Joanne Starkie is a content writer and correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service – the UK’s leading organisation of immigration lawyers.
The UK’s official departure date from the EU has come and gone and the nation is still in the dark as to what the outcome will be. One thing is clear though, a ‘hard’ or ‘no-deal’ Brexit would have extremely negative consequences for many communities across the UK, and migrant women in particular are extremely vulnerable to the adverse effects should the UK eventually choose to sever all ties with the European Union.
Even though Brexit hasn’t happened yet, it has already caused deep divisions across the country and thrown many communities into a state of uncertainty. Migrant and BME (Black and Ethnic Minority) women in the UK are already faced with inequality and a lack of adequate measures in place to protect their rights or provide them with the support they need. Ongoing uncertainty over employment regulations, immigration status and human rights legislation in a post-Brexit Britain means that the future is very worrying for the UK’s female migrant population, and the government does not seem as if it will be able to provide any clarity or reassurance in the near future.
So how is Brexit affecting the migrant women within Bristol’s diverse community and what are the key areas of concern for females from minority groups?
Many of the UK’s industries rely heavily on EU labour and Bristol is no exception. The retail, hospitality and social care industries are particularly dependant on employing EU workers, especially from Eastern European countries. Many migrant women working in the UK are occupying ‘lower-skilled’, yet absolutely essential, roles within these sectors, but in the wake of a no-deal Brexit, they would no longer be eligible to work in the UK. This is because a hard Brexit would mean the end of free movement and in order to curb future immigration to the UK, the government has imposed a £30,000 minimum salary requirement for migrant workers in its Immigration White Paper. This would be extremely bad news for the majority of migrant women currently employed in the UK because most of job roles being performed by them do not even come close to reaching this minimum salary requirement.
According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), 50 percent of Bristol’s Eastern European community are female, with 8 out of 10 being economically active. An end to free movement would mean that the vast majority of these migrant women in Bristol would no longer be eligible to work in the UK. This could result in them being subjected to the stress and upheaval of leaving their jobs and their homes in the UK through no fault of their own, which would also have a damaging impact on the local economy by leaving employers with a severe shortage of labour.
Lack of Support for Migrant and BME Women
Almost £2 billion has already been spent on Brexit since the EU referendum in 2016 and Parliament’s preoccupation with the ongoing Brexit deadlock has come at the cost of neglecting and underfunding essential services for women, including refuges, healthcare centres, domestic abuse support services and social housing.
The BME community makes up 16% of Bristol’s total population (ONS) and evidence indicates that women from these groups are more vulnerable to various forms of domestic abuse and are at greater risk of becoming homeless if they leave their partner. The charity Safe Lives reports that BME women tend to stay in abusive relations 1.5 times longer than British women. There are a variety of reasons for this, including cultural factors and language barriers, but many of these women stay in abusive relationships because they have been coerced into arranged marriages and have entered the UK on a Spouse Visa. Leaving their partner could mean they would no longer be eligible to stay in the UK and and whilst women’s charities are doing a lot of excellent work to support BME women in this situation, the government is not replicating this on a national level. Prioritising Brexit over crucial public services means that a significant proportion of women in communities across Bristol and the UK as a whole, are not getting the help they urgently need.
Human Rights Laws
At the moment, migrant and BME women in the UK are protected under EU equality and anti-discrimination laws. A hard Brexit would mean that the UK would no longer be bound by these laws and whilst the Prime Minister has stated that she intends to write this legislation into the UK constitution, the UK would have the flexibility to make amendments. This may mean that after Brexit, the human rights of migrant women in the UK would not be adequately protected either in the workplace or in their own homes.
It is evident that the continuing lack of clarity over how and when Britain will leave the EU is having a hugely negative impact on migrant and BME women in Bristol and throughout the UK. Not only is the future uncertain for the majority of female migrants in the UK, the government’s fixation with Brexit is causing it to neglect vital public support services for women, as well as raising concerns over the effective implementation of human rights legislation for migrant and BME women post-Brexit.