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Unskilled Migration: Employment Levels

Volume 618: debated on Monday 5 December 2016

1. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effect of unskilled migration on levels of employment. (907614)

The latest labour market statistics show that more British people are in work than ever before, the unemployment rate is at its lowest level for over a decade and nine in 10 people in jobs are UK nationals. However, the Prime Minister has been clear that as we conduct negotiations to leave the European Union, it must be a priority to regain more control of the numbers of people who come here from Europe.

There is no point in national London politicians lecturing people in places such as the black country with national statistics, because this has different impacts in different communities. Why are low-skilled migrants still coming here when we have hundreds of thousands of unemployed people in Britain? Why have the Government not stopped companies from just advertising jobs abroad or using workers from overseas to undercut wages here? And why do the Government not require large firms to train up local apprentices if they do have to hire someone from abroad?

It is a little rich getting that sort of lecture from a Labour Member, because the Labour party failed to put controls on in the 2004 enlargement and most of its Members who were in charge then have admitted what a mistake that was. There are no lectures coming from my party—only hard answers. The answer is that we will be restricting immigration when we move to leaving the EU.

Does the Home Secretary agree that students should be removed from the “tens of thousands” target? Does she also agree that as the data are extremely poor, we should strain every sinew to try to get better quality data so that we can form a judgment about whether—and if so, how—we can ensure that exports, which is what foreign students are, are maximised in this country?

Absolutely hopelessly long. Sorry, but that was really hopeless and we have to do a lot better.

I share my right hon. Friend’s view that students play an important role in contributing to the economy and are most welcome in the UK. The internationally recognised definition of a “migrant” is someone coming here for more than 12 months, so they are likely to stay within that definition, although I am aware that there are different views on this matter.

Thank you, Mr Speaker—the pressure is on. The Home Secretary refers to the measure of net migration, but she was asked about the target. Does she agree that international students should be taken out of the Government’s target, as the Foreign Secretary has said over the weekend and as the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to hint some weeks ago? Does she think that foreign students should be included in the target?

As I told the House, and as the right hon. Lady is aware, there are different views on this. The definition that I referred to was the one for international students, which is held by the Office for National Statistics; more than 12 months and they represent an immigrant, and therefore are part of the numbers.

I am not sure that students are unskilled in any case. Nevertheless, is it not the fact that there are people in this country who will not do the jobs that unskilled migrants do? Is not the point, therefore, that in the black country and elsewhere it should be not Brussels after Brexit but the United Kingdom that will decide which migrants are needed to do the jobs that UK people will not do?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. One in 10 18 to 24-year-olds is still unemployed, and we want them to have the opportunity to take up these jobs. That is one reason why, alongside other initiatives such as the apprenticeship levy, we are encouraging businesses to participate more in local employment and work more with local young people to make sure that they can take those jobs.

The UK relies on more than 80,000 seasonal workers to pick its fruit and veg every year, with the Financial Times recently suggesting that 98% of those workers come from within the EU. Will the Government commit to protecting access for seasonal workers from the EU to safeguard our agricultural sector going forward?

The hon. Lady has raised an important question, and I know that the National Farmers Union met my colleague the Minister for Immigration recently to discuss exactly that point. We are aware how necessary it will be to ensure that we have some sort of seasonal scheme in place, and we are looking carefully at it.

Has the Home Secretary had any discussions with her Cabinet colleagues about the pull factor of the increase in the living wage and the impact it may have on immigration?

My hon. Friend rightly says that the national living wage could be a pull factor, but other factors are also at play, such as currency fluctuations, which can have the opposite effect, and I urge him to consider those.

Assuming that a deal is reached under which EU citizens who were here before a certain cut-off date can remain after we leave the European Union, can the Home Secretary tell the House how the Home Office will document them—we are talking about an estimated 3 million people—so that employers and landlords will know thereafter to whom legally they can offer a job or accommodation and therefore distinguish them from those EU citizens who arrived after that?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We are aware that there is a certain expectation and concern about the European Union citizens here. As the Prime Minister has said, she hopes to be able to reassure them, but it is right that we do that while looking also at the over 1 million UK citizens in the rest of the European Union. There will be a need to have some sort of documentation—he is entirely right on that—but we will not set it out yet. We will do it in a phased approach to ensure that we use all the technological advantages that we are increasingly able to harness to ensure that all immigration is carefully handled.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the London School of Economics Centre for Economic Performance looked at the issue of immigration employment regionally? It found that the areas with the largest increase in EU immigration had not seen the sharpest falls in employment or wages since 2008. One author of the report said that there was still no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs or wages. On the question of students, there is an increasing consensus in all parts of the House that students should be taken out of the immigration target. Technically, anyone who stays more than 12 months may be an immigrant, but in practice, they should not be in the target.

The hon. Lady might want to take up her interesting views with the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) who seems to take a slightly different view. One thing that is for certain is that when we do leave the European Union, we will have more control over immigration from the European Union and we will be making sure that the immigration that we do get from the European Union achieves the right balance of attracting the type of people who can really boost the UK businesses that need it.