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The general election manifestos on immigration and asylum, compared


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What will the government formed after Thursday’s general election do with the UK immigration system? The three main political parties — those that have been in government before and might be again — have all published manifestos addressing immigration and asylum. Below is a table showing how the manifestos compare in 11 areas, from Brexit to asylum.

All parties promise a more humane immigration system overall. Labour and the Liberal Democrats follow through on that ambition with specifics: an end to the “hostile environment” system of in-country immigration checks and reforms to immigration detention. The Conservatives, by contrast, talk only vaguely about a “more fair and compassionate” system in light of the horrors of Windrush.

In other areas, the Conservatives do not even offer platitudes: where Labour and (especially) the Liberal Democrats have a shopping list of changes to family immigration, refugee rights and the EU Settlement Scheme, the Conservatives either ignore the issue or propose the status quo. The governing party has only one big idea — ending free movement from the EU. The Liberal Democrats stand out for their unequivocal support for free movement, while under Labour the issue would be a matter for negotiation with the EU and a second Brexit referendum.

Housekeeping: these tables don’t always work on mobile, sorry — try desktop if it’s not viewable on your phone.

 ConservativeLabourLiberal Democrat
EU free movementEnd free movement; EU citizens and non-EU citizens treated the same; no access to benefits for five years.If we stay in the EU, keep free movement. If we leave, it will be “subject to negotiations, but… we will seek to protect those rights”.Stop Brexit, keep free movement.
Existing EU residentsEU Settlement Scheme is enough.Replace EU Settlement Scheme with automatic grant of rights.Stop Brexit, keep free movement.
Workers“Australian-style points based system”; most people will (as with non-EU workers today) need a job offer.“Our work visa system must fill any skills or labour shortages that arise”.“Replace Tier 2 work visas with a more flexible merit-based system”; move decisions from Home Office to Department for Business.
StudentsBring back the two-year post study visa.Not addressed.Bring back the two-year post study visa.
FeesIncrease the NHS surcharge (to at least £625 a year).Not addressed in main manifesto, but bonus Race and Faith manifesto promises to lower all Home Office fees to match the administrative cost (a massive reduction in most cases).Reduce child registration fee from £1,012 to cost (currently £372).
EnforcementMake the immigration system “more fair and compassionate”End the hostile environment, specifically by scrapping the Immigration Act 2014 and Right to Rent checks.End the hostile environment; “firewall” to prevent data sharing with the Home Office.
Family immigrationNot addressed.Scrap the minimum income requirement; “end the deportation of family members of people entitled to be here”.Scrap the minimum income requirement.
DetentionNot addressed.Close two out of nine detention centres; unspecified time limit on detention.Close seven out of nine detention centres; 28-day limit on detention; “make immigration detention an absolute last resort”.
Human rights“Update the Human Rights Act”; set up Constitution; Democracy & Rights Commission to review human rights and judicial review.Keep Human Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights.Keep Human Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights.
Borders“Keep track of who is coming in and out of our country.”

“Review our border controls to make them more effective”.

Spend more money on border guards and tech.
RefugeesContinue to accept refugees (as required by international law), but “with the ultimate aim of helping them to return home if it is safe to do so”.Continue to accept refugees (as required by international law) and “establish safe and legal routes for asylum seekers”; give asylum seekers the right to work and access to public services.Resettle 10,000 refugees and 1,000 refugee children from Europe a year; right to work after three months; increase move-on period from asylum accommodation to 60 days; “expand family reunion rights”; move asylum policy from Home Office to International Development; quite a bit more.


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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.