My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Over the next year, the Government will bring in the biggest shake-up of the immigration system for over 40 years. As part of this, key aspects of our migration reform programme are being announced today, including: a statement of intent which sets out how the points system will work for highly skilled migrants; two consultation documents, one on proposals to tackle forced marriage and another on proposals to introduce a pre-entry English-language requirement for spouses; and the results of an initial consultation on simplifying immigration law.
Statement of intent for highly skilled migrants
One of the key changes to reform migration will include a firmer, faster and fairer Australian-style points system. The new system will be simpler and more transparent, ensuring that only those migrants Britain needs can come to work or study in the UK. We are creating a Unified Border Force, bringing together the Border and Immigration Agency, Customs and UK Visas. The new agency will provide tougher policing at ports and airports with a highly visible, uniformed presence, counting all migrants in and out of the UK; and we are introducing compulsory identity cards for foreign nationals, meaning that we will know who is here and what they are entitled to do.
We will launch the points system in under 100 days, beginning with highly skilled migrants and sponsor registration. The statement of intent sets out how the points system will work for highly skilled migrants, showing how points will be awarded and the robust checks that will be made on applications.
The economic benefits of migration are clear. Migrants put far more into the Treasury purse than they take out. Migrants contributed an estimated 15 per cent to 20 per cent to the UK's growth in 2001-05, worth around £6 billion to output growth in 2006. Highly skilled migrants are key to Britain winning these benefits, filling crucial roles in financial and public services, education and health, ICT and business. Following the success of the existing highly skilled migrant programme, the purpose of the high-skilled tier of the points system is to attract and retain the most talented migrants who have the most to contribute economically.
The points system will simplify around 80 immigration routes into just five tiers:
Tier 1—Highly skilled individuals to contribute to growth and productivity;
Tier 2—Skilled workers with a job offer to fill gaps in the UK labour force;
Tier 3—Low-skilled workers to fill specific temporary labour shortages. This tier will be introduced only if there is a specific need;
Tier 4—Students; and
Tier 5—Youth mobility and temporary workers: people coming to the UK to satisfy primarily non-economic objectives.
The highly skilled tier will replace eight current immigration routes. This tier is designed to admit highly skilled individuals who wish to come here to work, to set up or join a business, investors, and international students who have studied here and wish to seek employment. It will embrace:
general—incorporating the highly skilled migrants programme;
entrepreneurs—combining the current businesspeople and innovators categories;
investors—incorporating the current investors category; and
post-study work—bringing together two staying-on schemes for international graduates who have studied in Scotland and the rest of the UK. This will boost the UK's attractiveness as a place to study, bringing benefits to our educational establishments.
The points system replaces subjective decision-making with an objective, transparent process that is more robust against abuse. Highly skilled applicants will need to show they have enough points to qualify to enter or remain in the UK. Highly skilled applicants will earn points for their skills and potential for economic success, competence in English language and ability to support themselves and their dependants. The points pass mark for the highly skilled tier of the points system will be informed by the work of the Migration Advisory Committee on economic needs and that of the Migration Impacts Forum on the wider effects of migration.
We are publishing this document today so that those affected can prepare. The document explains the transitional arrangements that will be put in place to handle the transfer from old to new systems. We are also giving people the opportunity to comment on them. Statements of intent about skilled, temporary and student migrants will follow next year.
Marriage to partners from overseas
The consultations on proposals to tackle forced marriage and to introduce a pre-entry English-language requirement for spouses fulfil the promises made in our strategy Securing the UK Border, published in March 2007, to consult on new arrangements for marriage visas, including an English-language requirement. Copies of the consultation documents have been placed in the House Library.
Forced marriage is a form of aggression that puts women in particular at risk of harm and of being exploited. The Home Office, together with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has already made progress in tackling forced marriage by creating the Forced Marriage Unit in 2005. The unit handles up to 300 cases per year.
Around a third of the cases involve children, some as young as 13. We believe that increased protection against coercion and potentially violent or abusive situations is called for. The problem of forced marriage has not disappeared so we feel it right to take measures to protect vulnerable people from these pressures.
The Government are aware that this is a topic with many sensitive aspects, but three principles stand out as important. First, no one should be pressurised into sponsoring a marriage visa. Secondly, those who wish to sponsor a marriage partner from overseas should be encouraged to establish an independent adult life here first and to see that as an important way of helping their partner integrate. Thirdly, spouses who are abandoned by a person they have sponsored are entitled to an assurance that their sponsorship will not be abused for further advantages.
We recognise that forced marriage is not the same as arranged marriage. The Government are not expressing any concern about arranged marriages, which we know to be a part of many cultural traditions, and which involve the consent of both parties. But young British citizens must never be forced into relationships they do not want at a time in their lives when they could be establishing themselves as adults through further education or through work.
For this reason, one of the proposals we are suggesting is that the minimum age at which a person can sponsor a marriage partner from overseas should be raised from 18 to 21. The same minimum age would apply to the person being sponsored.
We are also considering introducing a code of practice, which would say how an application for a marriage visa should progress if one of the parties is identified as vulnerable. This would build on work carried out by entry clearance officers in relation to in-depth interviews with couples. It would enable views to be given in confidence and assess whether sufficient scope had been given to protect the potentially vulnerable party.
We are also looking at whether we should do more to investigate allegations of abuse of marriage for immigration advantage after entry—how this might be investigated and what other provisions might be necessary for safeguarding women in particular after the entry of a sponsored spouse.
The consultation on the proposal to introduce a pre-entry English-language requirement for spouses discusses the key issues around how a requirement of this nature might work in practice. People who apply for a marriage visa principally do so with the intention of joining their loved ones in the UK on a permanent basis. They are given full access to the labour market on arrival and are able to apply for full settlement after two years providing they meet the criteria in the Immigration Rules. It is right therefore that we should consider ways to assist a spouse integrate into life here, which includes promoting the development of English-language skills at an early stage.
We are seeking views on the proficiency level at which the requirement would be set, on how we would make language learning accessible universally and on how the spouse might demonstrate that a language requirement had been met.
The consultation periods will run for 12 weeks and the final date for responses is 27 February 2008. Once the process has concluded and views have been considered, we will report on the results of both consultations and any proposed changes to the Immigration Rules relating to marriage.
In June 2007 my honourable friend the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration (Liam Byrne) published an initial consultation paper on simplifying immigration law. Simplification of the legal framework will support the wider development and transformation of the Border and Immigration Agency, and assist in the achievement of its strategic objectives.
Detailed analytical work is now under way to examine the existing law and the options for change. Next year we will consult on more specific issues and publish proposals for pre-legislative scrutiny.
Copies of the statement of intent, the consultations on tackling forced marriage and introducing a pre-entry English-language requirement for spouses, and responses to the simplification consultation have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The documents are also available on the Border and Immigration Agency's website at:
www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/6353/aboutus/ (statement of intent);
www.bia.homeoffice.gov.uk/lawandpolicy/consultationdocuments/closedconsultations (simplification responses).