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Points-based Immigration System

Volume 490: debated on Monday 23 March 2009

The points-based system is the most radical reworking of the immigration system in a generation, consolidating approximately 80 work and study routes into five simple tiers. Tiers for highly skilled, skilled and temporary workers have been implemented. The student tier will be introduced later this month. The tier for low-skilled workers is suspended indefinitely.

Many of my constituents enjoy performances by artists who come over under tier 5, yet they have noticed in recent months that there has been a discrepancy in the application of the criterion that states that they should be employed on national minimum wage minimum rates. Sometimes, higher rates are being demanded in order for them to obtain the necessary visas. Will she look into this and ensure that the criteria are applied rigorously and that too much discretion is not being applied?

The relevant codes of practice for performers who come in under the tier 5 criteria indicate that the salary paid should meet the industry minimums, rather than the national minimum wage. They are the standard payment rates set out in the collective agreements of Equity and the Musicians Union, negotiated with other industry bodies. I am sure that notwithstanding the pleasure gained by my hon. Friend’s constituents from performers who come here from overseas, he would not want such performers to be exploited or for high-quality UK performers to be undercut in their opportunities to provide entertainment for his constituents.

The Government have allowed 750,000 work permits over the past five years, four times the previous rate. What steps are being taken to ensure that those from outside the EU who have completed some of those 750,000 visas have returned home before we accept further overseas workers during this recession?

On work permits and the tier 2 situation, I have been very clear that the points-based system would have resulted in 12 per cent. fewer people coming in through that route. I have also been clear that that we will see a fall in the number of people coming in from outside the European economic area over the next year, not least because of the changes that we are making to the points-based system and the way in which we are raising the bar, particularly in terms of the level of skills that we expect from those coming into this country.

One of the core concepts of the points-based system is linking admission to acknowledged and accepted skills shortages in certain categories of job. As the economy tracks downwards, the shortages in some areas will shrink accordingly. How can the Home Secretary reassure the House that the system is sufficiently flexible to respond to rapidly changing economic circumstances?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point about the precise flexibility that we have built into the system. We asked the Migration Advisory Committee, which determines which occupations are shortage occupations, to review the list. It will shortly report to us again on its current assessment of which occupations have shortages. Secondly, we have been clear that if an occupation is in shortage, it does not mean that the only approach should be for us to fill the shortage by bringing in migrant labour. That is why, working with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, we have already determined that we will use the publication of the shortage occupation list every six months to trigger skills reviews for the jobs listed under those shortage occupations. We will focus on upskilling workers in the UK, making the UK less dependent, even for filling shortages, on migration in the future.

This is a good opportunity for the Home Secretary to be honest about the points-based system. She tends to refer to it as the “Australian-style” points-based system, because we all admire the way in which the Australians deal with immigration. Did she notice that last week, the Australians, who put an annual limit on work permits, reduced that limit? They said that it was prudent to do so in a recession. Will she admit that a Conservative Government could follow that policy, because we will introduce an annual limit, but that she cannot? Will she therefore stop trying to fool people into thinking that we have an Australian-style system? Only under a Conservative Government will we have Australian-style control over immigration numbers.

On the contrary, I have already announced—I reiterated this today—that we have the ability, through the points-based system, to raise the bar. We will do that. The impact of that, alongside the economic circumstances that we face, will be fewer migrants coming to the UK from outside the EEA. We will successfully reduce the number of migrants coming in during these difficult economic times. If we are talking about honesty, as the hon. Gentleman favours a cap, although I do not know what sort of a cap it is—a UK Tory cap—perhaps he would like to give us some background. Perhaps he could say how many people he thinks the cap should cover, what its level should be, and how it could be made more effective, given that it would cover only one in four migrants to this country, whereas the points-based system covers half of them.