UK Think Tank Proposes Visas for Climate Migrants
The climate crisis could force more than one billion people from their homes by 2050, but how will they find a new one in a world of hardening borders?
Conservative UK think tank Onward is proposing one solution: two new visas for people in climate-vulnerable nations to relocate legally to the country.
“We cannot allow climate-related migration to become the defining crisis of the 21st Century,” Policy Fellow at Onward and co-author of the report Ted Christie-Miller said in a statement. “The Government needs to act now to build climate resilience in the most vulnerable regions on the planet and open up safe and legal visa routes for those fleeing environmental disasters.”
The report, “Forced to Move: Reducing the Impact of Climate Change on Migration,” proposed two separate migration routes.
- An Environmental Resilience Visa Scheme:
This would train people in vulnerable countries in skills needed for the transition away from fossil-fuel energy. At the end of their training, they would have a chance to either stay in their country, or come to the UK to work in the green sector. However, the number of visas would be fewer than the number of people receiving training, and would be geared towards sectors facing labor shortages that could not be filled quickly enough domestically.
“Visas could also be prioritised for those who suffer from sudden natural disasters and need to urgently rebuild their financial capital,” the report authors wrote.
- A Natural Disaster Visa Scheme
This would offer visas to people who are displaced by an extreme weather event like a flood or wildfire, or by a longer-term climate impact like sea level rise. Recipients could either settle in the UK temporarily while their country recovers or permanently if, for example, it is an island nation rendered unlivable by rising sea levels.
“The UK clearly does not have the capacity to help all who might be forcibly displaced by climate change over the course of the coming century,” the report authors wrote. “But, as mentioned throughout this report, the UK has demonstrated time and again that it is willing to play its part to help those most in need.”
In addition, the report called for the UK government to take other steps to reduce climate migration by making vulnerable countries more resilient to climate impacts, including working with international development organizations and prioritizing food security, water security, preparation for environmental disasters, investment in green skills and “managed retreat” resettlement schemes in the UK’s International Climate Finance.
“To reduce the potential financial and resource burden on the UK Border Force, it would be prudent to try to mitigate the environmental push factors that force or make it more likely for someone to decide to try to come to the UK,” the report authors wrote. “This means making the regions vulnerable to displacement more liveable and helping them to adapt climate change, and cope with environmental pressures in general.”
The report comes as the UK’s Conservative government is under fire for introducing a strict bill to limit immigration to the country as more and more people are risking entering the UK by boat to escape war and poverty. The so-called Illegal Migration Bill would bar anyone who enters the UK without permission from remaining in the country to claim asylum, Time explained. Instead, they would be sent home or to a third country considered safe. They would also never be allowed to enter the UK again. Refugee advocates and legal experts have argued that it violates international law.
“The effect of the bill (in this form) would be to deny protection to many asylum-seekers in need of safety and protection, and even deny them the opportunity to put forward their case,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement. “This would be a clear breach of the Refugee Convention and would undermine a longstanding, humanitarian tradition of which the British people are rightly proud.”
Onward co-founder Will Tanner is now the Deputy Chief of Staff to UK Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, whose government is backing the controversial bill. And the report authors said their vision did not conflict with the government’s.
“The two controllable visa schemes would demonstrate firm global leadership, boost resilience abroad, and even help us to meet our own energy security and net zero targets. It is entirely in keeping with the recent Illegal Migration Bill and the refreshed Integrated Review,” report co-author and senior researcher Alex Luke said in a statement.
However, others have argued that the bill sets a troubling precedent in the context of the climate crisis, especially since Global North countries are disproportionately responsible for the chaotic weather that will disproportionately impact the Global South.
“The rulers of a declining, grotesquely unequal global north will claim legitimacy by promising to drive back the human tides,” Owen Jones warned in The Guardian. “We may see a form of eco-fascism: far-right parties may stop denying the climate emergency as it becomes too obvious to wish away, but claim the catastrophe underlines the need to keep the rest of the world out.”
The U.S. has similarly proposed making it more difficult for those crossing the nation’s southern border without permission to claim asylum if they passed through another country on their way to the U.S. There is already a relationship between the climate crisis, poverty and migration from Central America’s Dry Corridor.
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