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Immigration Officers

Volume 773: debated on Monday 4 July 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are the qualifications of those whose job it is to assess and review applications for non-European Union citizens seeking leave to remain in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, while there are no formal qualification requirements, the recruitment and selection of staff to these roles follows a standard process based on the Civil Service core competency framework. A comprehensive training and mentoring programme is in place for all staff recruited to these roles.

I thank the Minister. Given the serious shortage of expertise in academe and in the health and care sectors, will the Minister consider revising the provisions that prevent graduates in this country who are from abroad working in these sectors to help out? Even if such graduates offer their work free of charge, they are limited to a number of hours of service, which deprives communities of freely available and badly needed help. Will the Government reconsider this provision?

My Lords, I believe that the noble Baroness is referring to the issue of students working here. The main purpose of the tier 4 visa, the arrangements under which she refers to, is that students should be able to maintain themselves for the duration of their course without resorting to employment in the UK. However, as noble Lords will know, students are permitted to supplement their income and can work for up to 20 hours a week.

My Lords, whatever the outcome of the EU negotiations on immigration referred to earlier, does my noble friend agree that it is the skills of migrants, from Commonwealth countries particularly, on which we heavily depend and that these should be encouraged rather than penalised in the new situation which we are moving into? Does he further agree that, if the 183,000 students who are classified as migrants were looked at slightly differently from the overall migrant figures, it might clarify and ease what is otherwise a very misunderstood situation?

My noble friend raises two important points. On the first, the UK is committed as a member of the European Union until the decision is taken formally to invoke the appropriate articles, but in our future negotiations with our European partners and with the world in general it will be important that we look at the skills requirements of the nation to ensure that we fulfil them. On my noble friend’s second question, it would be remiss of me at this point to start changing immigration policy, but, as I always do, I have listened to him with interest and will take back his comments.

Can my noble friend say what help can be given to British citizens living in Europe? I have a daughter and two grandchildren living in Spain; they have been there 22 years.

The advice is very clear. We remain members of the European Union and nothing changes. I know that this issue has come up in your Lordships’ House previously and I shall repeat an Answer to an Urgent Question on it later today. It is important to remember in the new world that we find ourselves in that Britain always has been, and will remain, a nation which is compassionate in welcoming people from around the world. Certainly, that will be the basis of any discussions with European partners and nations beyond Europe.

Is either the number of applications seeking leave to remain in the UK from non-EU citizens or the percentage of such applications that are accepted projected to increase or decrease between 2015 and 2020? If so, to what extent are they projected to increase or decrease?

I am not going to speculate on what will happen over the next five years. The important thing to remember, when it comes to immigration and applications for leave to remain, is that we look at the best interests of our country, but also at the best interests in regard to what we are on the global stage. We are a welcoming nation to people from all around the globe, and long may that remain so, to ensure that Britain continues to prosper and grow on the global stage.

My Lords, while I would like to encourage the noble Lord to change immigration policy from the Dispatch Box, I will restrain myself. With regard to the officials who are the subject of this Question, I understand that there is a difficulty with retention. Is that correct, and if it is, are the Government aware why there is a problem with retaining the officers?

We currently have 1,280 full-time equivalent staff who are undertaking this casework. The noble Baroness talks about retention; there is normal turnover of staff. We are also enhancing some of the requirements, particularly on English language, for such staff, which will come into play in this area, and across the public sector, from October 2016. It is important in any role undertaken within government and the public sector that career paths are pointed out to people—the mentoring scheme we deploy for such staff is a valuable asset in this regard.

My Lords, I have several friends from different parts of the EU who have indefinite leave to remain and have lived in this country for many years. They are now asking me whether they are safe to stay here in the future. Will the Minister make it clear, through the Government, that those people will be able to remain, regardless of what the details regarding the EU are?

As we have previously heard from this Dispatch Box, the Leader of the House, the Prime Minister as well as others, the position of EU nationals within the United Kingdom who have indefinite leave to remain does not change. In any future discussions we have with our European partners, the important thing is the need to reflect that fact and also—as my noble friend raised in an earlier question—the needs and requirements of those UK citizens who have made their home in the member states of the European Union.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that what he has just said is significantly at odds with what his right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said today on the “Today” programme? Could he clarify, between the two of them, who is right?

I do not think there is an inconsistency. The important thing in this issue, which the Government have made clear, is that first and foremost we remain members of the European Union. The position of those citizens of the European Union who are residing in the UK does not change until such time as negotiations begin. I say that because it is important to have a factual reality check as to what the situation is. However, I would add that the position of European Union nationals here who have indefinite leave to remain, much akin to those from other parts of the world who have indefinite leave to remain, remains a vital part of the discussions we will have with our European Union partners. Prevailing within that is the importance of recognising that this is about providing stability and security to all citizens who chose to make the UK their home.

My Lords, I know my noble friend will be ashamed at the racist and ethnic bullying that has resulted from the referendum vote. Should we not also be ashamed that nobody in government seems to be able to reassure those victims in the way that they require? People who are already settled here, legally and responsibly, are our friends and neighbours and should not be used as bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations. Will the Minister please make sure to remember that any Government who come back from Brexit negotiations with a result saying these people will have to be forcibly removed from this country would very soon be out of time and out of a majority?

My noble friend has made a valid point very well. Let me assure him that no Government moving forward in the unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves in would in any sense be looking at any citizen in the way that has been suggested by some. The important thing is to provide reassurances at this juncture because there is uncertainty and to ensure that to deal with the attacks we have seen up and down the country being perpetrated by those who are using this opportunity to divide us, we send a simple and straightforward message: those who incite hatred against any community or person for whatever reason will be dealt with using the force of the law.

Let me provide once again some comfort to my noble friend because this is an important point. As we move forward in what as I have said is an unprecedented situation, we must ensure that the rights, security and safety of all citizens who have made Britain their home are fully protected. They make Britain what it is and I am sure that they will be at the forefront of the mind of whoever emerges as the Prime Minister and the new Government of our great country as they lead on the negotiations.