By Vatican News
The Bishops of Scotland, England and Wales have urged the government to consider amendments to its immigration bill which is currently before parliament.
The Bishops made this call in a statement released on Tuesday. It was jointly signed by Bishop William Nolan, lead Bishop for migrants and refugees for the Bishops' Conference of Scotland, and Bishop Paul McAleenan, lead Bishop for migrants and refugees for the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.
Among other proposals, the immigration bill will require European citizens to apply for their existing rights in the UK. It also creates changes in the clergy visa system requiring priests providing supply cover for clergy absences to pay costly visa fees and undergo language tests.
The Bishops said that the Immigration Bill will “drastically alter people’s opportunities to build their lives and contribute to society.”
Time limit on detention
The Bishops called for the introduction of a time limit on detention saying that the “UK remains the only European country without a time limit on detention.”
They noted that detention without time limits has “devastating consequences for the wellbeing of vulnerable individuals who find themselves detained including some victims of torture, survivors of trafficking and people fleeing religious persecution.” Besides, in recent times, “the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted serious health risks in crowded detention centers.”
“While we are grateful for the emergency steps that were taken to reduce infection and save lives, only a significant permanent reduction in the use of detention will allow us to properly protect people's health and human dignity in the long-term,” they added.
Removing financial barriers that keep families apart
The Bishops also proposed the removal of financial barriers that keep families apart as “the minimum income threshold for family visas unjustly separates tens of thousands of couples, parents and children.”
“Some key workers who have played vital roles during the Covid-19 pandemic are among those who cannot be reunited with their families because they meet the minimum income threshold,” they said.
This separation, “not only has serious implications on family life,” noted the Bishops, but also has a “direct impact on the development and wellbeing of children who are isolated from their parents in another country.”
Turning to the issue of modern slavery, the Bishops stressed that the government has the “responsibility to ensure that proper safeguards are in place” to protect people from those who will take advantage of the new immigration policies.
They proposed that the government should repeal laws against “illegal working” so that people are no longer afraid of escaping abusive employment practices or presenting themselves to the police.
The Bishops said that the new rules on clergy visas have “more than doubled the costs incurred by parishes seeking priests to cover clergy vacations, illnesses and other absences.
They noted that most Catholic dioceses previously used Tier 5 Religious Worker visas for priests to come to the UK on supply placements but the cost of the new Tier 2 Minister of Religion visas are unsustainable for some parishes.
“Furthermore, seminaries that conduct formation in English are not necessarily recognized by the Home Office as meeting the English language requirement under the Tier 2 route, meaning that many priests who have been educated to post-graduate level in English are nevertheless required to take a language test with extra logistical and cost implications,” they added.
“We strongly support amendments addressing these important issues,” said the Bishops adding that they “hope that MPs from all parties will take this opportunity to help create a more just and humane immigration system.”