The sociologist Loïc Wacquant described neoliberalism as an “articulation of state, market and citizenship that harnesses the first to impose the stamp of the second onto the third.” Rather than diminish the state, neoliberalism requires and uses it to reshape society for the purposes and needs of the market. With the recent release of the government’s migration policy it’s easy to see how the market will be handed greater control over workers’ lives and the future of Jersey society.
The policy openly frames migrants as economic commodities, their role being to support and improve higher productivity for businesses, enacting time-limited permits of 10 months, or four years depending on the type of work. The aim is to apparently reduce the number of low wage retirees in the Island that put pressure on public services and infrastructure.
As it does admit, this policy is ripe for abuse as with stricter controls workers will have less opportunity to leave and find work elsewhere if they are being mistreated. Employers, being aware of their increased power over employees, may be more likely to abuse their staff and no where in the policy does it point to providing stronger protections for workers, this is not what’s being promoted.
Companies are the main driver, with newly registered workers described by the policy as there to ‘support businesses wherever possible’ and if unable to, then the government confirms it will be ‘tougher on applications’ that fail to meet its economic objectives of improving productivity for existing and new businesses.
Higher education will be a determinate factor in this new toughness, and after many years of providing little help or support to locals who are unable to afford higher education — Jersey falls behind both UK and Polish migrants for working-age adults with a degree — the policy states that it will prioritise those with university degrees to help ‘raise the level of productivity’.
With previously slow growth, stagnant wages and high inequality one of the apparent economic positives, and defences, used by States members has been the consistently high levels of employment in Jersey. However, even this ‘success’ is dampened due to such continued low productivity that the States is now prioritising jobs that command higher wages. Considering that this has predominantly been in finance roles, it appears to be a promotion of the entrenching, rather than the diversifying, of our economy.
This policy ultimately points toward a multi-tiered society, where lower skilled migrants can be discarded when no longer considered useful to businesses whereas highly skilled workers, whose ‘barriers and burdens’ were previously removed, will continue to be able to move to Jersey and between businesses with ‘limited interference’. They will not be forced to leave the Island and instead will be fully welcomed into our community, as the policy states, the government wants to continue this approach in order to create an ‘attractive environment for higher skilled workers’.
The top tier immigrants will continue to be the ‘High Value Residents’, courted at London soirees with tailored one to one advice and assistance to help bring their businesses and wealth to the Island. Offered low tax rates — some not even paying that — and the complete removal of inheritance and capital gains tax they are able to pass on their wealth to their descendants contributing to inequality and making Jersey less meritocratic.
It has to be said at this stage it is just policy, and feels thrown together to appease the public prior to the elections in May this year, and with the uncertainty around Brexit, fall of the pound and businesses already struggling to find a cheap supply labour the legislation may ultimately end up having less teeth.
The policy document does confirm that much research still needs to be conducted in order to inform States members, as well as the public, between now and July 2019 when the ‘New Integration Strategy’ will finally be presented.
But it highlights the direction of thinking of Jersey’s government and the risk that the market will be handed ever greater control over immigration and Jersey society. The most wealthy migrants will be favoured and given easy and unlimited access whereas the less skilled and poorer migrants will be forced to compete on the open market with the Population Office ranking and assessing each ‘applicant’ by their economic usefulness, ultimately determining their approval or not at the behest of lobbied Ministers.
Will Jersey become an Island for the wealthy by the wealthy? Increasingly filled by profit making cash cows, where you are subjected to the dehumanising process of being categorised by your ability to generate profit for businesses and if you fail to do so, shown the door. Is this ‘achieving the right balance’? What sort of society will we become by promoting such values?
As the destructiveness and devastation to people’s lives under neoliberalism becomes apparent across the world — even the IMF now admits its failures — it appears that Jersey’s government is still willing to promote it.
So, are you ready to become a productive commodity this year?
This is an expanded version from a Jersey Evening Post column