Migrants and refugees hardly ever get to have a say on any policy that directly affects them. And so was the case last year when the UK Borders Agency decided to ‘consult’ on the policy that citizenship should be earned, or waiting time for settlement status shortened if new applicants volunteer. MRCF and a few other grassroots migrant and refugee groups had to muscle their way into the government consultation meeting. Once inside the meeting it soon became clear that no one in the government has any idea how the policy would work in practice, how much it would cost to administer and what the equalities implications would be for carers, the disabled, the elderly and families. It also became clear that no one in the government has the slightest idea about the voluntary work already done by new citizens, not because they have to but because they want to.
The scary part of all of this is that the entire policy was introduced as a knee jerk reaction to populist misconceptions about immigration policy. The then Prime Minister needed to sound tough on immigrants, so in addition to the points system, in addition to huge fees and in addition to incompetent bureaucracy that can hold migrants and refugees back from integrating for years, he announced that foreigners should do compulsory civic service to demonstrate that they belong here. Like one of our members from the Ukraine said – this reminds me of the Soviet Union.
More shockingly, it became clear that the government is completely clueless about the negative effect this policy might have on integration and social cohesion. Migrants and refugees already scapegoated and perceived as public enemy No 1, will now be perceived as cynically exploiting and abusing ‘our’ volunteering opportunities for personal gain.
In conversation with our members, many of them community volunteers themselves, we at the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum realised we had to do something and so we teamed up with the Migrant Rights’ Network. Together we did what the government should have done a long time ago. We asked the experts – migrant, refugee and British volunteers what they think about these proposals. And this report is their verdict on earned, active, probationary and compulsory volunteering for citizenship. In our report Should Citizenship Be Earned Through Compulsory Volunteering? Migrant and Refugee Voices on Volunteering for Citizenship Policy you will also find all you need to know about the government’s proposals and a summary of existing research about migrants and volunteering around Europe. All the volunteers we spoke to, migrants and British alike, had one clear message for the government on this policy – just drop it! Why? Because it is unworkable, expensive, discriminatory, unnecessary and damaging to volunteering, to migrants and to our society.
We are asking you to read this report, listen to what we have to say and act to help us bring about positive change. It is time to think about and act on immigration responsibly. We can no longer afford gimmicks that are aimed at pleasing people with prejudices or perceptions based on misinformation. To read full report please download pdf. copy here: Should Citizenship Be Earned Through Compulsory Volunteering? Migrant and Refugee Voices on Volunteering for Citizenship Policy.