COVID-19: France Offers Frontline Immigrant Workers Citizenship
We all know that immigrants to the UK play a vital role in ensuring the continuing functioning of our economy, including in the areas of hospitality, retail, agriculture, manufacturing, and healthcare. According to a research briefing written for the House of Commons Library in 2020, of every 1,000 NHS staff in England, 55 are from the European Union (this may reduce from 2021 onwards), 52 are from a country in Asia, 22 are from Africa, and nine come from another country.
Migrants from India represent the largest nationality of NHS workers (26,000 workers), followed by nationals of the Philippines (over 22,000), and then Ireland (over 13,000). Recognising the importance of migrant healthcare workers in the UK, the Home Office has put in place specific measures including a COVID-19 concession providing a visa extension until the end of March 2021, and the provision of the health and care visa. They have not, however, gone as far as France, which has recently stated that it will offer citizenship to frontline migrant workers in return for their service to the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this article, we will discuss the offer by the French Government to fast-track citizenship for frontline migrant workers.
Acknowledging The Sacrifice Made By Migrant Workers During The Pandemic
At the best of times, migrant workers from other countries play such an essential role in keeping the cogs of our economy turning; not just in the UK but around the world. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, their work has taken on a new level of importance and dedication to the respective country in which they are chosen to offer their valuable services. Ultimately, working on the frontline of the economy during a virus pandemic poses a risk to the personal health of workers, from the perspective of potentially contracting the virus, but also the physical and mental stress of being in often stretched and stressed working environments. Indeed, it may be argued that acknowledging the service of migrant workers on the COVID-19 frontline in the form of citizenship is ultimately the least we can do. What France has done is particularly interesting in that they are not just rewarding migrant workers in specialist professions, such as doctors, but they include lower-skilled roles such as shop workers and cleaners.
The press release published on 22nd December 2020 by the French interior ministry stated (as translated from French to English), “In accordance with the commitment made by Madame Marlène Schiappa, Minister Delegate to the Minister of the Interior, responsible for citizenship, to facilitate the naturalisation of foreign workers on the front line in the face of the health crisis, 2,890 applications were submitted to the prefecture across the country. The files are currently under review. Health professionals, housekeepers, childcare, cashiers… They have proven their attachment to the nation, it is now up to the Republic to take a step towards them”.
To date, around 700 people are in the process of securing citizenship, and 74 have already received a positive decision on their application.
Rather than waiting for five years to be eligible to acquire French citizenship, eligible migrant workers will be able to do so after only two years. Retaining migrant workers is increasingly key especially in countries such as France, which has seen an overall reduction in the number of people applying for citizenship (the number of migrants granted naturalisation in France dropped by 10% from 2018 to 2019). This may, in part, be due to the fact that the application process was slow and complex.
Should The UK Follow Suit And Offer Accelerated Citizenship?
There is little doubt that we appreciate the service and sacrifice of front line workers, keeping our vital systems and economy ticking over during the ongoing pandemic. The clapping which NHS workers received each week was one simple way in which we showed our appreciation. The Scottish Government even paid a £500 bonus to NHS health and social care workers. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, stated, “I can announce today that, on behalf of us all, the Scottish Government will give every full-time NHS and social care worker £500 as a one-off thank you payment for their extraordinary service in this toughest of years.
Those who work part-time will get a proportionate share. The money will be paid in this financial year, and it will be separate from any negotiations about pay for the longer term. There are no strings attached. Of course, a payment like this can never come close to expressing our full admiration for those who have cared for us so heroically. But to our health and care workers, it is a demonstration of what we collectively owe you - and a heartfelt thank you for the sacrifices you have made”.
Research by Bright Blue, an independent think tank found that a majority of the British people believe that it is important for immigrants living permanently in the UK to become citizens (60%), that this should be accelerated for COVID-19 key workers, and that the application process should be cheaper. Like the French Government, Bright Blue also believe that “the Government should shorten the settlement requirements for all non-citizen COVID-19 key workers to two rather than five years, significantly reduce their residency fee by at least 75% and waive their citizenship application fee”.
While clapping and offering a small bonus is beneficial, it falls far short of offering a faster route to citizenship for migrant workers and their family members; a view which is likely to be echoed by the majority of the British population going by Bright Blue’s research.
Quite whether the British Government and Home Office move to provide a similar concession to migrant workers who have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic remains to be seen. Doing so is not just about saying “thank you”, but it is also about attracting migrant workers to come to the UK and showing that we care about and notice their hard work and sacrifice.
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