The Home Office has recently announced a new decision to 'fast track' the visa processes for winners of a select choice of coveted arts awards who are wishing to enter the UK.
The new plans have been announced in part to attract the "best and brightest" talent from around the world, especially after the damage that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused to the UK's entertainment industry. Amongst the coveted awards are select categories from the Oscars, Grammys, Brits, Baftas, Golden Globes, the Nobel Prize and more. The full list can be found on the Home Office website, and has been said to be in constant review.
The fast-track visas will allow such artists to live and work in the UK with relative ease, giving them 'leave to remain' status, as they are deemed as 'highly skilled' under the new point-based immigration reforms. Previously, the visa process for such individuals was known as the 'Global Talent Route'. Through this, artists and producers had to receive an endorsement from one of six regulatory bodies. However, with the new visa, this element has been removed.
The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, speaking on the new visa has said that such recipients have "reached the pinnacle of their career" and have "so much to offer the UK". She said, "this is exactly what our new point-based immigration system was designed for – attracting the best and brightest based on the skills and talent they have, not where they've come from". Importantly, she has stated that "at the heart of our new plan for immigration is a simple principle – fairness".
It cannot be disputed that this move is a win for the entertainment industry, who suffered great losses during the recent pandemic. The ability to fast track visas will attract new production bodies, artists and creatives to enter the UK for a wide range of activities such as filming, press tours and teaching.
However, attention has to be drawn to the discriminatory nature of such a fast-track process. The comments made by Priti Patel are dangerous and reinforce negative stereotypes that a migrant's worth is determined by skill levels or "talent". As Patel has correctly stated, these individuals are at the pinnacle of their careers. She fails to acknowledge the role that nepotism, white privilege and wealth have played for a large amount of coveted award winners in giving them access routes and the opportunity to hone their talents and utilise them to reach the positions they have.
For many migrants, they do not share the same experiences due to discrimination which limits employment and education opportunities that may give them access to using their talents. They must face long and difficult pathways to simply achieve 'leave to remain status', never mind the decade long process of receiving citizenship. When Priti Patel speaks of "fairness", she does speak for equality for all. In the framing of the entertainment industry and their losses of the past 18 months, it seems fair to offer them this reward. Broaden that framing to all migrants, and it becomes clear that such a reward becomes discriminatory, unjust and reserved for the elite.
These views are shared by UK migrant charity, JCWI, who have stated that the new visa "discriminates against working-class migrants". Campaigns Director for the charity, Minnie Rahman, argues that the "new 'award winners' visa route exemplifies that the so-called 'points-based system' is no more than a two-tier immigration system designed to discriminate against the working class. Many of the migrants deemed 'low-skilled' by this government were the same people that kept us going during the pandemic". JCWI has called on the government to create an "immigration system that values all migrants equally, instead of creating distinctions based on wealth or status".
It is policies such as these which are complex, as it is not inherently wrong for the fast-track visas to be granted to the entertainment industry. However, to frame them under the motive of "fairness" is cruel to migrants that have had their dreams destroyed, put on hold and stalled due to a hostile immigration system that is designed to make life hard for them. This government must be pressured to change the points-based immigration system to ensure that all migrants within the UK are protected and given the opportunities to access and utilise their talents, regardless of their wealth, class, race or privilege of opportunity.