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Foreign Nationals (Employment Status)

Volume 560: debated on Monday 25 March 2013

3. What steps she is taking to record the employment status of foreign nationals who reside in the UK; and if she will make a statement. (149409)

We are rolling out biometric residence permits to non-European economic area nationals in the UK granted leave for more than six months to make it easier for them to prove their entitlement to live and work. From next year, all non-EEA nationals will require a biometric residence permit, and we expect employers to check a migrant’s right to work prior to offering employment.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s answer, which I find encouraging, but will he explain how the success of that initiative can be monitored unless records are kept of where and by whom foreign workers are employed?

I have two things to say to my hon. Friend. First, the sponsorship system provides a good mechanism for employers to track and record who is working for them when they come to fill skills shortages. Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will, with the roll-out of universal credit, collect as a routine matter the nationality of those who claim benefits.

On the issue of foreign nationals and all others, is the Government’s response simply determined by the rise and threat of the United Kingdom Independence party?

No, not at all—the speech that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made earlier today was informed by work that has been going on for a number of months in the cross-ministerial committee that I chair. It is a well thought-through policy area as we further tighten the immigration system. The hon. Gentleman will know that, since the Government came to power, we have reduced net migration to the UK by a third and will continue to reduce it.

Does the Minister agree that the vast majority of people in this country will support his work and the emphasis in the Prime Minister’s speech? Nevertheless, there is still a net increase in immigration of 160,000 every year. Will the Minister assure us that he will continue to do all he can to reduce that number further?

My hon. Friend is right. We committed to reducing net migration from the unsustainable hundreds of thousands that it was under Labour to tens of thousands, which is much more sustainable. That is supported by the vast majority of British people, whomever they vote for. I am glad my hon. Friend also supports that policy.

I wonder whether the Minister could help me to spot the difference. Currently regulations and Department for Work and Pensions guidance for jobcentres state that EU migrants cannot claim benefits after six months unless they are

“genuinely seeking work, and have a reasonable chance of being engaged”.

The Prime Minister today, in what is supposedly a new announcement, said that migrants can claim after six months only if they

“can prove not just that you are genuinely seeking employment…but also that you have a genuine chance of getting a job.”

Is that not exactly the same? There is no difference at all—it is not a new announcement. How many people exactly does the Minister believe will be affected by this supposed change?

The Prime Minister set out a number of changes today. The one the hon. Gentleman mentions ensures that there is a statutory presumption in the system, which does not exist today, that, after six months, people have to demonstrate that they are taking all possible steps to seek work and that they have a reasonable prospect of getting it. At the moment, there is no presumption that they must do so. That is a weakness in the system, which is why we will strengthen it.