Government policies which make it harder for immigrants from outside the European Union to be united with their families should be “more sensitively shaped” for the common good, the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, told a congregation of over 2,000 people at Monday’s Mass for Migrants.
Speaking at a packed Westminster Cathedral, the Archbishop said the family was vital for social stability and it was therefore in the interest of society to enable families to be united. In a homily which cited Pope Francis’ backstory as the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina and praised the English capital as a city “in which every race and nationality has a presence” and “in which strangers become Londoners”, he said he wanted to express “a particular concern for the well-bring of families”:
Economic and time-period thresholds recently established for non-EU families to be united here are putting great strain on the vital unit of the family and could be seen as actually putting a price-tag on the value of family unity. Given the proven importance of the family for social stability, surely it is for the common good that immigration policies must be more sensitively shaped in such matters.
The Queen’s Speech today includes a proposal to limit benefits to migrants and restrict their access to the NHS. Prior to a new immigration bill, the Government is highlighting minor changes to the existing rules on migrants on not being allowed to claim jobseeker’s allowance for their first six months and tightening a two- to five-year residency requirement for their access to social housing.
The social action arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, CSAN, says the Government should emphasise “the positive contribution made by people coming to this country” and said it would be “monitoring any forthcoming legislation closely to ensure that adequate protections for vulnerable individuals are in place and that the right to family life is appropriately safeguarded.”
CSAN added: “We will also be calling on the Government to guarantee that any local residency criteria for social housing contains exemptions for those who may have been forced to move due to recent benefit changes such as the household benefit cap and under-occupation penalty.”
The gifts that diversity bring are real and to be cherished. Yet the challenges are real too. There are challenges faced by those who come here, by those they leave behind, and by the communities who have to find the resources to host them. These pressures are real – on housing and the health service, for example, – and are made sharper by recession and slow economic growth. I know, we all know, that there are no simple solutions to these complex problems but the right policy will always be guided by courage and generosity and not by appealing to fear or pessimism.
The Mass for Migrants, organised each year by the three London dioceses of Westminster, Southwark and Brentwood, is celebrated on the Feast of St Joseph the Worker. The Feast was inaugurated by Pope Pius XII in the 1950s.