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Non-EU Immigration

Volume 520: debated on Monday 6 December 2010

6. What steps she plans to take to reduce annual immigration from states outside the EU to the tens of thousands. (28270)

11. What steps she plans to take to reduce annual immigration from states outside the EU to the tens of thousands. (28275)

15. What steps she plans to take to reduce annual immigration from states outside the EU to the tens of thousands. (28281)

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced to the House a fortnight ago, we are introducing a new permanent limit on non-EU economic migrants, with a reduction in the number of visas next year from 28,000 to 21,700. We are also taking action to tighten our immigration system across all the key routes—work, students and family—and will make settlement in this country a privilege to be earned.

I thank the Minister for that reply. What evidence has he found of abuse in the points-based immigration system that was introduced by the previous Government?

Regrettably, there is large-scale abuse. For instance, we looked at a sample of the migrants who came here last year in tier 1, which is meant to cover the brightest and the best of highly skilled migrants, and nearly a third of them were doing completely unskilled jobs. We have also found widespread abuse in the student system. That tells us that we must refine and smarten the points-based system that was left to us by the previous Government so that it does the job of ensuring that we get immigration numbers down to sustainable levels.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that question, because it enables me to puncture one of the great urban myths in the immigration debate, which is that most immigration comes from within the European Union. The net migration figures—which we will get down to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament—show that the vast bulk of immigrants come from outside the European Union. She asked about the numbers. In 2009, 292,000 non-European economic area migrants entered the UK and only 109,000 left. The House will see that the vast majority of net immigration comes from outside the European Union. Such immigration is precisely what we will take action on.

Will the Minister assure the House that the new proposals to control immigration will protect the interests of legitimate businesses?

I give that assurance to the House and, beyond that, to business. We held something that has been unusual in recent years: a consultation that genuinely consulted. We listened to business and changed the rules on inter-company transfers. That is also why we got rid of most of tier 1 and left a small remainder for the very exceptional. We now have a system that will not only enable us to get immigration to sustainable levels, but protect businesses and educational institutions that are vital to our future prosperity.

In light of the concerns about immigration that the Minister has articulated, will he share his justification for this week’s news that front-line UK Border Agency staff at Liverpool port and John Lennon airport will be slashed by almost half?

The hon. Lady has heard me say in response to a previous question that there will be a reduction of more than 5,000 in the UKBA work force. We are ensuring that we use new technology and new working practices to make our border more secure than it was under the Government whom she used to support. I commend to her the very good Institute for Public Policy Research publication, “Immigration under Labour”, in which an adviser to one of Labour’s more successful Home Secretaries—

Order. The Minister of State will resume his seat. His purpose here is to answer questions about the policy of the Government, not that of the Opposition. I hope that that is now clear to him.

I know that some members of the coalition have trouble understanding what a pledge means, but after a bit of probing, the Home Secretary gave the House a commitment the other week to reduce immigration to tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament. Does that commitment still hold this week?

I think that the hon. Gentleman was in the House when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made that commitment. [Interruption.] No, she said by the end of this Parliament; I was here. All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that I do not propose to go into the French accent that my right hon. Friend used, but I am more than happy to repeat the commitment that she gave the House on that occasion.

On that exact point, the Prime Minister has repeatedly promised that he will bring net migration down to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament. The promise was even included in the Conservative party’s pre-election contract with voters. However, in recent weeks it has been downgraded to an aspiration or an aim, most notably by the Home Secretary. Has the Minister been told whether his policy is a firm pledge or just an aim or aspiration? Which is it?

Our policy has been the same since before the election and is the same as it was when the Home Secretary stated it to the House in her announcement about the immigration limit.

Both the Home Secretary and the Minister have stated a commitment to ensuring that excellent scientists, engineers and academics will be able to come into this country. Will they revise the number of points available for PhDs compared with MBAs, and can the Minister explain how the tier 1 scheme will work for both established people and up-and-coming young people?

The tier 1 system is designed precisely so that we can ensure that we get the next generation of excellent scientists. As the Member of Parliament for Cambridge, my hon. Friend clearly has both interest and knowledge in the matter, and he will know that existing Nobel prize winners will get enough points to come in under the points-based system. Our new tier 1 is designed to ensure that the Nobel prize winners of tomorrow will be able to come to this country. We plan to ensure that objective, outside bodies decide who those people are, so that we get the best expertise in specialist fields not just among those coming into this country but among those who decide who comes to this country.