The annual limit, together with other measures such as raising the minimum skills level, has ensured that we have kept the numbers of non-EU workers at sustainable levels while allowing employers to access the brightest and best migrants.
The seasonal agricultural workers scheme, which expires in December 2013, allows farmers and growers to bring in workers from as far away as Ukraine and Moldova. Does the Minister agree that welfare reform should make it more attractive for British crops to be picked by British workers?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Immigration reform is one necessary element of creating a more balanced labour force, but the other two elements are welfare and educational reform, which will ensure that British workers are trained and have the right attitude to take the jobs available, in agriculture or in other sectors. [Interruption.] The Opposition Front-Bench team appear to deride these types of jobs. I suggest that is a big mistake.
It is important that we create, as we are doing, a more selective immigration system designed to attract and reward migrants who can make the biggest contribution to our economy. By raising the minimum skills threshold and the English-language requirements, we have ensured that only migrants who are highly skilled or who have skills that are in short supply can come to the UK to work and settle.
One of the many failures of the previous Government was that they made settlement an automatic consequence of five years’ residence in the UK. Settlement in the UK is a privilege, not a right, and unrestricted settlement rights are not in the UK’s best interests. The changes we implemented in April will mean that, from April 2016, those wishing to settle here will have to earn a minimum salary of £35,000 or the appropriate rate for the job, whichever is higher. That is better for the long-term health of our immigration system.
Given that the Government have just released data showing that one in five unemployed households contain a member who has never had a job, is there not a case, while this recession lasts, for temporarily restricting movement generally from Europe, so that the Government’s welfare reforms can have a fair wind?
I have great admiration for the right hon. Gentleman’s work on immigration and welfare, but I do not think that closing off the European labour market would be appropriate in a recession, because it would presumably apply both ways, meaning that British workers looking for jobs in the rest of the EU would also be badly affected. He is quite right to suggest, however, that the problems of the British economy need to be solved at the same time as the severe problems in the eurozone.
My impression is that the fact that companies have never reached the cap in the number of available work permits suggests that it is not the Government-imposed cap that has affected this. One consequence that I see is that companies are exporting the work that would have been done in the UK to other countries, or using intra-company transfers. What is the Minister doing to ensure that we keep work in Britain?
First, we are putting limits on intra-company transfers—limits that were never there under the previous Government. We have set a minimum salary threshold of £40,000 for those who stay for longer than one year and a minimum salary of £24,000 for those who stay for less than one year. The hon. Lady identifies a potential problem, in that people could use intra-company transfers to try to drive out British workers, but that is precisely why we have taken these effective measures—to stop that kind of abuse of the system.
18. Is the Minister concerned that France now attracts 50% more visitors from India than we do and that Switzerland, which has joined Schengen, is also experiencing a disproportionate surge in business visitors and tourists as a result? Is it reasonable to impose a £78 visa charge? People have to travel hundreds of miles to visit Britain for any reason. We might be open for business, but we are jolly well closed to foreigners under this Government. (108044)
I have to say that that is complete nonsense. Our tourism industry is doing better than ever before. Somebody planning to fly here on holiday from India would have to pay £78 for a six-month visa, which would not be an even remotely significant part of the total cost of their holiday, so I have to say that the right hon. Gentleman has simply got it wrong.