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Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules

Volume 705: debated on Tuesday 25 November 2008

rose to move, That the statement, laid before the House on 4 November, be disapproved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Phil Woolas says, “We have to bloody well talk about immigration”, so I am sure he will be pleased that we have managed to secure time for this debate just before Prorogation. There is no shortage of talk about immigration in this House where, although the points-based system was supposed to be a simplification, so far this year already we have had two debates on the fees and this is the second debate on changes to the rules.

An EDM has also been tabled in another place by the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition disapproving this statement. We look forward very much to hearing the Tories’ reasons for their disapproval and to having their company in the Division Lobby at the end of the debate, if any of them are left.

This statement amends the provisions that have already been decided for tier 1, which were agreed with some reluctance by your Lordships last March, and implements tier 2 for skilled workers and tier 5 for temporary workers. It creates a totally new category for business and special visitors who do not belong in any of the five tiers. It amends the general grounds for refusal and curtailment provisions related to sponsorship of tiers 2 and 5, and raises the age for spouses, civil partners and fiancés from 18 to 21. The statement contains 35,244 words, not counting the Explanatory Memorandum. The haste to produce it is shown by the simultaneous publication of an erratum sheet and a page of corrections to the Explanatory Memorandum.

Up to now, this system has been developed below the waterline of formal recognition in law, as ILPA puts it. This is the first opportunity that Parliament has had to look at sponsor licensing under the points-based system. Sponsors, who are largely employers and universities, but include also those who are bringing in sports people and entertainers, have to master the 100,000 words of the Immigration Rules. After reading 130 pages of guidance, they have to fill in an application form of 35 pages and 58 questions. If they make an error of judgment in relation to the candidate, employee or student they risk being fined or ultimately struck off the register. If that happens, anyone else whom they sponsor—not just the candidates who were taken on in error—may lose their job, their student place or contract as an entertainer or sports person.

The London Chamber of Commerce says that the system imposes new burdens on employers who are now being used as the first level of immigration regulation, which is happening at the wrong time, economically and otherwise. The time taken to register as a sponsor and to maintain all the required paperwork is a formidable additional cost which goes straight to the bottom line. London still has particular skills shortages, and yet in spite of the fact that it accounts for 19 per cent of GDP, there is no separate list of skills shortages here as there is in Scotland. The CBI says that the launch on 27 November will be “soft”, with,

“plenty of understanding for a couple of months as employers find their way”.

Can the Minister explain what this means? How are the rules going to be interpreted in a way that benefits those who have to grapple with the difficulties in the first few months of operation?

Among other concerns, the CBI says that the requirement that every dependant of a tier 2 applicant must hold £533 in a UK bank account for at least three months before their arrival in the UK is totally impracticable for candidates from developing countries and will lead to split families or dependants entering on tourist visas which are inherently less controllable. For the maintenance of dependants, I suggest that the Government should rely on a guarantee by the sponsor, as they do for the principal applicant, and as they have done for years for spouses under Section 113 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

The CBI is concerned with the drafting of the business visitor proposals as they affect a person seconded from an overseas company which has a contract with its UK opposite number. It creates a two-tier approach with some firms using the business visitor route to bring in people for six-month visits while others have to use the more tightly controlled points-based system because the individual needs a longer period in the UK. The CBI says that business people who enter under tier 5 used to have a fast-track renewal facility under the old rules which is important for staff who travel regularly, but that is not in the statement or in the Explanatory Memorandum. We understand that it is not to be reintroduced until some time next year, leaving those facing renewal in the mean time with the loss of their passport for six weeks, with consequent personal inconvenience and perhaps additional costs from a business point of view.

The term “business visitor” also includes a category described as “academic visitor” which allows the candidate to stay for 12 months. However, Universities UK says that sponsored researchers, who make a vital contribution to our research activities and to international collaboration, will all have to enter under the tier 5 category called the “government authorised exchange route”, requiring a third-party organisation to act as the sponsor and not the higher education institution itself, and that it will have to be demonstrated that the mobility is linked to government department objectives. Although these changes come into effect the day after tomorrow, there is still no organisation capable of acting as a sponsor for these sponsored researchers, and it does not make any sense for a new body to be created especially for the purpose, even if that were possible, because the universities themselves are able and willing to do the job as they always have done in the past—without it ever having been suggested that an irregular route into UK employment had been created thereby. Transferring the obligation to a new quango is a criminally stupid piece of bureaucracy and weakens control because the quango will have no direct contact with the researcher, as the sponsoring universities have done until now. Universities UK has asked me to put it to the Government that the implementation of these proposals should be put off until the matter has been sorted out.

Apart from the universities, I invite the Minister to let us know what other organisations are affected by the requirement that a third-party sponsor has to be in place for tier 5 migrants coming in on government authorised exchange schemes. I know that it applies to authorised medical graduates coming here for further training where, until now, the process has been, first, for a check to be made on their qualifications by the relevant royal college, then for them to be registered with the GMC, and finally for the employing PCT to apply for a work permit. Now the PCTs are not going to be allowed to act as sponsors, and the royal colleges are still in discussions with the UKBA on the way forward. They say that there simply has not been time to work this out, and indeed an official from one college told me this morning that they would like to continue with the existing system until a new procedure is agreed.

The National Campaign for the Arts tells me that in the case of orchestras, theatre troupes and entertainers the sponsor is the organisation that arranges the visit and, where there are multiple venues, there is provision for group sponsorship. This sounds a lot simpler but it says that the process of negotiation with the UKBA has been very frustrating. The last meeting it had with the UKBA was a week ago—with two days to go there are still many unanswered questions—and it is constantly picking up things that are incorrect or out of date, particularly in the guidance.

A week ago, a Welsh arts organisation trying to register as a sponsor reported being asked for evidence of submitting returns to the HMRC Foreign Entertainers Unit even though it had had an e-mail from the Home Office on 7 October saying that this was no longer mandatory. Even the UKBA cannot fight its way through its own documentation. To save time, I have sent a document which the NCA e-mailed me this morning so that I do not have to go through all the points that it has raised.

One of the requirements for a person to be granted leave to enter as a business visitor is that he intends to carry out a “permissible activity”, but the definition of this at the bottom of page 5 of the statement states that it means,

“a business activity of a type listed in United Kingdom Border Agency guidance specifying the activities that a business person may undertake during a short-term business visit to the UK”,

and if you search the UKBA website you will find a page on business visitors which states that full details of permissible activities will be available shortly. That is not the only reference to UKBA guidance which does not yet exist, making it impossible for users to know whether their intentions are lawful.

There are two other examples that I shall give briefly—a person who intends to take part in sporting events and those intending to employ a tier 2 migrant, who must offer only allowances specified as acceptable in UKBA guidance which is still to see the light of day. In sub-paragraph (b) at the top of page 26 there is a reference to this guidance that does not exist.

In these cases, employers will have issued a certificate of sponsorship in good faith, but when the worker gets to the port or when the UKBA subsequently pays the employer a compliance or audit visit, it may transpire that the certificate of sponsorship was incorrectly issued. If users do not have the guidance, or even know when it was issued, how are cases under this heading going to be determined?

The TUC also has cogent objections to the scheme. It points out that when an employer who breaks immigration or company law can be refused a licence, those with a track record of worker abuse or exploitation cannot. The Home Secretary has given some assurances that exploiters might have their licences revoked, but there is nothing in the rules about that. In Australia, as the TUC points out, the employer must demonstrate that he is of good standing, including compliance with immigration law and good workplace relations, before he is issued with a licence.

The TUC and Kalayaan expressed concern about the changes affecting domestic workers and particularly those employed by diplomats. Kalayaan was a referral body on the Home Office pilot scheme to detect human trafficking for forced labour held between May and September this year. Of the 12 referrals it made, three were domestic workers who had accompanied diplomats to the UK. The competent authority for the pilot decided that there were reasonable grounds to believe that all the referred individuals had been trafficked for domestic servitude. Surely this demonstrates that we need to strengthen the protection of domestic workers generally and those employed by diplomats in particular. Kalayaan says that the undertaking given by the former Minister, Liam Byrne, in June that the protection of migrant domestic workers would be maintained outside the points-based system until the two-year review should be upheld and that domestic workers in diplomatic households should have the same rights to change employer as all others.

One final concern is about religious workers, particularly those coming to stay in monasteries. I declare an interest as patron of the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy Organisation, whose spiritual director, the venerable Ajahn Khemadhammo, OBE, is also chair of the Theravada Buddhist Sangha UK and abbot of a monastery in Warwickshire which from time to time hosts visiting monks from Thailand. There has never been any problem with monks coming to Theravada monasteries here, but now abbots are having to plough through reams of paperwork to become sponsors, a severe distraction from their lives of meditation and teaching the Dharma. The Sangha was not consulted until we prompted the Minister last April, and the guidance on Tier 5 shows that UKBA still has not understood that Buddhist monks are not employed.

It looks as though monks can enter, either as ministers of religion under tier 2, or as temporary religious workers for up to 24 months under tier 5. Tier 2 requires fluent English, and that is not usually spoken by monks when they first arrive from south Asian countries. But under tier 5, they are barred from engaging in many of the normal activities of monks, such as chanting at funerals, or any pastoral duties, including counselling. It may be very hard for monks to qualify at all if these restrictions are interpreted rigidly.

At the only meeting that the Theravada Buddhist Sangha UK had with UKBA on 15 July, it was apparent that there was no scope for varying what had already been decided, including the fees, which will hit small monasteries very hard. It costs £400 for the licence for tiers 2 and 5 and £175 for each certificate of sponsorship, plus the cost of the visa.

The introduction of this phase of the points-based system should be postponed. In its present form, it is a labyrinth of anguish, expense and errors both for users and the UKBA. We hope that the Government will agree with our Motion, giving themselves time to iron out the worst of these problems, only some of which I have been able to identify this evening. I beg to move.

Moved, That the statement, laid before the House on 4 November, be disapproved.—(Lord Avebury.)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for introducing the debate this evening. As he indicated, the TUC feels quite strongly about these changes in the Immigration Rules and has sent me a very substantial brief about it.

As already indicated by the noble Lord, the TUC has three principal concerns with regard to the proposed immigration reform. First, it thinks that licences to provide work permits should be restricted to people it calls good employers. Secondly, it is concerned about the rights of migrant domestic workers and thinks that those should be guaranteed in law to prevent abuse. Thirdly, it is seeking greater transparency in the intra-company transfer scheme, greater protection for those covered by the scheme and greater protection for the jobs of those who might be displaced by it.

On licensing arrangements, the TUC is very concerned that while employers who have contravened immigration or company laws can be prevented from getting a licence, employers with a very bad track record of abuse of their workers cannot be so prevented and may therefore recruit employees from abroad who, for a variety of reasons, are often, of course, more vulnerable to exploitation. Although the Home Secretary has provided some assurances that exploiters could have their licences removed subsequently, in the view of the TUC this really is a matter of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.

The TUC’s equivalent in Australia, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, reports that Australia’s employer nomination scheme, which concerns the sponsorship of those coming to reside permanently in Australia, provides that to gain approval to sponsor a skilled worker from overseas, the employer must demonstrate, among other things, that it is an employer of good standing, which includes a record of compliance with both immigration and workplace relations law. Under the Australian regional sponsored migration scheme, which allows employers in regional areas to sponsor skilled workers where no labour is available locally, the employer must demonstrate among other things a record of compliance with workplace relations laws. An equivalent requirement in the UK should be introduced.

The TUC feels strongly about migrant domestic workers. During the summer, the TUC and others welcomed the Home Secretary’s assurances that the status that migrant domestic workers were granted in 1997 would remain unaltered. It was then disappointed to learn that, under the proposed rules, the reasons for retaining the 1997 status would be ignored in the case of migrant domestic workers in diplomatic households. The new rules will leave them more vulnerable to abuse at the hands of their employers, who may moreover enjoy diplomatic immunity from prosecution. The Home Office has agreed to issue an administrative instruction to preserve the route to settlement for those workers as part of the Government’s commitment to ensure that all existing rights for overseas domestic workers are preserved until they can be reviewed two years after the introduction of the points-based system and when the anti-trafficking strategy has been properly road-tested.

However, this is not felt to be a sufficiently satisfactory solution, because such workers’ right to change employers and to renew will not be specifically included as rights. This needs to be addressed. Being unable to leave an abusive employer without breaching the Immigration Rules leaves diplomatic domestic workers especially vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse. Finding alternative employment in a diplomatic mission where the worker has already been abused is not a realistic option; and putting the agreed limited safeguard in an administrative instruction is not sufficiently sustainable, because it could easily be lost either through administrative error or deliberate government policy. For these reasons, the rights of migrant domestic workers to escape abusive employers without being further disadvantaged need to be set out in law.

I turn finally to intra-company transfers. The TUC believes that there should be more transparency. The names of sponsors, the number of certificates of sponsorship—especially under the ICT scheme—and the numbers accepted and rejected should be published, as is the practice in Ireland. This could help to strengthen confidence in the ICT system, which according to the TUC and its affiliates is creating resentment and concern in some workplaces. It is also believed that workers brought into the UK under the ICT scheme should have greater protection; for example, the wage level set out on the sponsorship certificate should be made available to the individual being sponsored. At present, this is not a requirement. Complaints from colleagues of the TUC in India already suggest that companies are not paying the rate shown on the sponsorship certificate to employees brought into the UK under the ICT system. Some way needs to be found to ensure that individual ICT scheme workers know that the wage they are being paid is correct and that they have some means of enforcing it.

Workers brought in under the ICT scheme should not be allowed to opt out from the 48-hour limit on working hours under the working time directive, as they are not in a position to refuse to work long hours when their employer could send them back to their source country.

For all those reasons, it is felt that the new proposals should be further discussed. The TUC also states that in general it supports the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association briefing on the changes proposed. It hopes that agreement can be reached on an alternative or adjusted way forward.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for challenging the changes to the Immigration Rules and for raising the issues presented by them. I shall refer particularly to the ways in which rules based primarily on economic considerations can have deep cultural effects, which may be unintended but are nevertheless serious. That is one reason why I believe it would have been far better if these matters had been dealt with by legislation. We could have discussed and explored them at far greater length than we can tonight.

The loss of the working holiday immigration route will have deleterious effects on the ability of young people to come to this country to work alongside British young people and gain from and contribute to our culture. The youth mobility scheme, which replaces it, involves just four countries—Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand. The working holiday scheme has been a major way in which the young people of Commonwealth countries, particularly African countries, have met and contributed to their understanding of one another. I believe it to have been one way in which peace has been established, sought and developed between people of very different cultures, and I deeply regret the loss that I believe will happen as a result of these rules.

Similarly, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, the restriction on charitable and religious workers will affect how people of faith from other countries come here and experience and contribute to the life of faith in this country. Christians from abroad influence and inform our own Christian growth, and it will be much more difficult to bring Christian ministers into this country to help us and them under these rules. Christian churches are not confined to a single country. International contacts and mutual support are crucial to the life of the Christian faith. That includes the ability for Christian ministries to move from country to country; it is by no means always true that a high-level knowledge of English is necessary for preaching and pastoral work to take place here. Our own links, in Ripon and Leeds, are with the church in Sri Lanka. We have gained much from clergy and others who have given of time and skill to come to this country to share with us, as we with them, although they may have very little English indeed. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that there will be continuing discussions with faith groups and charities before the powerful rules for tiers 2 and 5 are put into effect.

There are other concerns about these rules. The refusal of marriage visas to those aged 18 to 21 is portrayed as an attempt to prevent people being bullied into marriage. That I applaud—but this blunt instrument will also catch many genuine personal relationships. There is already legislation to prevent forced marriage. I do not believe that the refusal of visas will help anyone, and it will damage couples seeking to settle here in new, perfectly legal circumstances. Similarly, closing the way of entering for retired persons of independent means, means that elderly dependent relatives of people here may be allowed to come on compassionate grounds, while independent relatives will not be able to come. The provisions in both those examples give minimal benefit to anyone while damaging what is, admittedly, comparatively few people, but people who will suffer substantially. It must be no part of our rules to cause hardship and trauma to people, however few, without good reason.

Finally, I join the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, in asking for a review of the provisions for migrant domestic workers, particularly in diplomatic households. There is real danger here of abuse behind closed doors, which will be enhanced without the right to change employer while in this country. I hope that they will be excluded from the tier 5 provisions and so retain the already very limited rights of other domestic workers.

I hope that your Lordships will disapprove these changes, thereby giving us all the opportunity to explore ways in which we can improve the humane immigration controls that the Minister and the Government desire.

My Lords, I rise to speak on behalf of the universities that have been affected as one of the unintended consequences of this legislation. The right reverend Prelate mentioned that working holidays for younger people visiting this country were now effectively at an end. It should also be recognised that the long tradition of visiting fellows, whereby academics and scholars from other countries have visited this country to work in our laboratories and libraries alongside academics from this country, is now also effectively at an end. The briefing that I received from the University of Cambridge says that:

“From 27th November … there is no functional mechanism to continue to receive them, because the new regulations require a national-level body independent of the host universities to sponsor them, and no such body exists for the HE sector”.

As my noble friend Lord Avebury mentioned, under the new system, sponsored researchers are to be covered by the government-authorised exchange route under tier 5. That will be unworkable for higher education. The proposal requires a third-party organisation to act as sponsor, not the higher education institution itself, which currently acts as sponsor, and would require the mobility to be linked to government department objectives.

Despite the imminence of the new system’s implementation, there is no existing third-party organisation that can act as sponsor for these migrants. Under the current system, the universities sponsor these people themselves. There are no large-scale external organisation schemes in existence for the mobility of sponsored researchers. Universities are also very willing to continue to sponsor them and to take responsibility for their compliance, as they have done quite satisfactorily to date. Under the current proposals, it is not possible for the universities to develop a reciprocal sponsorship arrangement.

Organisations such as the British Council, research councils, learned societies, the Royal Society and similar organisations only fund a small number of these migrants in total, so have no interest in taking responsibility for all privately funded or overseas government-funded researchers—nor would it be appropriate or workable for Universities UK to act as such a sponsor. Transferring sponsorship duties to a third party, in any case, is less secure and less efficient than the universities themselves acting as sponsors. They are the people who know these scholars, know what they have been doing and can justify their visits. The third party will not be where the migrant is based and information will have to be duplicated between the university and the third-party sponsor. The creation of a new organisation to handle sponsorship of these migrants will create quite unnecessary and additional bureaucracy, as well as being contrary to the wider drive for better regulation.

I find it extraordinary. Here are a Government anxious that our universities should welcome overseas students and bring more of them to this country. They are anxious that our universities should forge links in research with industry, including multinational companies based overseas, and bring their researchers to this country to find out what we are doing, so that we can add to our research. They are anxious to promote the UK itself as a global leader in research, yet they are not only making it difficult for such researchers to come here, they are creating an almost total bureaucratic nightmare for any such researcher trying to come to this country as a visiting fellow. Universities UK has been pressing the UK Border Agency for a long time for discussions to resolve this problem, but so far such discussions have got nowhere. It has had very little co-operation indeed from the UK Border Agency. It is an absurd situation. It is not one, I am quite sure, that the Government wish to see and I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance that it will not take place.

My Lords, I intervene briefly to say that this is a spectacular own goal by the Government. The point made by my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford is central: looking at the development of universities as they come to terms with global research and the global exchange of information, it seems incredibly absurd to make it so difficult to exchange fellowships and scholars between universities. Indeed it has long been the pride of the United Kingdom that it was more open to people from other universities throughout the world than almost any other country. We gained immensely from that in scientific research, in cross-cultural new ideas and innovation, and not least—and this may appeal to the Government—in very strong links with educational publishers and providers in this country who then supplied a great many exports abroad which were central to the extension of our own ideas of education to other countries, not just to a small number of highly developed countries but also to a great many countries in the Commonwealth.

The right reverend Prelate and his colleagues drew our attention to the difficulty of bringing religious teachers and religious priests to this country. I find it incredible. If one wants to cross racial and cultural barriers, the commonality of belief—in Christianity in this case, but there are other examples such as Buddhism, to which my noble friend Lord Avebury referred—is one of the central ways in which globalisation can become civilised and values become commonly held. It is extraordinarily short-sighted that we should make this so difficult as well. I know of no evidence showing that people in this situation have exploited their position, become illegal immigrants or acted as people bringing in other persons.

I refer briefly to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden. For many years I lectured in the United States, at the John F Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University, on the subject of migrants who took up roles in domestic service. One of the largest groups in this category was people from the Philippines. There was a necessity for these people to find jobs outside those islands because the birth rate and the rate of job increase simply did not match one another. There were many extremely disturbing true stories about what had happened to domestic servants from the Philippines, many of them educated young men and women who went to other countries, including some very wealthy and developed countries, as domestic servants. I could regale the House, though will not, with statistics on the number of Filipino domestic servants who came back not alive but in coffins because of the way in which they had been treated by their employers. It is incredible that we should not only allow that but make it easier for people to exploit their domestic servants when—in another part of the Government, and I pay due respect to this—there has been a huge attempt to deal with the trafficking of young women for sexual or other purposes.

You do not need to know a great deal about domestic service to know that it opens the door to an explanation for trafficking that is just as bad as trafficking itself. There are many examples of misuse and abuse of domestic servants, not least in diplomatic embassies, though I hate to say so. I will not address any specific cases though some may spring to mind.

The Government have a responsibility for those who are the most vulnerable and least protected and who have the fewest rights among us. Domestic servants a round the country can continually be threatened and put under intimidating pressure so that if they complain, ask for proper wages or make it clear that they want their legal rights—to holidays, to Sundays and all the rest of it—they can be blackmailed with the threat that they will have to go back whence they came, and often they are the main supporters of their families. That case comes up time and time again. That this exploitation should be allowed to happen by a Government who have committed themselves to trying to treat fairly all groups in society is appalling.

I hope that the Government will stop and think again and that the other departments of government which have a great commitment to our own country's position internationally—the departments dealing with trade, business, foreign affairs and, not least, international development—will bring pressure to bear on the Home Office to rethink this. In the long run this will only bring a great deal of contumely, and deservedly so, on this country.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for again bringing this issue before the House. I wish to speak in the same spirit as the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Williams, particularly with respect to how this legislation affects higher education. The point has already been made that by placing sponsored researchers in tier 5, there will be a requirement to find a third body to sponsor them. I accept that this can be done in certain cases—the British Council might play a role—but for the majority of cases it is, frankly, not at all practical. It creates a major problem for our universities because these regulations come into effect in a few days’ time and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, there are at present no arrangements in place by which they can see their way to reproducing the number of sponsored researchers that we currently have. One way of doing it would be to extend tier 2 to include that group of people.

Today there were discussions on this issue in Downing Street. I hope that we are on the way to reaching a benign resolution of this problem because one is certainly required. We are talking about several thousand talented people in our university system, whose work this country cannot afford to lose. Cambridge University alone has 200 sponsored researchers. The measure affects dozens of people in my university, Queen’s University, Belfast. Cambridge is also concerned that the more restrictive arrangements for academic visitors will negatively affect the work of the Isaac Newton Institute, a world-class centre for mathematics. This is not simply a Cambridge issue. Today I talked to my own vice-chancellor in Belfast, who said that throughout the world of higher education there is alarm about the implications of these new proposals.

As other noble Lords have said, there is no question about the quality of the work carried out by sponsored researchers in our universities, which is frequently of economic benefit to this country and to the world more generally. I illustrate this with what I hope is a suggestive and pertinent example. The Foreign Secretary’s Written Statement of 13 March announced, in effect, that there would be no further FCO scholarships for PhD work from the developed Commonwealth countries. This aroused controversy in a debate last week. It is interesting to note the reason given by the Foreign Secretary in the Statement; namely, the desire to shift £10 million towards engaging with China on matters such as climate change and economic development.

There is every reason to respect the way in which the Foreign Secretary has tried to focus keenly on China, and it is a realistic aspect of current British foreign policy; therefore, the idea is to transfer £10 million in favour of this new engagement. However, we should look, as I did today, at Cambridge University’s list of sponsored researchers and what they are doing. At the very top of the list is the work of a Chinese scientist who specialises in electric power, economy and management, and works on such relevant questions as long distance interconnectors for wind farms and hydro stations. That is precisely the area in which we are supposed to be spending money, or shifting resources, in order to have a dialogue, but in this particular case it is not clear what the arrangements might be to keep this person in the country or to bring such people back into the country. There does not seem to be any particular rationale for this set of policies other than to create the maximum possible infuriation in the higher education sector, which has been achieved more or less perfectly.

I hope that the Minister, who has an academic hat as a chancellor of one of our universities, can bring himself to feel sympathy for the genuine plight of these sponsored researchers and for this whole project and what it means for our economy. I suspect that we are dealing with the unintentional side effect of very complex new rules, which would create genuine problems for any Government, but we cannot afford to take any steps which casually damage the research competitiveness of our universities.

My Lords, I declare an interest as an academic, like the noble Lord, Lord Bew. There is little that can I add to the excellent contributions that have been made. I just want to reiterate the point about the quality of the universities in this country and how important that is. Our universities are world class in their research and they manage to be so on the basis of funding that is relatively limited when compared with that in our competitor countries. We do extraordinarily well. Therefore, to promote research, it is essential that our universities are encouraged, not hindered, in facilitating the quality of their research.

Hosting sponsored researchers is a small but important part of research in our universities. That international exchange is absolutely crucial to the type of work that is undertaken, as the noble Lord, Lord Bew, mentioned. As all the speakers so far have said, the problem is that these rules hinder, rather than assist.

All the points that I would have made have been made for me, so I do not want to repeat them. However, I have three questions for the Minister. First, can he confirm that sponsored researchers are not high-risk migrants? Secondly, what have universities done so far that is deemed inappropriate in respect of sponsoring visiting researchers? Thirdly, what guidance have government departments given to develop appropriate schemes for hosting visiting researchers?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, beat me to it on this debate, although my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition has tabled an Early Day Motion in the other place, where he beat the Liberal Democrats. He put down the Motion so that this extremely important change in the Immigration Rules could be debated, because it was not going to be debated; it was going to pass through both Houses on a waft, without consideration. The fact that the Early Day Motion has been tabled, although time has not yet been found for it in the Commons, and that this Motion today has been tabled means that we at least have an opportunity to look at all these points.

The concerns raised by other noble Lords have been raised by many bodies. In particular, I have been briefed by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, which, I am sure, has written to other Members on the effects that the implementation of the changes to Immigration Rules under HC 1113 will have on the immigration system for those wishing to come to this country from outside EEC countries.

In general, from this side of the House, while having some reservations about the limitations of the new points-based system, we have supported the principles behind it because it brings some control of immigration to this country. However, it is clear from the briefings that we have received and the speeches that we have heard that the speed at which this is being done and the bureaucracy that is entangling it are causing trouble. I am sure that the Minister’s ears will have heard that tonight. The essential ingredient of the scheme is the licensed sponsor aspect, which replaces work permits. If that does not work, the whole pack of cards will come down.

Supplementary to an Oral Question put a couple of weeks ago, the Minister may recall that I asked how many sponsors had been licensed by the UK Border Agency. Unfortunately, he was unable to answer the question on the hoof—I am not entirely surprised—but he did say that he would write to me. I am still waiting for the answer to that question, because it becomes immediately relevant again today. The noble Lord need not write to me, because I now have the answer: it is 745. That needs to be set against the number of employers—I do not know it, but the Minister may be able to tell me—who currently employ people with work permits and who will need to become sponsors for future employees or further employment of those who are here.

Entry to this country is severely limited by the points-based system. Under tier 2, for skilled workers, tier 4, for students, and tier 5, for youth mobility and temporary workers—all those who would previously have applied for a work permit—it is now a requirement to hold a certificate of sponsorship from a licensed sponsor. The fact that there are fewer than 1,000 sponsors—we know that there are 745—and the expectation that tier 2 alone will have a requirement of at least 14,000 will prove to be insuperable barriers to entry to the country even for those to whom the Government are reasonably welcoming.

For tier 4, is the Minister concerned that, by 16 October this year, only 19 universities had applied for licences to sponsor foreign students, even when, by common consent, overseas students provide a handsome income for those bodies? The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, made the point about our need to bring researchers into this country. My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth reminded us of the need to ensure that universities are not hindered in what they do. Tier 4 is due to come into force in March next year. Does the Minister see this as being even faintly likely, in view of the paucity of sponsors?

Tier 5, which enables young people to travel, was discussed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. It will bring people to this country for cultural exchanges, working holidays and sporting events. Temporary workers, such as sportsmen and professional musicians, will have to be sponsored under the licensed sponsorship scheme. Where are the sponsors and who are they? They are not evident at the moment. I am sure that the Minister will remember from his own experience, or that of family or friends, the immense benefit to young people from being able to travel, mix and take part, with people from other countries and cultures, in projects, and have experiences. What a pity if that were denied to them because of the complexity for them and their possible sponsors in the system that has now been dreamt up.

Will the Minister also explain—possibly not for the first time—why these young citizens’ visits are limited to those from just four countries: Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand? When will the scheme be extended to other Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries, or is it anticipated that those are the only young people whom we will be able to welcome to our shores?

What is the problem? Much of it seems to be a reluctance by employers to carry out the role of unpaid immigration officers because of the lack of clarity of the full extent of their obligations under the scheme, with the disincentive of having to deal with, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, 130 pages of guidance and the 35-page, 58-question application form. The new points-based system was meant to be clearer and simpler for employers and prospective immigrants, so how is it that the system has been allowed to become so bureaucratic? What ministerial oversight and approval were given to this process, or was it just left to the UK Border Agency to carry on blithely on its own? Will the Minister outline what measures are being taken to promote take-up of sponsorship licences? Are they able to address this dearth of sponsors with sufficient urgency?

Like other noble Lords, we welcome the provisions that increase from 18 to 21 the age at which a marriage visa licence can be granted. We hope that that change will help to tackle the problem of British residents being forced against their will into marriage overseas. The evidence seems to show that the vast majority of such cases occur among those under the age of 21 and decreases from that age onwards. Forced marriage and human trafficking are anathema in this country and we support all measures to counteract them.

However, much less welcome are the changes, mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, which will stop retired persons of independent means who have close connections with this country—that is, family and friends—being able to apply to retire and spend the rest of their lives here, while elderly dependent relatives will still be able to come here if they live alone abroad and are in what are described as compelling compassionate circumstances.

By what logic has it been decided that there should be a difference between those who, late in life, can support themselves financially and wish to come to live close to their relatives but will not be allowed to do so, and those who cannot support themselves and will be dependent on family when they get here but will be allowed to come? The Minister will know that, in response to a question about this matter posed in the consultation carried out by the UK Border Agency—I repeat, the UK Border Agency and not the Government—nearly 60 per cent of the respondents were against this change. Can the Minister tell us what weight was given by the Home Office and the Government to these views before the policy, which now appears in these changes, was adopted?

There are a great many unanswered questions about this wholly unsatisfactory process. We believe that a socially responsible immigration policy needs proper controls to build public confidence in the system, but the flaws in what is happening under the current changes are becoming more and more evident.

We do not want to hold up the proposed changes and, if the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, takes this to a vote, I can tell him that we will abstain. However, we ask the Minister to consider carefully the points that have been made tonight and which, I am sure, have been made to the Home Office in many statements from a great many bodies. Perhaps he will be able to announce some helpful changes today. The most helpful one would be that these changes will be taken back to the Home Office and scrutinised by the department, not by the UK Border Agency. If not, I hope that he will make such an announcement shortly.

There seems to be little virtue in ploughing on regardless with a system about which so many questions are being raised and from which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, there are so many unintended consequences.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for the opportunity to debate this Motion. As he said, there have been a number of debates on immigration, and it is a key and important issue. I also appreciate the views expressed by colleagues in this House on a number of wider concerns affected by the changes in the Immigration Rules.

These rule changes enable the Government to introduce key parts of the most far-reaching reforms of the United Kingdom’s immigration system for 45 years. Far from being labyrinthine or a recipe for bureaucracy, they simplify what were 80-plus routes into five tiers. If we were setting up the system now, we would consider what we have at the moment to be unbelievably bureaucratic and labyrinthine.

My Lords, although applications are concentrated within the five tiers, as the noble Lord has just said, does he not acknowledge that beneath the tiers are other tiers and then tiers beneath those tiers, so that the simplification is more apparent than real?

My Lords, I acknowledge that each of the tiers breaks down into others, but the system is certainly simpler—and, I think, more straightforward—than the current 80-plus routes.

The rules cover several areas. Taken together, they have the effect of tightening our immigration control and clarifying key provisions, and they will come into effect on 27 November. I shall briefly describe the most important provisions before going on to answer the points made by noble Lords during the debate.

The rules will enable us to implement two of the most important parts of the points-based system for managed migration from outside the European economic area. We are introducing the points-based system to ensure that only migrants that the UK needs will be able to work and study here.

This new system will create a more efficient, transparent and objective application process. It will improve compliance and reduce scope for abuse. The process of overhauling the UK immigration system began earlier this year with the launch of the points system for highly skilled migrants. The points-based system is about getting the right people the country needs and no more. It is a flexible system in which the Government can raise or lower the bar depending on the needs of the labour market, as advised by the independent Migration Advisory Committee, and the country as a whole, taking account of views and evidence from the Migration Impacts Forum.

Secondly, the rules clarify the route for business visitors to come to this country. They do so by creating a new business and special visitor category making it clear exactly what people who come to the UK on business, and for the other purposes covered, can do. These changes have developed following public consultation and in partnership with key stakeholders.

Thirdly, we are raising the minimum age of a spouse and their sponsor for a marriage visa from 18 to 21. Notwithstanding what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds said, we believe it to be important to protect young people from being forced into relationships that they do not want at a time in their lives when they could be establishing a degree of independence as an adult through further education or work. It is interesting that information from the Forced Marriage Unit shows that the highest number of forced marriage cases dealt with in the period 2005-08 involved those aged 18, of which there were 72 cases, followed by those aged 17 and 19, of which there were 68 cases each. This is an important measure. We believe that raising the age will provide an opportunity for individuals to develop maturity and life skills and to complete their education. It may also allow them to resist the pressure of being forced into marriage. It will delay sponsorship for marriage until the age of 21 and allow vulnerable young people an opportunity to seek help and advice.

I shall now respond to the points made. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, spoke of the burden on smaller businesses. We are moving towards a more transparent and objective system, which will enable employers to recruit the migrants they need. To recruit workers from outside the EU, employers must be registered as sponsors with the UK Border Agency. With sponsorship comes responsibility. We will be looking to employers to safeguard the UK’s workforce by showing that the resident labour market test has been met before employing a migrant. We also expect employers to fulfil other duties, such as reporting non-attendance at work, changes to a migrant’s terms of employment and in time, using ID cards to check entitlement to work. These requirements have been developed in close consultation with employers.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned that maintenance requirements act as a barrier to non-OECD countries. Maintenance is set at £800, which is the sum required for the UK. The value of that sum outside the UK is not quite so important. We have listened to concerns from stakeholders, including employers and lawyers, and now allow A-rated sponsors to provide a written undertaking for migrants on maintenance. We have also listened to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and have extended that provision to migrants’ dependants. It is now possible for migrants to meet the maintenance requirements to come to the UK without showing that they have savings.

I am aware that the issue of sponsored researchers is a difficult one. It was raised by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Norton and Lord Bew, and noble Baronesses, Lady Williams and Lady Sharp. I have genuine sympathy as I understand the difficulties. There has been no intention directly to replace every route within the current system, but we felt that the five-tier framework broadly provides routes of entry to allow a continuation of activities benefit for the UK. In that context, I have already had discussions with the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. I know that she will have another discussion with my honourable friend Phil Woolas. I understand that she had a meeting with No. 10, the outcome of which I do not know as yet. Whether there will be any change as a result, I am not sure, but we are sympathetic to the concerns that have been put forward.

Until yesterday, we were not persuaded that amending the policy for the framework of tier 5—temporary workers and those whom the Government authorised in the same subcategory to cater for that group—would be conducive to maintaining our robust immigration controls more generally. The safeguards put in place for Government-authorised exchange are particularly important as many participants will be coming to the UK essentially to work, but unlike in other parts of the system, they will not need to meet stringent tests on expected earnings or a minimum standard of the English language before entry to the UK.

My Lords, as I understand it, the problem is that that would open up this issue to a raft of other areas. We would burst into masses of independent people being sponsors rather than an organisation doing it. For example, footballers coming to this country are sponsored by the Football Association, not by Leeds United, Birmingham City, or some other club. It would open up that problem. Having said that, I do not know whether anything has come from the meetings today. I am aware of the difficulties. We have been in consultation with UUK for two years. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said that the UKBA had been fairly intransigent, but there has been give and take, and an option was put forward about which we have not had an answer. There has been dialogue, and I hope we can achieve something there.

My Lords, is it not fairly clear that a university has the best awareness of its needs for the research that it and universities in other countries are conducting? A quango cannot, by the nature of things, understand the kind, depth and leading edge of research, particularly in fields such as medicine, biology and other sciences that require foreign researchers to complement what is being done in this country. A quango will not have the sensitivity that is needed for leading-edge research. The Minister has always shown an enlightened and independent attitude towards some of the things that he is given to read out. Can he reconsider whether this area should be looked at again by the Government? The UK Border Agency cannot be the right place to decide where research is advanced and with whom it is best advanced.

My Lords, whatever is picked as the central body—when I first got involved in this, I hoped that it might be UUK—just co-ordinates. The detail of the requirement would come from the universities. I realise that this is a sensitive issue. I do not know what came out of the debate at No. 10. I will have a look at this and see whether any move can be made in this area. I shall write to noble Lords who were involved in the debate on this point. That is the best I can do at the moment. As for the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, I shall get back to him in writing.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the fast-track guidance on the website. We have recently updated our website with information about our premium service as well as with further guidance for business visitors, including about permissible activities. The noble Lord probably went on to the website some time ago when it was not really—

My Lords, I understand that it has now been updated and that the information on the premium service is there. The noble Lord said that it was not there this morning, so either I will shoot my Box or it is it right. I shall check and come back to the noble Lord.

The business visitor guidance on permissible activities is now available on the website. It sets out a list of what are to be regarded as permissible activities to help visitors understand what they can and cannot do. We accept that the provision for business visitors/secondees needs clarification. We made clear in the guidance the circumstances in which that applies. The provision is very specific and is for a situation that is not covered by the points-based system; namely, where a UK company wins a contract to provide an overseas company with goods or a service abroad and there is no corporate relationship between the two companies.

My Lords, just to make sure there is no misunderstanding, I was trying to find the definition of permissible activities on the website this morning. I can assure the Minister that that has still not appeared.

My Lords, I will ask my team when that will appear; perhaps I may get back to the noble Lord on that.

On the soft launch, which the noble Lord raised, UKBA will be pragmatic and understanding on the arrangements. We will offer support and advice on what needs to be done, rather than immediately punishing minor breaches. We want the system to work for sponsors. We are not looking to make an example of employers who make honest mistakes. We want the new system to work properly and achieve what we hope for.

The issue of domestic workers is sensitive, and I understand the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury and my noble friend Lady Turner. With regard to private servants, we have been in close contact with missions, which are aware of how the arrangements will work. To cut a very long briefing note down, we are committed to ensuring that future arrangements concerning those workers minimise any risk of abuse or exploitation. The current route for domestic workers in private households is being preserved, and then reviewed, as appropriate, after the first two years of operation of the new system, when we have properly road-tested our anti-trafficking strategy to try to get round the problem. If I have not said enough on that, I can get back in writing with more detail.

Moving on to ministers of religion and the Buddhist monks, there are provisions for religious workers in the new points-based system. They can enter either in tier 2 or in tier 5. I understand that officials have discussed the matter with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the chair of the Theravada Buddhist Sangha in the UK and will continue to engage with them on the issue. Buddhist monks will be able to use tier 2 if they meet the English language requirement, or tier 5 if they cannot. I was not aware that if they are in tier 5, they are not allowed to do chanting or pastoral work. I will follow that up with the UKBA and see what the issue is there. I know that it is in dialogue with the noble Lord and we will see where that goes.

My Lords, it is paragraph 163 of the guidance that imposes restrictions on what a religious worker under tier 5 can do, and it includes pastoral work.

My Lords, I did not realise that that included chanting, but I will check.

On the points raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, we have worked very closely with the churches on the PBS and will continue to engage with them to ensure that we have found the right route. My noble friend Lady Turner talked about good employees. PBS sponsorship is a much stronger control than we have today. There is no formal licence or vetting of employers under the present work permit arrangements, but all who are PBS-sponsored are thoroughly checked pre-licence and visited to ensure compliance with rules. We have sanctions against non-compliant sponsors: B-rating or we remove their licence. All that is much stronger than where we are today.

The new youth mobility scheme will be fairer than the schemes that it replaces because, unlike the WHM scheme, the au pair scheme, and so on, it will be open to the nationals of any country that satisfies the criteria. The criteria for the scheme are clear. They will always be applied transparently. Countries participating in the scheme will therefore understand what they have to do. We will be happy to talk with any country at any time about the criteria and what needs to be done to meet them.

I know that abolishing the retired persons route is a difficult and thorny issue. We consider that the retired persons route, if retained, would allow migrants to enter the UK and remain here without necessarily having earned that right. That would give them a distinct advantage over other migrants. We will, however, continue to allow a parent or grandparent aged 65 or over to come to the UK if they are financially dependent on the relative who is present and settled in the UK and have no close relatives in their country. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord on ICTs.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, raised the issue of sponsor licences, on which I said that I would write back. I am sorry that that letter has not yet reached her; sometimes these things take longer than I would like them to, and the facts change. So far, 6,300 applications have been made and 3,500-plus licences have been issued to more than 2,200 employers. One can see that it is on a rather larger scale than the noble Baroness was led to believe by whoever gave her that figure.

We have promoted this through a TV campaign, radio advertisements, newspaper advertisements, trade journals, and hundreds of events, which the UK Border Agency has organised or contributed to. We have extra website content and a mailshot to 60,000 employees who have to work that system.

I hope that I have answered all the questions asked. If not, I ask noble Lords to get back to me and I will write to them separately. I hope that, in the light of the arguments made today, the noble Lord will withdraw his Motion.

My Lords, I am afraid that I am not going to withdraw the Motion, for the reasons that have been thoroughly ventilated. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, says that she is not coming with us into the Division Lobby. Nevertheless, she said that she believes that the Government should scrutinise these rules more thoroughly in the Home Office. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said that the changes should be further discussed. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds said that he hoped we would disapprove the changes.

We are not against the points-based system as such but against the botched way in which these changes have been introduced. The Minister did not clear this up in his reply. We are grateful to him for the one concession that he made on dependants. This will be very useful, but it is a drop in the bucket compared with the criticisms that have been expressed by your Lordships this evening. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds and my noble friend Lady Williams talked about the domestic workers. We do not have the guarantee that persons employed in diplomatic households will be permitted to change employment like everyone else, when we all know from the Kalyaan study that there is plenty of evidence of the abuse of domestic workers.

The centre of the discussion has been the muddle over the universities, which the Minister has not cleared up. Although he told us that there were discussions between the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and the Prime Minister at No. 10—we are pleased to hear that—we must decide on the rules this evening. If we pass them, I do not know how the Minister will make provision for the universities to license research workers, for example, or find some other way of allowing them to enter in the large gap that must inevitably occur between now and the establishment of the umbrella organisation. He says that that organisation might be Universities UK. However, we have been told that it definitely does not want to do this, and there are very good reasons why it should not do so. We are therefore left with the problem that if we allow the rules to go through in their present form, the whole structure through which research workers come in from overseas will grind to a halt. We also find, as I explained, that the same is true of medical graduates coming in to work in PCTs who have hitherto been authorised by the work permits issued to the PCTs.

In view of the fact that the Government have not thought through the scheme and need an opportunity to amend it in the light of the criticisms expressed this evening, I wish to press the Motion to a Division.

House adjourned at 9.04 pm.