Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to improve immigration procedures in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I first declare my interest as president of Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary. I quote from one not of my own party, David Lammy, who, in a speech last week in the House of Commons, stated:
“Your Department’s treatment of the Windrush generation has been nothing less than a national scandal. In November, we learned that at least 164 Windrush citizens were wrongly removed, detained or stopped at the border by our own Government. Eleven of those who were wrongly deported have died. You have announced three more today. Every single one of those cases is a shocking indictment of your Government’s pandering to far right racism, sham immigration targets and the dog whistle of the right-wing press”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/2/18; cols. 170-71.]
In addition, I received a letter earlier this week from one who said:
“I am a Portuguese citizen from Lisbon, came here in 1993 on a full scholarship paid for by the Royal Academy of Music to study, when I was just 19 years old. I stayed and have been working as a performer and teacher ever since.
I came here legally, settled with no issues and have had a national insurance number since 1993. I have paid tax since 1997 … When I applied for settled status I wasn’t given a reason for being refused”.
Nor was she asked to provide evidence. She continues:
“It made me both frightened and angry. I’ve been here continuously for nearly 26 years and couldn’t think of any reason why I wouldn’t be immediately put through … I was promised and reassured by this government that the ridiculous process of having to apply for a status I already have (!) was simple, easy and that bar criminal conviction everyone would get through straight away.
I was lied to.
The app doesn’t work for the self-employed.
The app doesn’t come with a helpline number or email to write to, it also doesn’t tell you that if you’re self-employed you’re not likely to get through.
It doesn’t offer help in any way.
What I want to know is why on earth the Home Office cannot just look at my 25 continuous years of NI and understand it is me!
I have lost sleep, been hugely stressed over this, and none of this is of my choice and making.
17.5% of all EU citizens here are self-employed and they are all having the same issue. Half a million people! To me this is a human rights issue, we’re being lied to, the app system is immature, bugged and biased against the self-employed … Every time an EU citizen gets rejected and is asked to submit evidence of their lives here, it creates a huge amount of confusion and stress.
It seems that this whole sorry process is unethical, biased, and unlawful. The government is scrambling to put together anything that may be seen to make sense but has no actual substance.
People’s lives matter, and they are playing with our future!
I worked very hard all my life, this government is happy to take my money and work but won’t give me a voice or a choice in my future”.
“I have a British husband and two small children”.
This instance and many others clearly show that the whole situation is not fit for purpose. Nothing proves that better than the results of appeals against Home Office immigration decisions and how those appeals have increased in number over the years. In 2005, 17% of appeals were approved by the tribunal or the higher court. In 2009 that was up to 29%; in 2014, it was 28%; in 2015, 35%; and in 2016, 40%. We are assured that the Government are attempting to improve the situation, but nothing changes.
This results in a destruction of confidence in the whole system. When people cannot trust government decisions, we are in grave danger. When people feel, as David Lammy asserted, that one section of the community is discriminated against, that danger is even more threatening. I do not lay the blame on the officers or decision-makers; they try to fulfil this part of their Home Office responsibility. But there must be great stress in the job they are undertaking. I can immediately suggest two changes. First, every interview should be audio recorded so that there is no uncertainty over responses or the ability of those interviewed to understand a language foreign to them. Secondly, I suggest we should have not one decision-maker in every interview, but two.
I refer to a film directed by Professor Sue Clayton of Goldsmiths university. The main character of her film is ZS—let us call him that. He is a vulnerable Afghan boy with bullet wounds from the Taliban and a record of repeated suicide attempts in France. The Home Office refused to accept him and the other 36 children in the film, who, Sue suggests, were eligible under the Dubs amendment. Sue says that,
“we became increasingly concerned that the procedures they had in place for assessing our kids and others were flawed and profoundly inadequate; that the criteria for acceptance were being constantly changed; and these changes not relayed to the applicants, so that many were not able to apply, or their applications discounted. It was also clear that the Home Office were not meeting the Dubs quota of 480 lone children from Europe. In February 2018, the Home Office were sued in the High Court on behalf of our client ZS and the others, for their failure to lawfully implement the Dubs Amendment”.
The result was, Professor Clayton continued, first, that the Home Office was judged not to have provided,
“the Calais children with written decisions or any reason for their refusal. This meant they were unable to appeal (and cases such as this are generally won on appeal)”.
Secondly, she says, the result was:
“That the Home Office acted unlawfully by failing in its ‘duty of candour’ by not making its policy and procedures available to those who needed to know”.
She says that her film shows that the Home Office,
“changed its policy no less than 8 times in 18 months, so that the young people, their lawyers, carers and even the French government were all unaware of the procedures for applying to Dubs. Latterly it’s only through the French government that kids in France can apply”.
Professor Sue Clayton also says:
“So we did succeed in getting condemnation for the unlawful practices of the Home Office—one small further step on the way to dismantling the Hostile Environment”—
what a terrible word “hostile” is. She ends:
“Shockingly, after nearly 3 years, only … half of the 480 Dubs places have been filled, even though the Amendment stressed the agreed number shall be brought ‘as soon as possible’. So, the fight goes on”.
It could well be that immigration matters should no longer be a Home Office responsibility but in a department of their own. There are so many other changes that we want. We want no indefinite detention, the right to work much sooner than after the present 12 months and far better legal advice and protection for young refugees when they reach 18 years of age. I have a Bill that I hope will reach the statute book this year. All these measures would give hope and huge self-respect to those who have had the most devastating experiences. I do not want to be part of a society that dehumanises people. We should not treat them as citizens of nowhere; I prefer Socrates’ claim:
“I’m not a citizen of Athens or a citizen of Greece, but a citizen of the world”.
The last private rescue ship, the “Aquarius”, was forced to halt its operations in December. More than 29,000 people are estimated to have been rescued by the ship, which was not allowed to dock in Italy last June. But how can we criticise such moves when we ourselves have a questionable record on immigration? We can be a country that restores and builds, or we can be otherwise. In the 17th century, the Dutch of Amsterdam welcomed immigrants and said:
“We are seekers after truth and are richer in having you among us”.
Are we also not richer because of others who have contributed and are contributing to our lives? Remember: we were all immigrants once.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, on calling this debate. What a pleasure it is to follow his eloquent words. I will focus more, if I may, on the business aspects of immigration.
As Brexit draws ever closer, few topics can be as important as the future immigration procedures for our country. The United Kingdom benefits greatly from strong immigrant participation in our workforce. The latest headline figures that I have, from 2017, illustrate this. Nationally, the figures for country of birth among the UK workforce stood at 82.2% UK-born, with 7.5% from the EEA and 10.2% from the rest of the world. But the importance of international labour is much more significant if we look at London, where 59.5% were UK-born, 14.1% from the EEA and 26.3% from the rest of the world. I have worked for 46 years in the City of London, mainly in international shipping but latterly including 11 years elected to the City of London Corporation. If we strip out the figures for the City, they are not dissimilar to those for London, although around 1.5% more were from the EEA and around 1.5% less from the rest of the world.
These are striking figures and illustrate the very important part played by overseas labour in our economy, particularly in London. I am sure that other noble Lords will speak about the importance of foreign labour in specific areas and industries across the country but I want to concentrate on its crucial contribution in London, not least the City. I will focus on the highly skilled individuals who are critical to our future success. We know that concern around freedom of labour movement was a key issue in the referendum but I am talking about highly skilled labour, which we need and should welcome.
A report issued by the City of London Corporation in December 2018 found that the financial and professional services sector contributed over £72 billion in taxes last year. To give a sense of scale, that corresponds to half the NHS budget and about 11% of total UK government revenue. Professional services are international and that international dimension is London’s strongest suit; for example, across measures of competitiveness in global trade and investment and financial services capability, London ranks top when compared with other cities. Between 2013 and 2017, London received the highest volume of financial services foreign direct investment projects globally.
The contribution of the City is not always fully remarked on. I for one have been greatly concerned to see how little the City and the associated sector’s interests appear to have been weighed in the balance during the withdrawal negotiations. This is a sector where the UK is number one in the world. It becomes doubly important that the future visa regime should match the needs of the City and other related sectors. Please do not let us throw the baby out with the bathwater. It is crucial for the future success of our economy and nation—for the City, for British business, for international businesses and to attract more of them, for our creative industries, for SMEs, for academia, for students, for the UK—to have a regime in place where we attract and are open to the best in the world.
On a cautionary note, I would point to a risk. If we fail to put in place a system where the brightest and best can get visas and work here, the risk is that our own British brightest and best will depart. The young feel much more citizens of the world. They want to work with the best from around the world and where they feel best rewarded, which is likely to be where their international peers are working. It is vital that changes are made so that the UK’s future immigration process is both ambitious and dynamic—ready to change for the benefit of the country and those whom we wish to attract. We must improve the current process to one which is helpful, efficient and predictable, and ensures that we are the country of choice for applicants and employers—a country that operates the immigration system to which other countries aspire.
How are we to set about this? The City of London Corporation and the international consultants EY have just published a very helpful report, Streamlining Success: Building a World-class Visa Process for the UK. The report sets out practical steps to improve the visa process, allowing firms to recruit international talent, and recommends ways to streamline the user experience for people going through the process. The feedback received from employers by the City of London Corporation is that the current system is, “stressful, inefficient and precarious”. The perception is that the Home Office can ask for additional information or documentation at any time, make subjective and retroactive decisions that are difficult or impossible to challenge, and take an indeterminate length of time to make decisions. The research indicated that the practical impacts of the current system include: reputational impact for the UK and a loss of candidates to other employers or destinations; uncertainty and delays; and extra costs associated with internal management processes.
The report made a number of recommendations for a future system including, first, to reduce the administrative burden and uncertainty associated with visa applications. In response to the City’s research, employers agreed that checks are important. However, currently a UK visa application is typically made up of many different processes, requirements and touch points, with overlapping, interdependent and uncertain timeframes. Streamlining these steps will decrease stress for applicants, increase certainty for employers and save time and costs for government; for example, trusted sponsors should be empowered to certify a candidate’s English language skills, and there should be a more transparent approach, allowing candidates to view the progress of their immigration application online, which would mirror the Irish system.
Secondly, the report recommends relying on an entirely digital immigration status so that applicants no longer need to surrender their passport or update physical status documents. To surrender a passport is particularly unattractive for professional services contractors and artists who move between countries from job to job. A digital immigration status could also be a secure log of the individual’s current and past immigration status, tied to their passport number and biometric information.
Thirdly, to avoid duplicate processes, the use of existing data can be very helpful. Fourthly, the report recommends technology and guidance to provide tailored support for employers and sponsors of different sizes and in different sectors, to encourage investment and growth in the UK. For example, it is recognised that SME employers find the administrative and HR management obligations very onerous. The proposal is that, building on the positive work of the outreach programme on the EU settlement scheme, the Government should offer an enhanced level of support for SMEs looking to apply for a sponsor licence for the first time.
In conclusion, businesses must be able to respond rapidly to changing needs, their clients’ demands and new opportunities. To do this, they need a visa system that enables them to fill a new role or bring in an expert from an overseas branch in weeks rather than months. This is needed if the UK is to have a clear competitive advantage in the future.
My Lords, there is very little trust in our immigration system. On the one hand, the Home Office is a byword for inefficiency, maladministration and heartlessness, with its “go home” vans, the Windrush scandal and the hostile environment; on the other hand, many people mistrust immigration because they are not sure that people are here legally. Since the Border Force was slashed under the Conservatives, that distrust of good management has some validity.
The migration and asylum system is not fit for purpose and needs to work a great deal better than it currently does to increase efficiency, quality, value for money and trust, making Britain welcoming and customer-friendly for those we want to stay, and better at stopping and removing those we do not. This needs radical reform and better deployment of resources to convince the public that migration is well managed, and to convince migrants that the UK is not out to cause them misery.
The Home Office sets itself up to fail with the net migration target that the Prime Minister is so wedded to. It is arbitrary, unachievable and damaging; and when not reached, inevitably, just fosters suspicion. I am afraid that the sight of the Home Secretary flying back from his holiday over Christmas and declaring a major incident over a few hundred migrants in the Channel—it needed to be dealt with competently, but it was not a major incident—did not increase trust. It undermined trust in the migration system. Fear of EU free movers could have been turned into a win-win if the Government had been more nimble on the local impact, channelling local resources so that communities could see that they attracted more doctors, teaching assistants and so on, to help everybody.
Far from offering improvements, the new immigration Bill will suck all EU citizens into the bureaucratic system that they have so far escaped, instead of the simplicity of EU free movement—and of course Britons will lose that opportunity for free movement as well, because it is a two-way street. EU citizens and their employers will be subject to the full weight of the Home Office red tape. The NHS will be paying hundreds of millions of pounds in visa fees to the Home Office—talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul. The proposed £30,000 salary threshold could leave up to 100,000 jobs in social care and nursing unfilled, and imperil the ability of businesses to expand or survive.
For those already here, or who come in the transition period, if we get to it, many of us—including the Liberal Democrats—wanted a simple declaratory system. Instead, the Government have insisted on making them jump through the hoops of an application for settled status, and if they fail, risk falling into the hostile environment. As my noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno mentioned, this is not only causing administrative hassle for people but it affronts their dignity that, in some cases after decades of being here, they have to reapply—or apply for the first time—to stay in their own homes.
I understand that the cost is about £500 million to £600 million—can the Minister confirm that? Can she also say what the cost would be, or would have been, of a simple declaratory scheme, with a light-touch evidential requirement? It is a vast bureaucratic undertaking of 3.5 million or 3.7 million people. The stakes are very high. Even if 5% are rejected, that is 175,000 people, and that will not improve either the Home Office’s reputation or social integration. To get through everyone, the Home Office will have to process about 4,500 applications a day, whereas I think in the pilot phase the maximum was about 360 a day. Will 1,500 case workers be enough to cope with those who have difficulties?
The Home Office has to get this right. The operational failure of the settled status scheme will further damage confidence and Britain’s reputation—and possibly get us into problems under the legal provisions of the withdrawal agreement—and would harm our reputation with key partners in Europe. There are many problems with the settled status system: it is not available on iPhone; people, I understand, are holding Android Tupperware parties, which must raise the possibility of data protection issues, if they are helping each other with all the data. There are problems where the official records do not match. People may be wrongly being classed as having pre-settled status because the system is wrong and has wrong information. They are faced with having to trawl through years of evidence, and then the Home Office has the problem of looking through it all. We need to look at whether the burden of evidence is too high.
Lastly, I raise the fear of what happens to vulnerable applicants. Are the outreach and communications sufficient, and is information available in all EEA languages? Can the Minister clarify what exactly happens in a no-deal scenario? Do the EEA regulations remain in force, even if the immigration Bill is passed? Will that part of it be suspended so as not to abolish the regulations? Finally, could the Home Office reconsider that people are not going to get any piece of paper as evidence of their settled status? They have to rely on a digital code and therefore on the efficiency of the Home Office’s digital systems.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord for securing this debate, and need to declare my own interest, as laid out in the register, as a trustee of Reset.
Given the velocity with which the incredibly narrow immigration Bill will likely be sped through this House, any and all opportunities for Parliament to provide scrutiny of immigration is to be welcomed. Without more scrutiny we seem to risk squandering the potential for a reset moment in the way that the UK thinks, debates and legislates about migration.
What could have been the moment when the Government led a discussion about the deeper purpose of our migration system has become instead one that underlines the persistent and escalating centralisation of policy by successive inhabitants of 2 Marsham Street. This trend has also resulted in the Immigration Rules becoming infamous in their complexity, as the Law Commission has recently highlighted.
Improving immigration procedures means making them simpler and more open to parliamentary scrutiny. Only then can we hope to secure a future system animated by a shared sense of purpose and focused on human dignity.
This is not to say that the reflections on purpose are entirely absent from the current discussion. The White Paper is not without its problems, but it sets out some of what the Home Office thinks migration is for. In particular, it is to be welcomed that the rhetoric is beginning to move beyond arbitrary targets.
However, given that the focus of this debate is on opportunities for improvement, I want to focus on the ways in which crude policy levers continue to be confused for a deeper purpose and risk jeopardising other policy objectives. For example, we see this in the proposed short-term worker visa proposed in the immigration White Paper. A 12-month “cool down” period would create a churn of workers, hurting businesses and integration. The National Conversation on Immigration found that while people were often sceptical about immigration, they would much prefer newcomers to settle in a community and integrate, and not constantly churn. At the moment, our procedures prioritise making immigration undesirable to certain groups over and above making immigration desirable to local communities. There is a conflation of “control” with “making life difficult for those considering migrating”. We need an immigration policy led by the needs of communities and the personhood of migrants.
At the heart of current policy-making is confusion over what we mean by “contribution”. The current system operates on a reductive logic that equates contribution with “how much you are paid”. The White Paper’s proposed £30,000 threshold is a strange measure of what it means to be skilled. I worry about parts of the country whose economies rely on immigrants but where jobs paying £30,000 are rare. This proposal will result in communities such as many of those in my own diocese of Durham and regions such as Cornwall, Cumbria and Lincolnshire experiencing immigration almost exclusively in the churn of short-term worker visas. What will this do to how different parts of the UK think and feel about migration? The contribution of immigrants must be better defined and widely experienced. A crude financial measure simply will not work.
Today is Valentine’s Day—I think I am the first person to mention that. I also want to note the ongoing harm caused by the minimum income requirement. We hear that this is about ensuring that migrants contribute, passing over the burden that many separated families are subjected to and the well-known benefits, economic and otherwise, of a united family. This policy punishes British citizens for falling in love and deprives thousands of British children of one of their parents. How can we ensure that love, meaning and those things that make life worth living are given their rightful place in future policy-making?
Finally, on the question of meaning, I want briefly to raise the lack of faith literacy displayed in both asylum and visa application procedures. All too often, asylum claims on the grounds of religion are turned down because someone is told that they are not able to display a detailed knowledge of the scriptures. You do not need a Bishop to tell you that millions of people live lives transformed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ without being able to name the three gifts that the Magi presented to Jesus. It is their faith that matters, not their ability to answer simplistic questions. This speaks to a deeper issue around improving faith literacy in the Home Office and possibly across the Civil Service as a whole. I understand that some work on this is ongoing between the Home Office and APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, but that it has seen limited progress during the past few months. Please can I ask the Minister for an update on this work?
I hope that faith literacy training across the Home Office might also alleviate some of the difficulties faced by many bishops from across the Anglican Communion as they try to navigate the application process for short-term visas, particularly as we approach the Lambeth Conference in 2020. Here, too, a better understanding is needed of what it means when a bishop and a diocese guarantee that they will care and support the visitor throughout their stay, rather than simply looking at the low income of the visitor in their home nation. We should be trusted on our promises.
I still believe that the White Paper consultation and future legislation can provide the space for a truly national conversation on the purpose of immigration and the gift that migrants can be. We still have the opportunity for a reset moment, if only we would seize it.
My Lords, may I invite your Lordships’ co-operation in keeping an eye on the clock? The time limit allocated to Back-Benchers is six minutes. When the clock shows six, time is up, I am afraid.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, for giving us this opportunity to debate an important issue while there is still time to smooth some of the rough edges of the Government’s policy on immigration procedures, as outlined in last December’s White Paper. It is worth saying that flaws in the system have existed for some time and are not caused exclusively by Brexit, although they are exacerbated by it.
I want to concentrate on the creative industries sector, which contributes more than £90 billion a year to the British economy and is growing twice as fast as the rest of the economy. It is highly international and dependent on overseas employees. I therefore very much support many of the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans.
It so happens that last week a meeting of the British Council All-Party Parliamentary Group brought together representatives of the arts—ballet, music and writing—the fashion and design industry, museums, architects and the regions, particularly the devolved regions, to discuss the gaps and risks for the arts and creative industries post Brexit. Time and again, the issues of visas and freedom of movement were raised. It seems to me that a special category of highly skilled workers needs to be considered for the sector. I recognise that the Government state in the White Paper that there will not be a cap on the number of skilled workers and I hope that is good news for the creative industries. It may also be that the new regulations on leave to enter and remain, introduced by my noble friend Lady Williams earlier today, will be helpful, but there is a need for more discretion and flexibility.
There needs to be a fast-track procedure for a situation when, for example, an opera singer loses his or her voice or a leading ballerina strains a muscle and a replacement has to be flown in at short notice. Obviously, in the past there was little or no problem if the replacement was an EU citizen, but it has always been difficult when a third country is involved. I therefore ask the Minister whether any consideration has been given to creating a special exemption for highly skilled performers to cover these exceptional cases. After all, there is clearly very little likelihood that these exceptional people will either wish or be able to remain permanently in the United Kingdom, which seems to be the dominating thought behind our immigration procedures. Might the concept of an individual immigration status as a basis of control be tailored in some way to meet such special needs?
On a final and more general point, having read the report, I support the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendation that the Government should consult users of the visa system more systematically to ensure that it works as smoothly as possible.
My Lords, I want to talk about settled status and follow on from the discussion we had at Question Time this afternoon. In doing so, I pay tribute to the campaign and information groups that have brought to light serious problems with the system that is being set up, notably the3million, the Twitter-based group In Limbo, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and its latest report, and many other individuals, academics and journalists who are raising this. A scandal is developing, and it needs to be nipped in the bud early if it is not to result in what Yvette Cooper called, “Windrush on steroids. We are at an early stage; we can do it now and we need to do it.
I have lots of questions to ask the Government and I have not possibly got time to ask them all, so those that I do not get to I will put down as Written Questions. The Minister may be batting on a sticky wicket with some of them, but she will no doubt write if she cannot answer.
As the existing rights of EU citizens living here are being abolished, which is what is happening, they were promised that these would be replaced with a new system—the Government are calling it settled status—which would simply require them to say who they are, show that they are an EU citizen, and show that they are resident in the UK and have not been guilty of a serious criminal offence. It was promised that it would be simple, easy to navigate, and in the interests of the applicant and of the Home Office, which simply cannot cope with a complex new bureaucracy. Instead, we are being offered something that is complex, difficult to navigate and not coping: settled status looks like a new slippery slope.
What is settled status? What is pre-settled status? So far, it has been a talus of broken promises. What is the system for applying? It has been a tale of betrayal. Does it work? No. The Government seem to be telling us that it is okay because, of the people who have been successful so far, 100% have been successful. That seems to be their argument. They ignore the facts. They say there have been no refusals so far. That is because the default they are giving the people they refuse is pre-settled status, whatever that may mean. It is an even more slippery slope.
My first question concerns the3million. Last July, the3million sent the Home Office 168 questions. I have looked at these questions; they are all pretty obvious and straightforward. The organisation claims that, so far, only 19% have been adequately answered. Why is this? Is it because the Home Office does not know the answers, because it is trying to keep everything secret or because it is a bit shambolic?
My second question is: what exactly does pre-settled status mean? They say that if you have not been here for five years, you get pre-settled status—a silly term—but can then move on to settled status. Actually, people who have been here for 10, 20 or 30 years are being given pre-settled status, because the machines the Home Office uses to deal with the applications say that there is some minor irregularity. In any case, why do you have to have been here for five years before you are thought to be settled? You are either settled or not—it is not a matter of five years.
My third question relates to the fact that there is huge doubt that the Home Office can cope with the burden it is giving itself. My noble friend Lady Ludford has already said that a declaratory report would surely be best, with a presumption of granting settled status on the simple information provided by people—actually believing people and not saying, “There seems to be a gap of six months in your employment record 10 years ago”. That kind of thing is happening time and again. It is all done by machine-checking. There is no common sense; there seem to be no people involved.
My fourth question is on appeals. Surely a right to appeal refusals or the allocation of wrong status must be clearly and urgently set out in law. It is not being proposed at the moment. The right reverend Prelate suggested that the immigration Bill might be galloped through this House—I do not think it will be, unless they want us to sit overnight and at weekends. There is no way the Government can do it, but we will see. Further to that, surely legal aid should be available for those appealing.
My final point, because my time is running out, is on the timetable. There seems to be a mismatch between the start of the full settled status scheme on 30 March—whether we have a deal or crash out—and the timetable for getting the legislation that governs it through the House. As far as I can see, settled status does not exist in English law at the moment. To operate a settled status scheme on a proper statutory basis, I assume that the Government will have to get it into English law. Can we have some explanation of the process to enact the legislation and what they think the possible timetable is for this? If they do it in the immigration Bill, given how it is doing in the Commons, it will not come to us until the end of March at the very earliest.
There is one final thing, if I can pinch another 20 seconds. What nonsense is it that the Prime Minister announced that the £65 fee for settled status was abolished but people on the pilot scheme are still being charged? The Home Office is requiring details of people’s bank accounts so that it can repay the fee when it comes through. This is utter nonsense, and only the Home Office could have dreamed up that kind of scheme. I look forward to the Minister’s replies, and to her replies to the many Written Questions I will put down after this debate.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, for securing this debate and for generously framing it in a way that allows the concerns of many sectors to be raised. Addressing the noble Lord’s question squarely is a bit of a challenge, as it would require general agreement on what exactly is wrong at the moment—this we do not have. The Prime Minister continues to assert that taking back control of our borders is the will of the people, while polls show that public concerns about immigration are the lowest they have been for 16 years.
Be that as it may, we now have a White Paper, which confirms, as anticipated, that the current dual-entry system—
Surely the reason concern is lower than before is that people believe that we have taken back control and that henceforth we will have proper controls on immigration. That is the only explanation.
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I would not presume to understand the general mindset of the British public without having asked them. I will move on, because time is limited.
The White Paper confirms that a single route for all countries will be the case in the future. This may appear to be more equitable, in that it creates a level playing field, but in fact it is far from even. It gives access to only the skilled and the highly skilled, assessed via a salary threshold. The stated intention is to welcome only the brightest and best, but this fails to address two important issues: first, that the brightest and best are not always those earning the highest salaries; and, secondly, that the UK economy is dependent on at least 1.5 million low and medium-skilled workers who come to the UK via the free movement afforded by EU membership.
A vast number of business sectors have come to rely on this supply stream, not least for vital but lower-paid roles in teaching, health and social care. Our requirements for this type of worker are only going to rise. In social care alone, it is estimated that we will need an extra 650,000 workers by 2035 to care for our ageing population—that will be us.
With virtual full employment in the UK, where exactly will these essential workers come from? The White Paper proposes a time-limited transitional measure that will see employers rely on a rotating pool of low-paid workers who come in on 12-month visas. These workers will be responsible for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The risks of this—loss of know-how, discontinuity of service, constant recruitment and retraining, and dips in standards—were eloquently outlined by my noble friend Lady Masham of Ilton in this Chamber on 8 January. Might the Minister comment on what I see as a disconnect between the White Paper’s preference for high skills and the economy’s requirement for low and medium skills?
I turn to the specific concerns of the creative and cultural sector, following on from the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. Foremost among these is the proposed salary threshold of £30,000. In this sector, high-level skills are not commensurate with high levels of pay. As just one example, an assistant film commissioner—a grand title—earns £23,000. If this proposed threshold were agreed, employers would either be forced to do without the talent they require or would have to pay rates that were out of line with industry levels. We cannot look to the domestic workforce to fill these gaps; there are currently 22 creative industries roles on the shortage occupation list.
This domestic skills gap is driven by three things: inadequate provision in schools, an underdeveloped education system for technical skills, and a lack of awareness about careers within the sector. Opening the doors to only established talent, as the White Paper proposes, will not help. A thriving domestic sector depends on talent pipelines that are built from the ground up and on welcoming potential, wherever it comes from, so that we can nurture the stars of the future. These are people for whom a salary of £30,000 is the stuff of dreams.
Finally, I will touch on the question of freelance workers. Freelancers make up 15% of the overall workforce in the UK and 35% of the creative sector. They provide skills that are required on an occasional basis, and often at short notice. They offer vital flexibility, particularly for small businesses, and help to upskill domestic workers. The current non-EU immigration system offers few opportunities for international freelancers who want to work here on a long-term basis. The exceptional talent visa scheme is on too small a scale, and it does not allow access to workers who are skilled but not exceptional. Short-term visas do not help either; they are costly, slow and restrict the number of jobs a freelancer can undertake—which rather undermines the concept of being a freelancer. The Creative Industries Federation has proposed a freelance visa that would provide a new route and which would work across all sectors, not just the creative sector. Will the Minister consider meeting with sector representatives so that she can explore this proposal?
As the noble Baroness pointed out, any changes to the immigration system that deny one of the UK’s most successful sectors access to the talent it needs to thrive would have serious consequences for our economy, jobs and innovation, and would risk the world-leading position we have established in arts, culture and creativity. This seems more important now than ever. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response, and hope she will give us comfort that this will not be the case.
My Lords, this debate is of great interest to me, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, for bringing it to the House. I had the privilege to serve as the Minister for Immigration and Race Relations in the mid-1990s—I point out to the right reverend Prelate that at the time I was an inhabitant of Queen Anne’s Gate, not No. 2 Marsham Street. Subsequently, I was the Conservative spokesman on this subject for much of my 17 years in the European Parliament.
Your Lordships will note that I mention race relations in the same breath as immigration. That is because, until 1997, these roles were held by the same Minister in the same department, and in my view always ought to be. In order to maintain good race and community relations, you need to have an immigration policy that is shown to be firm but also fair and compassionate. That is how I exercised my powers and how I believe they should always be exercised.
Migration is a very complex matter, but it should not always be lumped together in one term, as appears to have been the case recently. I want to examine quickly the components, which should be looked at in separate ways.
First, there is immigration proper, which requires clear rules and procedures that must be followed by applicants and by the authorities. Over the years, we have of course altered our rules on many occasions—I note the reference made by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, to the alteration of rules. We have done so sometimes to facilitate an increase in numbers or categories that we might welcome here, sometimes based on skills or professions that we need to work here, sometimes linked to anticipated salaries—although that is the least satisfactory caveat, and one that is being looked at at the moment—and sometimes linked to historic connections such as the old Empire or the Commonwealth, or to obligations which we needed to fulfil. That is and always has been a competence directly under our control and in our hands in this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, referred to errors and mishandling by the authorities. Although I appreciate that time has passed since, my experience always was that officers and officials working in the department and in the area of immigration carried out their duties with great devotion and sensitivity. I must say that, often when things went wrong, it was the fault of Ministers. Ministers should always take responsibility and not try to pass it on to officials.
I want to talk about asylum for a moment, because the grant of refugee status is something on which we have a good record in this country. We have granted refuge to many in need over many years and it is a precious gift at our disposal, but in my view it requires applicants to meet the criteria of the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees, which I think is as applicable today as it was when it was created after the Second World War. Those who do not meet the criteria—currently, I believe, about 70% of applicants—must not be permitted to acquire the status of those who do. In some marginal cases, of course, it is proper that we go further and offer leave to remain in the UK, but we must maintain the recognition of such applications only when the UN criteria are met. Otherwise, there is gross unfairness on those who meet those criteria and are given that status.
Thirdly, there is the issue of freedom of movement, which is accorded through agreements, including the current EU single market and potentially through future trade and economic alignments. We must also take into account the movements of young people who come to study here under various schemes including, currently, the EU Erasmus+ scheme. Many people seem to be confused about this aspect of migration. As noble Lords know, it is mutually beneficial to have that entry into the United Kingdom and economically positive for us to enter into such arrangements. Since our EU referendum, the net increase in EU citizens in the UK has dropped considerably and is currently falling fast, while the number of non-EU immigration applications has continued to grow. Assuming that we proceed to lose the current arrangements with the EU, that trend will accelerate. It will provide new challenges to good race relations and perhaps not satisfy some of those who appear to have been misled or have the wrong approach to the issue of immigration and international relations.
I mention one further element of any sensible and practical immigration policy. I know that this is controversial, but where our immigration rules are abused or illegality is found, including with people trafficking, in which we have seen growth recently, we must in the interests of fairness to those who comply react by refusing in many cases to grant the right to remain here and, in appropriate cases, return the persons concerned to the places from which they came. In asylum cases, the same applies, and we must return the failed applicants either to their source country or at least to the first safe country they were in after leaving their country. If we do not act in this way, we are diminishing the importance and value that must be placed on the legal and genuine cases of those who entrust us with their future. The Government’s removal policy is often the least implemented because it is controversial, sensitive and often expensive, and the loss of the Dublin agreements between EU countries as to safe country returns will make things more difficult for us.
Finally, it is important to emphasise that, despite statements to the contrary, UK immigration policy has always been ultimately under the control of the UK. We have never, under any agreement that I know of, fully ceded power to anyone else. Nor have successive Governments lost their rights in this field. In or out of Europe, that must continue to be the case.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for allowing me to speak in the gap, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, for securing this timely debate on how the Government are to implement measures in taking full control of a future new, skills-based immigration system, which, importantly, will apply to all nationalities the same.
In leaving the EU, the UK will be required to transform, upgrade and improve its immigration procedures. Continuity and certainty are important in building the confidence of our businesses to create a skilled workers route for all nationalities, with a single system that welcomes qualification, diligence and entrepreneurial skills—not one based on which country workers come from. Businesses need certainty to make decisions quickly.
It is also important to note how the document deals with incorporating the lowering of the skills threshold on the skills route to include medium-skilled workers, who are to be recognised, with no cap on numbers through the skilled workers route. Again, this is about what businesses demand and need to support their requirements. Businesses and public services will be able to employ any suitably qualified migrant with the skills they need, however benefits them—and the UK—the most and minimises the time needed to process those workers’ visas.
In all areas of the country, businesses will welcome the incorporation of a transitional measure for a new time-limited route for temporary short-term workers of all skills levels, including seasonal low-skilled workers—particularly in agriculture, horticulture or any seasonal work: a single system that welcomes talent, hard work and the skills that businesses across the country need, recognises the benefits of immigration and, it is important to stress, gives the UK full control over its immigration procedures. We must not forget to highlight that in working with businesses, we must continue to invest in and improve the productivity and skills of the UK workforce.
At this time of uncertainty as we leave the EU, I am pleased to see more EU students and international students wanting to come to the UK to study. That is set to continue, with no limit on the number of international students encouraging more graduates to stay and work here. I note that university applications have gone up for the first time in three years, together with the rise in applications from overseas, seeing a record number of students from outside the EU applying to UK institutions. That represents an increase of 9% on last year as overseas students continue to recognise our world-leading universities, which perform so well in the global league tables.
On the skills agenda, under the new skilled immigration system, all skilled workers—whose skills we need—who want to work here can do so. They matter to our economy; they support and help to drive our businesses, maximising the benefits of immigration for every city, town and rural area in a post-Brexit world—one that the public trust, importantly. A strong immigration system for the future that is quicker and easier to use will complement our UK workforce.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Roberts for this short debate. I also thank my noble friends Lady Ludford and Lord Greaves for their devastating critique of the current Home Office policies and operational procedures that cause stress and confusion for thousands of people. We have heard about the importance of immigration to our economy, growth and public services, the bureaucracy and narrowness of the immigration White Paper and the problems in achieving settled status for EU citizens living in the UK. I hope that the Minister finds this debate helpful in informing Home Office thinking.
I raise two specific but very important issues. The first relates to refugees from persecution, and concerns the time taken to consider genuine applications for political asylum from those fleeing persecution and waiting in a third country for permission to come to the UK as their preferred destination under the UN refugee agency scheme. I recently referred to the Home Office a specific case concerning asylum seekers from Iran, because it seems to take a very long time for such cases to reach a conclusion. A few days ago the noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised a similar issue in relation to Iranians trying to cross the English Channel. The Minister who replied, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, agreed to investigate whether the Home Office draws a clear distinction between those genuinely seeking refuge from persecution and economic migrants. This distinction matters, and I hope the Minister might agree to look at the procedures followed and assess how applications from those genuinely fleeing persecution might be speeded up.
The second issue relates to what happens to refugees in the UK granted leave to stay. The problem is that refugees do not have prior notice of when a decision will be made on their asylum application, and they get only 28 days to leave their accommodation. But 28 days is not long enough to guarantee the arrangement of alternative accommodation, not least because it can take several days within the 28-day period for a letter granting the right to stay to be received. It would be sensible to bring Home Office policy in line with the Homelessness Reduction Act, which extends the period that people can be deemed threatened with homelessness from 28 to 56 days. Under Homelessness Reduction Act regulations, some public bodies in England are required to refer people at risk of homelessness to local housing authorities—yet asylum accommodation providers are not included, on the understanding that contractual obligations are sufficient. Yet if these obligations and the duty to refer are working towards the same goals, it would make sense for them to be added to the list to ensure uniformity and promote joint working. I regard the extension from 28 days to 56 to be extremely important. If the Minister would be willing to meet with me to talk about it further, I would be very happy to do so.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has piloted the appointment of 35 local authority asylum support liaison officers in 19 areas of England. Their remit includes supporting refugees into housing—a most welcome step. But I wonder if the Minister could advise whether there will be a cross-departmental evaluation of the pilot involving the Home Office and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which is responsible for the pilot. Understandably, newly recognised refugees without savings struggle to pay deposits on private tenancies. The Government’s integration loans scheme is one way to overcome such a hurdle, but I wonder whether the Minister might be willing to look at ways in which this could be made a more viable option for those unable to access social housing.
Finally, I raise other issues relating to universal credit. Refugees who have to apply for advance payments are left worse off in the months that follow. Furthermore, advance payments may not prevent homelessness. Many hostels only take people with a full universal credit claim, and proof of income can also be a problem for people trying to get private tenancies—landlords want to see details of a full claim rather than just an advance payment. In light of these issues, I wonder if the Minister would look at whether a longer-term solution would be for Home Office policy to match the timeframe for universal credit. Extending the move-on period to at least 56 days would also allow more time to arrange national insurance numbers and biometric permits and, crucially, more time for people to open bank accounts.
My Lords, as others have done, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, on securing this Question for Short Debate and enabling us to debate these important issues. In his introductory remarks, he set out examples of cases in which people have not been treated properly. It is not good enough, and the Government should be ashamed of the stress that they are causing in many regards.
As the Brexit shambles rumbles on, every day we get shocking new revelations that set out what a complete mess everything is and how the Government have not got a grip of the situation. The immigration process is one of those areas that we must get right immediately. We need not only a just and fair system, but one that aids our economic growth and prosperity. That will be difficult. Whatever side of the argument you are on, leave or remain—I am very firmly on the remain side—we will face challenging times if we leave the European Union on 29 March this year.
I want an immigration system that delivers for the UK. I was delighted when the Prime Minister announced that the fee had been scrapped for those EU citizens applying for settled status, but shocked to learn today at Question Time from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, that we are still charging people who are applying for settled status and have clearly refunded nobody yet. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred to that. That is one of those shocking Brexit revelations that you cannot quite believe when you hear it—Brexit: the gift that just keeps on giving.
I am pleased that the common travel area and the rights of Irish nationals to live and work in the UK will be unchanged. The right of visitors from the EU to enter the UK visa free is to be respected, which is good news. We want to support our tourism industry and it will be important to make business travel as easy as possible for our friends and partners in the European Union.
Can the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, say something about workers when she responds? The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, made an important case about the work of people in teaching, nursing and social care. They might not earn large sums, but they do vital jobs for us all. This cannot be just about money. I also agree with her about the creative sector and the need for talent pipelines. The arts and creative industries face significant challenges as a consequence of Brexit. That vital sector of the UK economy needs proper support.
The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, set out the importance of overseas labour working in London. He is absolutely right to draw our attention to the fact that the interests and requirements of the City have had little attention from the Government. I have observed only an unrealistic, ill thought-out approach—in some cases, there has been no thought at all—with a series of claims and counterclaims that just damage business, and an unwillingness by the Government to respond to business’s reasonable requests. I also recall that Boris Johnson used the word “business” with a four-letter swear word in front of it; I will not use that word in the Chamber. It is disgraceful from a man who was at a senior level in the Government.
We will have a single route for skilled workers coming from anywhere in the world. I see the logic in that but we have not got the framing right. Unfortunately, part of the Brexit fallout has been that we are not seen to be as welcoming as we should be and have been. That risks people looking elsewhere for work and not considering the UK as their number one option, which is regrettable. Also, there is the issue of seasonal workers. We have arrived at the proposal for working here for 12 months, and then you have to go away and come back in another 12. I do not see how that will work. Although I am a Londoner, I lived in the east Midlands for many years. Agriculture is really important there, and to Lincolnshire in particular. Workers come there to pick fruit and vegetables year on year. Under this proposal, they will come for one year but cannot come again. It will not work. We need to look at such things carefully.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham pointed out the complexity of the Immigration Rules and the crude policy levers of these proposals. As was said, things like the financial caps cannot be left as they are; it is not realistic. I mention again seasonal workers picking crops in Lincolnshire, because they are vital. If there is a labour shortage there, it will have a disastrous effect on the local economy and in many other parts of our country; the wider UK economy will be affected. If you cannot get your perishables picked and off to the shops, markets and other companies, it is a disaster. It will ruin you and put you out of business.
We have also got the system wrong in relation to students. Despite the Government saying that there is no cap on the number of students who can come to the UK, that is not the impression the world has. We have lost that argument completely. We are told that many students come in—they do—but we have lost out to the United States of America, Canada and elsewhere.
The policy has a detrimental effect in all kinds of areas, including soft power. If people do not come here in the future and realise what a great country it is, we will lose out there as well. How will the Government deal with the important issue of dependants who have arrived here and work as well?
I fully endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate, about civil servants. In all my dealings with civil servants I have always found them courteous, knowledgeable officials who try to deliver the complex policies of Governments. All Governments of all complexions make mistakes and get things wrong, but that is the responsibility of the Ministers who decide these policies, not the civil servants. I fully endorse the noble Lord’s comments on that matter, as I do his comments about asylum policy and immigration policy in general.
It would help the House if the Minister explained how the Government intend to deal with vulnerable people—an issue on which we appear to have a taken a harsh route in recent years. This has damaged our reputation and international standing.
I will bring my remarks to a close as my time is up. I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, for enabling this debate.
My Lords, I congratulate, with others, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, on securing this debate and welcome his contribution. As we have heard, he is a keen and passionate advocate for a fair and effective immigration system. As my mother was a refugee in this country, I was brought up to appreciate fully the importance of the issues that many noble Lords have raised today.
People from all over the world come to the UK and help to make this country what it is today. We all welcome their contribution and the fact that Britain is one of the best countries in the world to come to, study, work and live in. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and others have said, that is exactly why we need a fair immigration system that treats people with decency and respect and is trusted by all. That is why this Government have apologised—and I apologise again today—for the failure of successive Governments to deal with the issues faced by the Windrush generation. We are taking action to make procedures more effective and will continue to do so.
Noble Lords have raised a number of important issues, which I will aim to address. Although I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, about the breadth of the debate—it may be an opportunity for speakers—I fear I may be writing to many noble Lords about their valid questions.
I remind the House of the scale of the immigration system to give some perspective. Thousands of decisions are made every single day, the overwhelming majority of which are completed within published service standards and enable people to visit the UK, to study and work here or, importantly, to rebuild their lives here. I thank my noble friend Lord Kirkhope and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for acknowledging the hard work of civil servants. Clearly, I cannot comment on the role of Ministers.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, was critical of the Government in relation to our work with refugees, particularly child refugees, and I feel I need to set the balance straight. Our resettlement schemes offer a safe and legal route to the UK for the most vulnerable refugees.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, mentioned the speed of decision-making and better communication, and he was right to do so. Ironically, I understand that our processes might be faster than other countries’, which creates another level of anxiety. In the year ending September 2018, almost 6,000 people were provided with protection and support, meaning that we have now completed more than two-thirds of our commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees from Syria by 2020 through the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, and we are confident that we will deliver the full commitment. As of September 2018, 1,075 people have been resettled through the vulnerable children’s resettlement scheme, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, we have more to do in that area, and we are determined to do so.
A number of noble Lords asked about the quality of decision-making in the asylum system. It will not surprise noble Lords to know that we believe it is a work in progress. I shall share with noble Lords some of the work that is going on and the reasons for cases being overturned on appeal. In some cases, new information becomes available. In an effort to resolve some of the older cases, which are, by their very nature, complex, we are prioritising them and introducing a new system in which we will have the option of withdrawing cases at the 20-week point to review them to avoid going to appeal. Finally, we have created a new facility for legal representatives to submit new evidence to have decisions reconsidered ahead of an appeal hearing, so we are making progress.
With regard to detention, as noble Lords know, we invited Stephen Shaw to conduct a follow-up review in 2017 to assess the implementation of his earlier recommendations. This Government are committed to using detention sparingly and only when it is necessary to remove those with no right to remain in the UK. I remind noble Lords that 95% of people with no leave to remain in the UK are managed within the community rather than being detained. In the year ending September 2018, 91% of those detained left detention within four months and 66% in fewer than 29 days. Crucially, we have changed the law to stop children being routinely detained in the immigration system. Noble Lords will remember that in 2009 more than 1,100 children entered detention; last year, 44 were held for a very brief period.
I am keen to take some time to respond to the comments about the proposed future immigration system; I shall briefly set out our vision for how it will work. We aim to maximise the benefits of the UK leaving the EU and create a joined-up, coherent border, immigration and citizenship system. As the Government set out in the White Paper published on 19 December, the future immigration system will work in the best interests of the UK. In line with the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendation, we will focus on the high skills that the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, and others mentioned and prioritise those migrants who bring most benefit to the UK, maximising the benefits of immigration.
Importantly, we are launching a year-long engagement process to make sure that businesses and all key stakeholders can help shape the final details of policy and processes. A number of noble Lords raised concerns about how this will work in practice, including the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Greaves, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and my noble friend Lord Kirkhope. I stress that this is, in the words of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, the start of a conversation about how the new system will work, not the end.
As noble Lords noted, the Government are making significant changes across a number of areas. Despite the doubts expressed by several of your Lordships, I hope that I will demonstrate our commitment to creating a more agile, transparent and user-friendly system—described by the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, as ambitious and dynamic—for the full range of people who will use it. The EU settlement scheme is indicative of the improvements that the Home Office is making. After we leave the European Union, it will secure the status of our friends and neighbours who have come to the UK.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, asked about the numbers. So far, 100,000 applications have been received under the scheme, including 8,000 on the first day. I think she mentioned that we need to cope with 3,500 a day. So far, 79% of applications have been processed with no additional information required. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, described very clearly the three criteria, as we understand them, for admission to the scheme.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, asked about additional support for vulnerable applicants. That support is certainly available, and there is a range of ways in which one can access the scheme. The noble Baroness also asked about the costs. We estimate that the scheme will cost between £400 million and £500 million. I will have to write to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on a number of his questions, including on what will happen if there is no deal. However, the key message from the Home Office is that we are looking to grant status; we are not looking for reasons to refuse.
I turn to the questions from a number of noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. There was a lot of focus on the £30,000 salary threshold. That really is part of the conversation. As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said, salary is one factor—it was a recommendation from the Migration Advisory Committee—but it is not the only one, and that applies also to lower-skilled workers and those on short-term contracts. The right reverend Prelate raised concerns about certain parts of the country where wages might be lower. My right honourable friend the Immigration Minister held a series of round tables in preparation for the White Paper. I know that she went to Cornwall but I am not sure about Durham.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and my noble friend Lady Hooper talked about the creative industries. The immigration White Paper sets out the Government’s intention to attract the best creative and cultural talent from around the world. The UK’s existing rules permit artists, entertainers and musicians to perform at events and to take part in auditions and competitions for up to six months. They can receive payment for appearances at certain festivals for up to a month or for a specific engagement without the need for formal sponsorship or a work visa. In preparation for this debate, I discovered that classical ballet dancers are on the shortage occupation list. You learn something new every day in your Lordships’ House.
I am running out of time, so I will write to noble Lords about their concerns—my noble friend Lady Redfern and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, raised concerns about students. The right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lord Kirkhope talked about simplification of the Immigration Rules. They will be aware that we have asked the Law Commission to look at that, and we will consider its findings carefully.
In conclusion, the Government remain committed to improving the border, immigration and citizenship system. We absolutely recognise that there is more to do and that is why we are listening to and engaging with Members across both Houses, with those using the system and with stakeholders, and we are taking independent advice as we seek to build a new immigration system for the future that meets our economic, humanitarian and security needs as a country. Noble Lords have raised important issues in many areas, particularly in relation to the asylum system and the challenges that we face as we leave the EU. I will endeavour to raise these points with my right honourable friend the Home Secretary when I meet him next week. I will write to all noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, suggested further meetings, and I am delighted to accept.
Can the Minister confirm that she will write to me on my question about bishops visiting this country?
I shall be very happy to do that.
House adjourned at 4.40 pm.