With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on immigration.
Controlled migration has benefited the UK economically, socially and culturally, but when immigration gets out of control, it places great pressure on our society, economy and public services. In the 1990s, net migration to Britain was consistently in the tens of thousands each year, but under Labour, net migration to Britain was close to 200,000 per year for most years since 2000. As a result, over Labour’s time in office net migration totalled more than 2.2 million people—more than double the population of Birmingham.
We cannot go on like this. We must tighten up our immigration system, focusing on tackling abuse and supporting only the most economically beneficial migrants. To achieve that, we will have to take action across all routes to entry—work visas, student visas and family visas—and break the link between temporary routes and permanent settlement. That will bring significant reductions in non-European Union migration to the UK and restore it to more sustainable levels. We aim to reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands back down to the tens of thousands.
On the work routes to entry, all the evidence shows that it is possible to reduce numbers while promoting growth and underlining the message that Britain is open for business. After consulting widely with business and with the Migration Advisory Committee, I have decided to reduce economic migration through tier 1 and tier 2 from 28,000 to 21,700. That will mean a fall of more than a fifth compared with last year in the number of economic migrants coming in through tiers 1 and 2, excluding intra-company transfers.
Business groups have told us that skilled migrants with job offers—tier 2—should have priority over those admitted without a job offer, who are in tier 1. I have therefore set the tier 1 limit at 1,000, a reduction of more than 13,000 on last year’s number. Such a sharp reduction has enabled me to set the tier 2 limit at 20,700, an increase of nearly 7,000 on last year’s number.
The old tier 1, supposedly the route for the best and the brightest, has not attracted highly skilled workers. At least 30% of tier 1 migrants work in low-skilled occupations such as stacking shelves, driving taxis or working as security guards, and some do not have a job at all, so we will close the tier 1 general route. Instead, I want to use tier 1 to attract more investors, entrepreneurs and people of exceptional talent. Last year, investors and entrepreneurs accounted for fewer than 300 people, and that is not enough, so I will make the application process quicker and more user-friendly, and I will not limit the numbers of those wealth creators who can come to Britain.
There are also some truly exceptional people who should not need sponsorship from an employer but whom we would wish to welcome to Britain. I will therefore introduce a new route within tier 1 for people of exceptional talent—the scientists, academics and artists who have achieved international recognition, or are likely to do so. The number will be limited to 1,000 a year.
Tier 2 has also been abused and misused. Last year more than 1,600 certificates were issued for care assistants to come to the UK. At the same time, more than 33,000 care assistants who were already here were claiming jobseeker’s allowance, so I will restrict tier 2 to graduate-level jobs.
We have listened to business and will keep intra-company transfers outside the limit. However, we will place a new salary threshold of £40,000 on any intra-company transfers of longer than 12 months. Recent figures show that 50% of intra-company transfers meet those criteria. That will ensure that those coming are only the senior managers and key specialists who international companies need to move within their organisations.
I should like to thank the Migration Advisory Committee for its advice and recommendations. Next year, I will ask it to review the limit in order to set new arrangements for 2012-13.
However, the majority of non-EU migrants are, in fact, students. They represent almost two thirds of the non-EU migrants entering the UK each year, and we cannot reduce net migration significantly without reforming student visas. Hon. Members and others might imagine that by students, we mean people who come here for a few years to study at university and then go home. However, nearly half of all students coming here from abroad are actually coming to study a course below degree level, and abuse is particularly common at those lower levels. A recent check of students studying at private institutions below degree level showed that a quarter could not be accounted for. Too many students at lower levels have been coming here with a view to living and working rather than studying, and we need to stop that abuse.
As with economic migration, we will therefore refocus student visas on the areas that add the greatest value, and in which evidence of abuse is limited. I will shortly launch a public consultation on student visas. I will consult on restricting entry to only those studying at degree level, but with some flexibility for highly trusted sponsors to offer courses at a lower level. I will also consult on closing the post-study route, which last year allowed some 38,000 foreign graduates to enter the UK labour market at a time when one in 10 UK graduates were unemployed.
Last year, the family route accounted for nearly 20% of non-EU immigration. Clearly, British nationals must be able to marry the person of their choice, but those who come to the UK must be able to participate in society. From next week, we will require all those applying for marriage visas to demonstrate a minimum standard of English. We are also cracking down on sham marriages, and will consult on extending the probationary period of settlement for spouses beyond the current two years.
Finally, we need to restrict settlement. It cannot be right that people coming to fill temporary skills gaps have open access to permanent settlement. Last year, 62,000 people settled in the UK on that basis. Settling in Britain should be a privilege to be earned, not an automatic add-on to a temporary way in, so we will end the link between temporary and permanent migration.
I intend to introduce these changes to the work route and some of the settlement changes from April 2011. I will bring forward other changes soon after. This is a comprehensive package that will help us to meet our goal of reducing net migration, at the same time as attracting the brightest and the best, and those with the skills our country needs. This package will serve the needs of British business, it will respond to the wishes of the British public, and it will give us the sustainable immigration system that we so badly need.
Let me start by thanking the Home Secretary for the—rather late—advance sight of her statement, for coming to the House this afternoon in person, and for clarifying the confusion caused by the misleading leak of the contents of her statement to the BBC this morning. The Home Secretary is right to say that migration has made, and continues to make, a vital contribution to the economic vibrancy, business strength and vitality of our country. She is also right to say that it is essential for migration to be properly controlled, for reasons of economic well-being and social cohesion. But the question is: how? The Labour Government put in place transitional controls on EU migration, a suspension of unskilled work permits, a tough but flexible points system to manage skilled migration, and tighter regulation of overseas students. They closed 140 bogus colleges, and imposed new citizenship requirements on those seeking settlement.
At the general election, the leader of the Conservative party proposed to go further in two key respects. First, he proposed a new target to reduce net migration to the
“tens of thousands by 2015.”
To meet that target, he pledged a cap on immigration, which he said would be tougher than the points system. At the time, the leader of the Liberal Democrat party said:
“We can’t come up with promises like caps which don’t work”.
He then agreed to the cap in the coalition agreement. Since then, the Government have been in wholesale retreat, and today they are in wholesale confusion over this policy. The Confederation of British Industry, the chambers of commerce, universities, Nobel prize winners, and UK and foreign companies—large and small—have all highlighted the huge damage that the Government’s proposals would do to investment and jobs.
The Home Affairs Committee and the Migration Advisory Committee have said that the proposed cap applies to only 20% of non-EU migration. As a result, we have had the unedifying sight of the Prime Minister hinting at concession after concession—in the face, we read, of opposition from the Home Secretary, thanks to the excellent public lobbying and guerrilla tactics of the Business Secretary, who, sadly, is not in his place this afternoon. In his use of such tactics, he is less Stalin and more Trotsky—and certainly not Mr Bean.
Today the Home Secretary has come to the House to confirm the details of the retreat. We will keep a close eye on her proposals to see how they affect business and science. None the less, we join business representatives in welcoming her decision to exempt intra-company transfers of workers. What has caused confusion is this morning’s briefing to the BBC that the total cap would be 42,700 work permits. Her officials then had to clarify the fact that there is no such cap on that scale. She has now said that she will allow 21,700 tier 1 and tier 2 work permits, but with no cap on migration caused by intra-company transfers. If the number of intra-company transfers goes up, will she put in place an offsetting cut in tier 1 and tier 2 work permits? If not, and I very much hope that she will not, will she confirm that her supposed cap is a con, a guess and a fig leaf—in fact, no cap at all?
The permanent secretary revealed today that 9,000 jobs will be lost from the Home Office, the bulk of which will be from the UK Border Agency. Will the Home Secretary confirm that she can implement the policy that she has outlined today, and keep our borders secure, with those cuts? On family reunification she had nothing new to say—no target—and on overseas students she announced no action, just another consultation.
I have learned in the past few weeks that it is a mistake to ask the right hon. Lady a long list of questions, but there is one question to which it is vital that she should give an answer this afternoon: is it still the objective of the Prime Minister and the Government to cut net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015? In her statement she repeated the goal, but she omitted to put a date on it. Will she reaffirm the 2015 promise? In recent months—on VAT and tuition fees—the Deputy Prime Minister has got into a habit of breaking pre-election promises. Can the Home Secretary reassure us that the Prime Minister has not caught the same disease? This is a simple question. Is the “tens of thousands” pledge still binding by 2015—yes or no?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that response. During the Labour leadership campaign, he said:
“as many of us found in the election, our arguments on immigration were not good enough.”
Listening to him today, I realised that Labour’s arguments on immigration are still not good enough. He made a number of claims about what the Labour Government did on immigration, including the claim that they introduced transitional controls when new member states entered the EU. I seem to remember that when the first tranche of new member states entered the EU, that is precisely what they did not do, despite every blandishment from the Conservatives to encourage them.
The right hon. Gentleman then said that the previous Government took action on the points-based system limits. I accept that, but what happened? They closed tier 3 of the points-based system of entry into the UK, but nothing else, so when tier 3 shut down, the number of student visas went up by tens of thousands. That is why this Government know that when we deal with one part of the immigration system, we must act across the whole of it.
I made the figures for the tier 1 and tier 2 caps that we are introducing absolutely clear in my statement. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the UK Border Agency could manage the cuts and keep our borders secure with the changes in personnel that will be made, and the answer to that, unequivocally, is: yes, it can.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked me to confirm what I said in my statement, which is that we aim to reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands back down to the tens of thousands—[Hon. Members: “When? By 2015?”] If he is to criticise the Government’s plans on immigration, the right hon. Gentleman must have a plan. So far he does not even have an immigration spokesman, let alone an immigration policy. The British people, who according to his own words felt that Labour was no longer on their side and no longer stood up for them on immigration, will not listen to him until he has an immigration plan.
We are confident in the work that we have done, and in the fact that we have got the cap—and, crucially, the changes to policy—right. The announcement is about not just the figure, but the change in policy. The Migration Advisory Committee will undertake an annual review, so it will be able to advise the Government on what the figure should be in future, after considering how behaviour has adapted to the policy changes that we are introducing.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, because she gives me the opportunity to say that we will be making initial changes to the settlement proposals, but that we also intend to consult more fully on exactly how we will introduce changes to settlement more widely. The initial changes will relate to the language requirements, but we will also look at the salary levels required for a sponsor to bring somebody in for settlement, and at the criminality thresholds. Those are the immediate issues that we will consider. I also intend to ask the Migration Advisory Committee to do some more work on changing the settlement requirements in the longer term.
I congratulate the Home Secretary and the Minister for Immigration on this admirable programme and the excellent start made. May I press her a little further on the breaking of the link between settlement and people coming here to work temporarily? At what stage does she expect to introduce the measures necessary to achieve that?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and echo his thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration for his sterling work. We are keen to look at these other routes, particularly the settlement route, as well as at the other aspects, and over the coming months, as I indicated in response to the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), we will be asking the Migration Advisory Committee to consider the matter so that we can introduce the changes. I hesitate to put an absolute date on that, but I hope that we will be able to announce something next year.
The Home Secretary is more famous for her footwear than her headgear, but may I welcome the exemptions to the cap that she has announced today? The Home Affairs Committee made recommendations on intra-company transfers and elite scientists, and this is the right approach for the immigration policy that the Government have decided to pursue. On students, however, she will not be able to tackle the issue of bogus colleges unless she accepts a previous recommendation by the Committee to restrict the use of the word “college”. It is because this word continues to be used that people enter this country and pursue non-educational courses. Will she please look into that? Will she also examine how the whole administration of the immigration system operates in relation to illegal immigration?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. His turn of phrase encourages me to enjoy my time in front of the Home Affairs Committee when that happy occasion next comes around. He also made a serious point about his Committee’s past recommendations on this issue. We will certainly look at his specific suggestion. We need to consider a number of ways of ensuring that students coming to the UK are genuinely coming as students and to institutions properly offering an education and providing a qualification. This is not just about the immigration system, but about the reputation of the UK, because we do not want people to come here thinking they are coming to a college on an educational course, but then find that they have come to something quite different.
I generally welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement—but on EU migration, are we not in danger of ignoring the lessons of the past six years, when we imported more than 1 million low-wage and low-skilled workers, despite having 5 million of our own citizens on out-of-work benefits? Will she also explain why importing highly skilled workers is practical, when we have record numbers of UK and British graduates who could and should do those jobs?
My hon. Friend is right about the need to ensure that people in the UK are skilled enough to take up the work available. The figures show that EU-UK immigration and emigration numbers have broadly balanced out, and that net migration is coming predominantly from outside the EU. Our immigration policy has to fit in closely with the skills agenda that my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary announced last week. On occasions, however, there will be highly skilled workers with a specialism that a British company needs—in areas such as the energy sector, for example—and it is right for Britain to be open for business, and for us to allow companies to grow by introducing those workers into the UK.
Given the views that were so robustly expressed during the general election campaign, I welcome, on behalf of many of my constituents, the Home Secretary’s statement. Will she bear in mind another of their views, which is that they are now aware that the population of this country is primarily pushed by immigration? Will she tell us more certainly when she will return to the House to give a statement on breaking the link between coming here to work, which is often welcome, and almost automatically getting the right to citizenship?
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s comments, and for his work, with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), on settlement in the UK. They have both done a lot of important work in highlighting the issue. I am afraid that I will disappoint the right hon. Gentleman in not being able to give him a date when I will come to the House, but I assure him that I will do so in due course, to show how we will be able to change that route. As he said, the British public were absolutely clear that the Government should do something about this matter. They saw a Labour Government who did not do anything about immigration. We are a Government who will deliver for the British people.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. She correctly mentioned student visas, and then mentioned consultation. Given that we have had 10 years of almost mass immigration, will she assure the House that that consultation will be swift?
The immigration cap may be designed for the south of England, but it definitely does not fit Scotland. Does the right hon. Lady not even start to understand and appreciate that Scotland has a different range of population and demographic issues? How can immigration caps possibly help Scotland, which is suffering from structural depopulation?
This proposal will help all parts of the United Kingdom, because it does two crucial things. It meets the British people’s need to see us controlling our immigration system, but it does so in a way that will enable business to bring in skilled workers. Many businesses in Scotland have spoken to us about the need to bring in skilled workers—in the energy sector, for example—and I believe that they will welcome our decision today.
Specifically on the energy industries, on which so many jobs in my constituency depend, I welcome the flexibility and movement. Will the Home Secretary assure those industries that small companies in the supply chain will not face too bureaucratic a process for tier 2 applications, and that intra-company transfers will not be so time-limited as to make projects impossible to deliver?
I am happy to give the comfort that my hon. Friend asks for. Indeed, we will look at the administrative process for tier 2 applications to ensure that they involve as little bureaucracy as possible, with small companies particularly in mind. I hope that he will see some benefits from that.
I wonder how many of us would be sitting here today, if in the 20th century our parents and grandparents had had to go through the sieve that the Home Secretary is putting in place to slow down the number of people coming to the UK. Does she agree, and will she say so more strongly, that the arrival of 10% of the English population in the form of Huguenots enriched Britain, that Jews who came here enriched Britain, and that Muslims and Pakistanis in my constituency have enriched Britain, and will she be very careful before she gives any comfort to Migrationwatch, the British National party and the United Kingdom Independence party, and their horrible anti-immigrant line?
I have to say that several of the groups that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned came here as refugees, and we are not talking about the asylum system today. We do need to examine the operation of our asylum system to ensure that it operates swiftly in the interests not only of the UK, but of those who are seeking asylum. However, that is not what we are debating today.
Hon. Members will be delighted that the Home Secretary has announced this policy to the House first, and that the BBC was so wonderfully misinformed this morning. In Wellingborough, immigration is the No. 1 issue, but my constituents are more concerned about people coming from the European Union. I wonder how that question is going to be addressed.
Are not these proposals a damp squib that will have no real impact on the number of people coming to Britain? Bearing in mind that the Government have already ruled out EU migrants, intra-company transfers, students, sportsmen and women and anyone in the arts, who is left?
Labour Members really are going to have to get their story in order as to exactly what they want to do on immigration. We want to ensure that Britain is open for business and that we can bring in skilled workers, which we will be doing, but that we can put in a cap that enables us to reduce net migration into this country. That is what the British people want, and it is what this coalition Government will deliver.
My hon. Friend has raised an important point. One of the issues around students relates to those who come here to study one course and then move from course to course in order to be able to stay here. We will be looking at that issue in the consultation, and I can assure him that the proposal he has just made is exactly the kind of thing that will be in the consultation.
The Home Secretary has suggested that there might be some concessions for those involved in the fishing industry. By and large, I welcome the proposals put forward today, but she has mentioned a concession of a year until September 2011 in regard to work permits for Filipino fisherman. Would she be prepared to consider extending that arrangement for another year, given that the fishing industry feels that it cannot do without it?
I think that we will have to look at that matter again closer to the September 2011 deadline. I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that the more exceptions to the rules that people claim, the less effective the overall rules will be. We are absolutely clear that, within the rules that we have set, there are groups of very specialist workers. A number of issues have been raised with me about people with very particular skills who are needed by certain industries, and who we believe can come in, within the routes that we are setting out.
Tony Blair’s adviser once said that the sharp increase in immigration over the past 10 years was partly due to
“a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural”.
Can the Home Secretary confirm today that so-called social objectives are no longer acceptable as a reason for immigration, and that it should be based instead on the economic benefits that immigrants can bring to this country?
As I said at the beginning of my statement, controlled migration can benefit this country economically, socially and culturally, but we are absolutely clear, in looking at the routes into the country for economic migrants, that the people who are coming in will bring a genuine economic benefit to the UK.
Immigration from Ireland to the UK has doubled from 7,000 to 14,000 as the euro crisis has developed. Will the Home Secretary confirm that, as well as having a legal right to come, those young people will be welcomed to our shores, and that we will continue to create the jobs that they need?
One of the issues that we will look at among specific groups, such as students, is the number of people who overstay. That is one of the problems and abuses of the system, but, unlike the previous Labour Government, the current Government are committed—in addition to what we are doing on immigration—to proper UK border controls, through our work to ensure a UK border force.
May I warmly welcome the sensible decisions that my right hon. Friend has taken? Does she agree that, although the economic migration that she intends to permit is clearly of benefit to the nation, a population pushed up to 70 million is not? That is the inheritance she faced, on official figures, from the policies of the Labour party.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. It is clear that, if we take no action, the numbers of net migrants to the UK are likely to continue to be about 200,000 a year. We think that we need to do something about that, which is why we are introducing the package today and will be introducing further measures on other routes of entry.
English language schools in my constituency contribute more than £100 million to the local economy, yet they face real difficulties because of the uncertainty surrounding the student visa system. Will the Secretary of State ensure that a cost-benefit analysis to the UK economy of overseas students who study at our schools is carried out? What words of reassurance can she give to bona fide language schools that there will be a swift resolution to the issue?
A number of hon. Members from all parts of the House with English language schools in their constituencies have raised the question of such schools. We take the issue very seriously, and one aspect of the student visas consultation will be aimed specifically at such schools and how we can introduce to the system some changes that will benefit them.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement, which will be welcomed in my constituency by people of all backgrounds and political persuasions. In particular, I welcome the exemption for wealth creators and the re-focusing of tier 1 on eminent scientists. Will she tell the House a little more about how the 1,000 limit will work?
We are finalising the details of exactly how the 1,000 limit will work. We are also considering a role for bodies, such as research councils, in confirming those people who would be of benefit. We want to include not just those who are at a point in their career when they are known to be great scientists, artists and so forth, but also exceptionally talented people who are at the beginning of their careers.
The Home Secretary says that the aim is to reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. Will she specify when she intends to do so? I thought I heard her say 2015, but doing that while slashing the border agency staff who need to do the job of policing is not going to wash with the British public.
I had answered the point about what I said in relation to tens of thousands, and I answered the shadow Home Secretary’s point about the UK Border Agency. As I said, we will be able to deliver the policy through the agency, and we will be able to ensure that the agency can deliver on its requirements, and we as a Government are committed to reinforcing our border security by introducing a border police command in the new national crime agency.
There are many approved, well-established and highly reputable English language schools in my constituency. I support much of the statement’s content, but I am profoundly concerned about any further delay in sorting the problem with people coming to the UK to study English at such schools. I urge the Home Secretary to agree to meet me, a cross-party delegation of MPs and the Immigration Minister as soon as possible, because many companies and businesses in Eastbourne and throughout the UK are suffering badly. I urge her to grant me that opportunity.
I am well aware that my hon. Friend has made significant representations on that point, as have other Members. Indeed, I believe he has already met the Immigration Minister. I would be happy to meet a group of MPs to discuss the matter, and, as I said in response to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), we are very well aware of the point, which has been well made by many Members. We are conscious of the economic benefits of English language schools and some of their very specific issues with particular students from particular countries. We are looking at how we can address that issue in our student visa proposals, but I would be happy to meet a group of MPs.
I agree entirely with the need to take swift removal action against people who overstay their work or student visa entitlement, but this country has a problem with people who have overstayed for many decades and have given birth to children who are now adults. Can anything be done to regularise their situation so that they can go into legitimate employment without having to go through all the same hurdles and costs of applying for citizenship that others do? This represents a real barrier for those people.
We inherited the legacy programme from the last Government and had to deal with a significant backlog of cases, some of which related to people who have lived here for many years. Their cases had simply not been tackled with the right and proper degree of speediness. As the chief executive of the UK Border Agency confirmed to the Home Affairs Select Committee, we aim to finish that legacy programme by next summer. Looking to the future, we need to ensure that we do not get into the situation again of allowing people to come here and making them wait many years for an answer from the Government as to whether or not they can stay.
It is a disgrace that last year 1,600 visas were granted to people who wanted to work in care homes when there are 33,000 care workers claiming jobseeker’s allowance. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a kick in the teeth for those unemployed care workers, proving that her proposals are exactly the right policy to introduce?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that this is the right policy for us to introduce. Many people, not just care workers, are unemployed, yet they have to see care workers being brought in from overseas. Of the many graduates in the UK, one in 10 are unemployed six months after their graduation. Last year, however, I believe that 38,000 overseas students stayed here after their graduation to work in the UK. We need to deal with that and we also need to ensure that we get the skills training right for people in the UK. The action we have taken on immigration today is not just an indictment of the last Labour Government’s failure to do something about the problem, but is also a very sad commentary on their failure to deliver a proper skills agenda for the UK.
May I press the Home Secretary on the issue of language courses? I am thinking particularly of Sheffield International college in my constituency. With its 1,000 students, it plays an important role in the local economy and as a feeder institution helping students to proceed on to our two universities. All that makes an enormous economic contribution.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for echoing the importance of this issue, which was also raised by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion and by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd). As I said, I am happy to meet a group of MPs to discuss English language schools. We know how important that issue is and we are looking to address it through consultation.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement and tell her that my constituents will welcome the move away from expressing rhetoric about British jobs for British workers towards taking substantive action? Nevertheless, many people in Harlow will be concerned that their jobs are being given away, particularly by big companies like the major supermarkets, to temporary migrant workers. Will my right hon. Friend set out how her measures will help this situation?
I believe that our measures will help because they will tighten up the provisions to ensure that the people who come into this country under either tier 1 or tier 2 are the skilled workers that companies need, not those coming here to do low-skill jobs. We will also tighten up on the intra-company transfers route through the salary threshold so that that route is available, as it was always intended to be, for senior managers and people with specialist skills rather than for people doing low-skill jobs.
May I concur with what has already been said about the position facing English language schools? It is a difficult position and it needs to be addressed urgently. This country is already losing custom as it goes to other countries—we are not the only country where English is spoken—so I urge the Home Secretary to do something about the problem quickly. Otherwise, areas like mine, where English language schools contribute significantly to the local economy, will suffer.
There may be other hon. Members who wish to raise the issue of English language schools from their constituency viewpoint. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman, as I have to others, that we are well aware of this issue and we are looking to address it as we deal with student visas. Although many English language schools offer a very good product and are of significant economic benefit to the UK, I also need to point out that this sector of the economy is not completely free from abuse. Sadly, some schools do damage to others by setting themselves up as English language schools and then not offering the right services.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, but does she agree that as well as controlling immigration, we should do more to ensure that those who settle here and integrate with us respect our culture, traditions and values, and make greater efforts to learn our language?
I think it is important for people who come to live here in the United Kingdom to be able to participate in society. That is why next week we are introducing an English language test for those who wish to come here to join a spousal partner. I think it only sensible for someone who is coming to live here to be able to speak English, and thence to participate in society.
I welcome the statement in general terms, but I do not believe that it goes far enough. There is still uncontrolled migration from the European Union, certainly to my constituency, into which have come a substantial number of unskilled and semi-skilled European workers who are undercutting the unemployed work force. What steps will the Home Secretary take to ensure that some curbs are placed on those people?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. He has a record of having taken a rather different view from the Front Bench Members of his party when it was in government. As I have made clear and as the figures show, the vast majority of net migration is from outside the European Union. The flows into and out of the country of British and EU citizens balance out, and have done so for the past few years. As for the future, the Government have made it absolutely clear that if there are any new member states, we will exercise transitional controls.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that many British workers in the IT industry are very concerned about losing their jobs as a result of intra-company transfers? Can she reassure them that she will crack down on the abuse of the system that has been witnessed by some IT companies?
As I said in my statement and have said in response to a number of questions, we are tightening the rules relating to tier 2 entry to the United Kingdom, as well as those relating to intra-company transfers. We will ensure that those who come here really are the skilled and highly skilled workers who are needed. However, my hon. Friend’s point echoes one made by a number of other Members about the need to ensure that businesses in the United Kingdom seek the skills that are available here.
I should hate to misrepresent the Home Secretary. To avoid confusion, will she tell us whether she will reduce net migration to tens of thousands by 2015—or has she just dropped the Government’s specific commitment to that date?
We have been absolutely clear about our aim in regard to net migration, and we made it absolutely clear in the coalition agreement that we were committed to introducing an annual limit on non-EU economic migration. That is what we are doing today. [Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Immigration cases take up most of the case load at my weekly surgery, particularly during the summer months, when the wedding season and many other family occasions take place. Will the Home Secretary and the Minister for Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), consider pinning down responsibility for sponsorship when people come here to visit their families on such occasions? That would tackle head-on the problem of absconding, fraud and overstaying. The last Labour Government examined the matter when immigration was an issue, but they ducked it and chose not to do anything about it.
Will the Home Secretary say more about how she believes that the needs of particular sectors of the economy, and the pressures on them, can be properly respected and responded to within the new annual limits? Is a regional dimension built into any of the Government’s proposals? We know that before the election the Liberal Democrats spoke of huge regional issues relating to immigration. Does the new regime take any account of the needs of, and the pressures on, particular regions?
The proposals I am setting out today apply to immigration policy across the United Kingdom. To respond to the hon. Gentleman’s first point, I am confident that the needs of particular sectors will be met through our changes to tier 1, tier 2 and the intra-company transfer route. We have listened very carefully to business, and the CBI recently said it thought that
“a workable...solution would encompass…protection of sponsored work permit numbers as a priority ahead of those without a job offer”,
which we have done. The CBI also said that by
“prioritising the demand-led part of the system—Tier 2—in this manner the government will be able to deliver on its goal of reducing net migration without damaging business”,
which, again, is exactly what we have done.
I welcome the statement. Does the Home Secretary agree that the UK economy’s dependence on skilled labour from abroad highlights two of the starkest failures under the last Government: the promotion of welfare dependency, and the failure to improve skills and training?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is important that we see the policies announced in the statement in the context of our welfare reform policy, the Work programme to be brought in next year, and the Business Secretary’s proposed skills agenda, which he introduced in a White Paper last week.
During last Thursday’s immigration debate, the Home Secretary’s departmental colleague, the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), said:
“We therefore aim to reduce net migration to the levels of the 1990s—tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands, each year by the end of this Parliament.”—[Official Report, 18 November 2010; Vol. 518, c. 1120.]
The end of this Parliament will, of course, be in 2015. May I offer the Home Secretary another opportunity to confirm categorically that that is still her Government’s policy this week?
Returning to the issue of student visas, we have quite a few boarding schools in West Worcestershire, such as Malvern college, St Michael’s college in Tenbury Wells and Malvern St James college, which attract students from all around the world. They are highly trusted sponsors, but they are already finding that the system is slowing them down. Can the Home Secretary reassure these colleges that the process will become faster?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. While we are consulting on focusing the student visa route on universities, further education colleges and degree level courses, highly trusted sponsors will be able to offer courses at below degree level, and I would expect that the schools to which my hon. Friend has referred would be able to continue to offer courses because, as she says, they are highly trusted sponsors.
Two months ago, UK executives at Toyota told me of the benefits for their company and the wider British economy of the transfer of knowledge and skills through intra-company transfers. Will the Home Secretary publish the economic analysis that I am sure she has performed of the impact on growth and output of restricting intra-company transfers of longer than 12 months to those on salaries of more £40,000?
I gave some figures in my statement, and I am also happy to be able to say to the hon. Gentleman that the Minister for Immigration met representatives from Toyota to discuss their particular needs, and I understand that they were comfortable with our proposals.
I congratulate the Home Secretary on having the grit and determination to introduce this important proposal. She rightly pointed out the kinds of abuse we saw under the previous Government in respect of programmes such as the student visa scheme, which meant that many people were here who should not have been. What measures are her Department taking to ensure that those who are here illegally are removed—and removed quickly?
We are considering the measures that could be taken against those colleges or so-called colleges that just enable students to come here to work and then stay on, rather than be removed. As I said in answer to a number of other hon. Members who raised this or similar issues, this Government are committed to strengthening our borders through the border police command within the national crime agency.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. I just hope that the consultations do not take too long and that the whole House will have an opportunity to debate all these issues in detail, probably with an immigration Bill. Given the rampant abuse of tourist, student, work and family visas, is it not time that an incentive is provided for those tempted to overstay or those who have overstayed by saying that they can return to their country of origin voluntarily or be barred from re-entering this country for at least 20 years? That would be an incentive that would work.
I congratulate the Home Secretary on this statement. The shadow Home Secretary has apparently admitted in the media that the Labour party, when in government, made a mistake in 2004 by not applying transitional controls to enlargement of the European Union then.
I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that commitment on any future new member states entering the European Union. I am fascinated that the shadow Home Secretary stood up in response to my statement and claimed that the previous Government had introduced all these transitional controls, yet now we hear that he says they made a mistake in not doing this properly.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, which will go a long way towards assuaging the concerns of my constituents. They are not so worried about business people being here for two or three years; they are worried about the permanent settlement that automatically seems to be granted when someone has lived here for four years. Can she give further assurances about the criminality aspect, because that is another great concern in my constituency?
We are indeed looking at the criminality criteria for entering in order to tighten them up; we want to look at people’s records when considering who can enter the UK. We think that that is an important element that we should be looking at, and I know that the issue has concerned a number of people.
I do not have an estimate of the number of sham marriages, but I am happy to say to my hon. Friend that the UK Border Agency was very active in stopping sham marriages over the summer; we had a very big crackdown on them. Many people were concerned and surprised to see that a Church of England vicar was caught and arrested for helping sham marriages to take place.
Last and most certainly least, I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Does she agree that, although the large-scale import of cheap labour may keep the lid on wage price inflation, it also keeps a lid on productivity because business men who feel that they can import cheap labour are less incentivised to be productive? Does she agree that that is not a competitive model and that the Government should not turn a blind eye to businesses that try to import cheap labour?
I have said in some of my conversations with businesses that it is important that they look to ensure that they encourage and provide the training for skills growth and development here in the UK. That is important, as it is in the UK’s interests, the individual’s interests and the interests of those businesses.