paid frontline workers, including migrant workers in the NHS and beyond.

“So we may hear a more balanced tone in today’s parliamentary immigration debate as politicians catch up. Crude references to so-called ‘low-skilled’ migrants will sound out-of-step with voters.

“Much of this public support for migrant contribution, particularly for health and care workers, was already there before the pandemic. Attitudes to immigration have been getting more positive over recent years.

“The public are pragmatic about how to balance control and contribution. The Government will need to strike the right balance too – and accept that people’s value isn’t determined by their salary level.

Asked which jobs people should be allowed to move to the UK to do, on a salary of less than £25,600, most of the public (55%) support care workers being exempted from the salary threshold, with 59% saying the same for nurses.

Table: “Which of the following jobs, if any, do you think that people should be allowed to move to the UK to do, on a salary of less than £25,600 (using an exemption from the minimum salary threshold)?”

The findings are consistent with January ICM research published earlier this March in the report The reset moment: immigration in the new parliament by British Future and the Policy Institute at King’s College London. It found that the immigration debate had become less heated, with the issue no longer top-of-mind for most voters. Subsequent research has noted a further fall in the salience of immigration during the COVID-19 crisis.

Further findings from the ICM research will be released in a webinar in the coming weeks – check our events page for details.

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