Changes to the immigration rules and associated guidance are scheduled twice each year, with additional urgent changes being made when required. Guidance explains how the rules must be applied, and it may be updated more frequently. We keep the need for changing the rules and the guidance under constant review.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but he will know that there have been 15 changes to the UK Border Agency’s guidance to the higher education sector in relation to tier 4 sponsors over the past couple of years. Does he acknowledge the concern on both sides of the House and beyond at the inclusion of international students in net migration targets? Will he also acknowledge that, despite the damage that that has caused to university recruitment, the Government said in their response to the Lords Science and Technology Committee that they were committed to the growth of the university sector? Will he commit to a period of stability in relation to guidance, and to providing better support for tier 4 sponsors?
The hon. Gentleman knows this area very well as a result of his long experience in the sector. He will be aware that we did a full consultation before we introduced the changes to tier 4 rules, and that we rolled them out in three tranches in order to give the sector time to adjust to them. He is wrong on this point: we deliberately protected the university sector, and the UCAS figures that we have just seen show that international student acceptances to universities are up by 4%. Our education sector is open for business.
I very much welcome the coalition Government’s efforts to manage and control immigration, but does the Minister agree that we would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater if we were to exclude specialist temporary workers who were the existing employees of British companies? We cannot say to inward investors, “We want your money, but we don’t want your workers or your expertise to help us to grow the company.”
The hon. Lady will know that we have a cap on skilled workers, and that, so far, we have not come anywhere near to it taking effect. No business that has wanted to hire a skilled worker who meets the requirements has been unable to do so. Our policies are sound: we are keeping control of immigration but contributing very successfully to economic growth.
I represent Tech City, and in my regular meetings with representatives of those technical businesses, immigration comes up as one of the main challenges. For all the Minister’s comments just now about there being no cap, he is causing confusion and complication in a sector that could be driving the British economy. When will he rethink?
I really do not think that the hon. Lady is right. We have a cap on skilled migration, but we have not come anywhere near it. We have a clear system for businesses being able to bring in skilled workers. If she has specific examples from businesses in her constituency, I would be delighted to meet the people involved so that I can set out clearly what our policies are, and if there are genuine issues, I will absolutely look at them.
Will my hon. Friend give me an assurance that all changes will be properly announced? In particular, I should like an assurance that there will be no repeat of what happened from 1997 onwards, when there was a massive increase in the number of work visas granted to non-EU workers, without proper announcement, and the implementation of a de facto open-door immigration policy—even though it sounds very much as though the Opposition would like to do the same thing again.
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We want to ensure that we have firm but fair immigration controls, and that we have a cap on immigration, not least so that businesses can give British workers a proper opportunity to get into employment. If there are skill shortages, they can be dealt with. Our university sector is protected. We have sensible policies that have been announced to the House, and I am very happy to defend them.