My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement given by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in the other place. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the United Kingdom’s new points-based immigration system. Last week, I announced our plans for a radical new approach that works in the interests of the British people. It will be a fair, firm and fundamentally different system in the control of the British Government that prioritises those who come to our country based on the skills they have to offer, not on the country they come from. It will enable the UK to become a magnet for the brightest and the best, with special immigration routes for those who make the biggest contribution. We will create new arrangements for new migrants who will fill shortages in our NHS, build the companies and innovations of the future and benefit the UK for years to come. As this Government restore our status as an independent sovereign nation, we will set out our own immigration standards and controls as an open, democratic and free country.
The Government have listened to the clear message from the British public and are delivering what people asked for in the 2016 referendum and the December 2019 general election. That includes ending free movement through the introduction of a single global immigration system that prioritises the skills that people have to offer, not where they come from, and restoring public trust in our immigration system with a system that truly works for this country. That is what the people voted for and we are a Government who will deliver on the people’s priorities.
We are ending free movement: that automatic right for EU citizens to enter and reside in the UK, which does not apply to people from other countries. Now that we have left the EU, this ambitious Government of action are ending the discrimination between EU and non-EU citizens so that we can attract the brightest and best from around the world. Our country and people will prosper through one system and an approach in the control of the British Government—one that will also deliver the overall reduction in low-skilled immigration that the public have asked for.
Many of the values that define our great country originated from the huge benefits that immigration has brought to our nation throughout its history. People from every corner of this globe have made an enormous contribution to the fabric of our society. This is why at the heart of the new single global immigration system will be a focus on attracting talented people from around the world and on the contribution that they and their families will make, irrespective of their country of origin.
Last Wednesday, I published a policy statement setting out our new UK points-based immigration system, which will start operating from 1 January 2021 and work in the interests of the whole United Kingdom. This will be a single, comprehensive, UK-wide system for workers and students from around the world. Our points-based system will provide simple, effective and flexible arrangements and give top priority to the skilled workers we need to boost our economy and support our brilliant public services. All applicants will need to demonstrate that they have a job offer from an approved sponsor. The job must be at an appropriate skill level, and the applicant must be able to speak English and meet tougher criminality checks and standards.
We have acted on the advice of the independent Migration Advisory Committee to make the skilled workers route more flexible, as businesses asked for. We have reduced the required skill level to the equivalent of A-level qualifications and cut the general salary threshold to £25,600. The threshold for many NHS workers and teachers will be set in line with published pay scales to ensure that our public services do not suffer and we attract the talent that we need. Experienced workers who earn less than the general threshold—but not less than £20,480—may still be able to apply tradeable points to reward vital skills and bring us the talent that our economy needs. For example, a PhD in a relevant subject will earn extra points, with double the number of points for specialists in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Additional points will also be awarded for occupations that struggle to fill vacancies, and I am asking the Migration Advisory Committee to keep its list under regular review to ensure that it reflects the needs of the labour market. The Government will ensure that talented employees from overseas, on whom our great NHS relies, can come here to work and provide high-quality, compassionate care. That means we will prioritise qualified staff who seek to move to the UK to work in our NHS, as well as retaining our own national commitment, through the investments made by this Government, to invest in and train more brilliant nurses, doctors and health professionals in our own country. The new NHS visa system will provide a work visa with a fast-track decision, a larger dedicated advice service for applicants and reduced fees.
Like many other Members, I represent a partly rural constituency. Our commitment to British agriculture is clear. In addition to the reforms that I have outlined, I am quadrupling the size of the pilot scheme for seasonal workers in the horticulture sector to ensure that our farms, and our horticultural sector, continue to thrive. This is happening immediately.
We will continue to welcome international students who want to study in our world-class universities across the United Kingdom, and there will be no cap on their numbers. Those who apply will be accepted, provided they are sponsored by an approved educational institution, have the necessary academic qualifications and English-language aptitude, and are able to support themselves financially once in the United Kingdom. When they have finished their studies, our new graduate route will allow them to stay in the UK and work at any skill level for up to a further two years. Let me also take this opportunity to reassure the House that the immigration arrangements for members of the Armed Forces, musicians and performers are completely unchanged and these routes will operate as they do now.
In line with ending free movement, there will be no immigration route for lower-skilled work. No longer will employers be able to rely on cut-price EU workers. Instead, we are calling upon them to invest in British people, as well as investing in technology and skills to improve productivity, and to join the UK Government’s mission to level up our skills and economic growth across our country. These changes are vital if we are to deliver a high-skill, high-wage and highly productive economy, and, because we have provided certainty in respect of the new immigration system, the economy and businesses have had time to adjust.
The proposals set out in our policy statement are just the start of our phased approach to delivering a new immigration system. We will continue to refine our immigration system and will build in flexibility where it is needed. Over time, more attributes for which points can be earned—such as previous experience and additional qualifications—may be added, which will allow us to respond effectively to the needs of the labour market and economy. However, to be effective, the system must also stay simple, so there will not be endless exemptions for low-paid, lower-skilled workers. We will not end free movement only to recreate it in all but name through other routes.
The world’s top talent will continue to be welcomed in this country. From January, we will expand our existing global talent route to EU citizens, giving all the world’s brightest and best the same streamlined access to the UK. Reforms that I introduced last week will allow us to attract even more brilliant scientists, mathematicians and researchers through that route to keep this country at the cutting edge of life-changing innovation and technology, and the points-based system will provide even more flexibility to attract the finest international minds with the most to offer.
Alongside the employer-led system, we will create a points-based unsponsored route to allow a limited number of the world’s most highly skilled people to come here without a job offer, as part of the phased approach, if they can secure enough points. Our new, fair and firm system will send a message to the whole world that Britain is open for business, as we continue to attract the brightest and best from around the world, but with a system that the British Government have control over. Our blueprint for taking back control will transform the way in which people come to our country to work, study, visit or even join their family. Our new independence will strengthen border security, allowing us to reject insecure identity documents from newly arriving migrants. We will be able to do more to keep out criminals who seek to harm our people, communities and country.
Finally, I am pleased to say that, when it comes to EU citizens already in the UK, the EU Settlement Scheme—the biggest scheme of its kind ever in British history—has already received 3.2 million applications, resulting in 2.8 million grants of status. Through this system we will finally develop a true meritocracy, where anyone with the skills who wants to come here will have the ability to do so. This is just the start of a phased approach to delivering a new system. I will shortly be bringing forward an immigration Bill and radically overhauling and simplifying the complex Immigration Rules that have dominated the system for decades. For the first time in decades, the UK will have control over who comes here and how our immigration system works. I commend this Statement to the House”.
I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made yesterday in the House of Commons. In their separate policy statement, the Government said that the points system set out in the Statement the Minister has just repeated will reduce overall levels of migration, without telling us what reduction is expected. That leads one to suspect that this policy statement is a continuation of the Government’s policy of talking big, in their eyes, about reducing migration to satisfy their own anti-immigration constituency, when the reality is the exact opposite.
Over the last decade, we have been told by the Government of their determination to reduce net migration. For many years, their objective was to bring it down to the tens of thousands. Net migration actually went up under Conservative Governments over the last decade, even though the Government had control over non-EU migration which, in each and every year since 2010, has been in excess of net migration from EU countries. In 2018 non-EU net migration, over which the Government have control, was in fact three times the rate of net migration from the EU.
Are the Government now telling us that EU net migration—which I believe was about 75,000 in 2018—was made up of large numbers of people who we really do not need in this country? How many people are the Government now saying came into this country in 2018 and 2019 who they now want to stop coming in, first from EU states and secondly from non-EU states, and who will no longer be allowed in under the points system referred to in the Statement?
We have been told that a distinction will be drawn between skilled and low-skilled workers, and that points will be awarded only if a laid-down salary level, skill level and level of ability in speaking English are achieved. The idea is apparently to keep out those whom the Government deem to be low-skilled workers, who appear to include most of those working in care services, retail and hospitality, construction and agriculture, for example. What percentage of jobs in the UK do the Government consider fall into the low-skilled category referred to in the policy statement? Perhaps the Government could tell us in their response.
The Government do not really believe that the jobs they deem to be low-skilled can be filled from people already in the UK, particularly since their claim that 20% of people aged between 18 and 65, who are not in full-time work, are currently available to do these jobs has been somewhat demolished by the facts. Presumably this is why in the Statement there are significant loopholes, such as declaring shortage occupations, to get around the criteria referred to for when the Government inevitably find that labour shortages are damaging the economy and they still need those so-called low-skilled workers, just as we have up to now.
The Statement is less than clear on, for example, the detailed application of the salary thresholds, the position of the families of those coming into the country, the position of those who wish to be self-employed and the criteria for acceptance of degrees under the points system. Presumably, these are issues on which the Government intend to say more later. What is clear, though, is that this points system does not have as its primary objective bringing into the country the people needed to fill the vacancies and shortages that we need to address, as should be the case. Instead, in order to draw this distinction between skilled and low-skilled, an elaborate admissions system will be created in a short time to be administered by a resource-stripped Home Office—a recipe for error, confusion and unfairness, while many people feel somewhat dismayed by the Government’s view of the lack of importance or necessity of the much-needed jobs that they currently undertake.
I suspect the Government will soon learn that posturing with their changed immigration policy will no more work than their earlier posturing over getting net migration down to the tens of thousands. Even this Government will eventually have to recognise that the economic and social needs of the country must take priority in immigration policy. It is for that reason that the evidence suggests that a declared objective of reducing net migration by amounts as yet unstated and unknown will not be achieved by the Government’s intended points-based immigration system, any more than was the commitment to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. Only a reduction in the necessity of recruiting people from outside the UK will do that—something that I have no doubt the Government, in their heart of hearts, already know.
My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, which included the claim that the points-based system will provide “simple and flexible arrangements”. Can they be both? To me, “flexible” suggests some sort of discretion. Or is that about the tradability of points—something on which I for one reserve judgment?
We may understand just how workable this will be when we have details, so I would like to check with the Minister whether the new arrangements will be incorporated in primary legislation, or will they be part of rules? In other words, will Parliament be able to have a good say on them? Indeed, will it mean primary legislation with wide ministerial powers to make changes? I am just checking; your Lordships understand.
Yesterday in the Commons, the Home Secretary said the Government
“will look at the labour market as a whole across key sectors.”—[Official Report, Commons, 24/2/20; col. 44.]
Was that not done before arriving at the points-based system?
What assumptions have been made about emigration? Can the Minister confirm that there is not a pool of economically inactive people available to take up the low-skilled jobs, about which there has been much discussion? Employers have been told they will have to adjust how they operate. How have they responded?
Much has been and will be said about carers. One of those who have spoken is my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester, who is in hospital at the moment but emailed me this morning saying that she is “absolutely incandescent”, so I said I would quote her email. She says:
“I am absolutely incandescent about the stupid lack of flexibility for care workers … What may not be realised is the extent to which refugee families settled here (for example from war-torn Somalia) have family members scattered all over Europe who now can travel freely here. They are hard-working carers and often regard those they care for as part of their own family. It is just so shaming that we are turning our back on such caring people, labelling them as ‘low-skilled’.”
I am sure she could have gone on, and I am sure other noble Lords can and will.
It is not possible, obviously, to mention today all the sectors that will be affected, but I want to mention the creative industries—performers and so on—because we are told there will be no change to existing routes. However, many agents and promoters have previously engaged EU performers only. They will need to get into the bureaucratic world of certificates, sponsorship and so on, and they are asking: what will be the “right talent”? I put that term in quotes, as it is the term the Government use and want to encourage. All this and more is very relevant to our economy. How easy will it be for UK creatives to work elsewhere? It will be quite reasonable for there to be reciprocity between nations; if we are negative about people coming in, it will not be surprising if others are too.
There has been much discussion about the lack of time to get the new arrangements in place. Is there any confidence, outside Government, that the changes can be coped with by the end of the year?
Finally, the Migration Advisory Committee has been very forceful about the need for good data. Its recent report says:
“Good data and evaluation are vital to ensure that effective monitoring is in place and necessary adjustments are made in a timely fashion. Without it, there is a danger that the UK, unable to learn from the past, continues to lurch between an overly open and overly closed work migration policy without ever being able to steer a steady path.”
Can the Minister comment? Good evaluation is certainly needed if the Government are to begin to counter the criticisms of what I saw yesterday in the press described as the Government’s
“self-defeating tunnel-vision, exceptionalism and xenophobia.”
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for the points they have raised. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, started off by talking about our aspiration, or rather our intention, to reduce overall numbers but not having any idea of what those numbers will be. We have been quite clear that we are not getting into a numbers game, but what we are getting into is a new immigration system where the British people know that the numbers coming in are under democratic control. That is the important thing here.
Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about low-skilled workers and, more particularly, care workers. We have been clear—and I was clear in the Statement—that we will not implement a dedicated route for low-skilled workers and that UK businesses will have to adapt, upskill workers and not rely on cheap labour from the EU. Care workers can, with an A-level, or the equivalent, be able to come to the UK under our new skilled worker route. The salary levels have reduced as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, talked about loopholes through the shortage occupation list. We have recognised that there is a high demand for certain skills, both in the regions of the UK and in the UK as a whole. I think it is a very sensible suggestion to create that list so that those people can come quickly and efficiently to fill those skill gaps.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about creatives. The system will not change for the creative sector as it is as present. It will be exactly the same system, but she makes the point that EU versus non-EU will now be one and the same: it will just be non-UK.
The noble Baroness also made a good point about the MAC having access to good data. It will give regular opinions, behind which will have to be good data on what it proposes next. I take her point that the effective monitoring of data will be important in informing our future thinking. She also asked whether the new system will be in legislation or rules: it will be both. I hope that answers the question.
My Lords, the Minister will be well aware that this is a massive reform of the immigration system. Does she recall that the Migration Advisory Committee has reported that 16 million UK jobs will be open to new or increased international competition from the whole world? There must therefore be a risk of an enormous inflow of workers, well beyond anything that the Government are expecting. What precautions are the Government going to take against such an event happening, as we saw in the Blair years and when we opened our borders to eastern Europe? It could well happen; precautions must be taken.
The noble Lord is correct to raise this. We have to be careful of the unintended consequences of any new system. In my response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I said that there would be regular reviews and advice to the Government from the MAC. As with any new system, it will be under regular review. At the heart of what the Government want to do is taking control of our borders and immigration system.
My Lords, the noble Lord is right to suggest that the Government’s policy will not hold. It will certainly not hold in the health and social care sector; it is only a question of when they will be forced to reverse their policy. Does the Minister acknowledge that health and social care has relied on migration ever since it started? The 50,000 nurse target that the Government are committed to depends on thousands of nurses coming to this country. I accept that they can come under this new policy, but what about the care sector? According to the Minister yesterday, in 2018 the ludicrous MAC said that the problems of the care sector should be solved by the sector itself investing in,
“making jobs in social care worthwhile”.—[Official Report, 24/2/20; col. 9.]
Have noble Lords ever heard such nonsense? The care sector is collapsing. There is no resource there—no funding for training and recruitment. The Government are saying that they are prepared to see the whole sector collapse as a result of this ludicrous policy. It is only a question of time before the Minister comes back to tell the House that she will reverse this policy; she will have to.
I am not sure whether or not the noble Lord is agreeing that we should allow more migrant workers in health and social care. He will know that we have had a 150% increase in migration from non-EU countries to health and social care. I am well aware that we have relied on migration for health and social care for many years. It is the reason I am in this country; both my parents are migrant doctors. We are lucky indeed to have them, generally, in this country. I agree with the noble Lord that we have to have the funding to underpin making extra places for doctors and nurses in this country. The Government have announced a huge increase in funding for the healthcare sector. It has always been our intention that, when we leave the EU, EU and non-EU migrants will be treated exactly the same. The competition will be there to get the best and brightest people, from all parts of the world, for our NHS.
My Lords, while I welcome this new development in immigration policy from my noble friend, in particular the flexibility to which she referred, which creates huge opportunities, I believe that this is an important policy that must be controlled and delivered from the centre, from the United Kingdom Government. Nevertheless, there are so many wide variations in different parts of the United Kingdom of a social, economic and demographic nature that it is very important to take this new opportunity that we have with the flexibility the policy allows to take account of these circumstances and to try as fully as we can to meet them. Therefore, will my noble friend consult with the Governments of the devolved parliaments and assemblies to find out the facts that they able to provide and also to test their opinions as to how the Government can best help them in getting a policy that will bind the United Kingdom together?
I thank my noble friend for raising that question. He is absolutely right that we should be mindful of regional variation, regional demand and regional supply. In fact, the shortage occupation list that was drawn up does not look much different in Scotland than it does in the UK as a whole. But he is right to make the point that, in terms of engagement, we should listen to the devolved Administrations and be mindful of what they say. We would not want them to be unable to have the workforce that they need in their areas.
My Lords, I do not understand when the Minister says that musicians, for example, will be treated exactly the same. If they are going to be treated as though they are from non-EEA countries, it will be a massive change; it will not be the same at all. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was absolutely right to mention reciprocity. Of course, what we will do to the EU will be done to us. From the point of view of the creative industries, which are so important culturally and economically, it is hugely disappointing to see in paragraph 25 of the policy statement:
“We will not be creating a dedicated route for self-employed people.”
The effect on our own UK workers will be devastating if there is not a dedicated route, unencumbered by the need for sponsorship and allowing onward movement, among many other things, not only in the arts and the creative industries but in the UK services sector more widely, for which Europe is the major market.
I take the noble Earl’s point on board and I will try to get a fuller answer on the creative industries, because I recognise the point that both he and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, make. As I was on my feet, I was thinking that maybe it was because of the short time for which performers might want to come to the UK. But I will get a fuller answer for the two noble Lords and put a copy in the Library.
My Lords, it is estimated that there are more than 10,000 Indian restaurants in this country, and between them they employ more people than the British coal, steel or shipbuilding industries. During the referendum campaign, Priti Patel launched an appeal urging voters to save our curry houses by leaving the European Union. She then said that it was “manifestly unfair and unjust” that south Asian chefs should have to deal with a “second-class immigration system”. Can the Minister explain how the proposed points system will assist in recruiting chefs from the Indian subcontinent?
I think the point that my right honourable friend was making was that people from the Indian subcontinent were less advantaged when wanting to come to this country than those from the EU, and this now levels out the playing field. Indeed, in this country we have some world-class chefs and people with fantastic skills, who, on the points-based system, I am sure would not only command decent salaries but have the requisite skills to come to this country.
My Lords, most carers are women, which is one reason their work is undervalued and treated as not skilled. According to the Women’s Budget Group, the proposals will discriminate against migrant women generally, because women are underrepresented in privileged occupations and therefore less likely to reach the points threshold. I am sure the Minister will agree that women are just as likely as men to be among the Government’s beloved “brightest and best”. Given that the Government are obliged to have due regard to the impact of their policies on equality, when will they publish an equality impact assessment? If these proposals, as seems likely, demonstrate an adverse gender impact, will they rethink them?
Of course, the Government, in whatever legislation they bring forward, publish an equality impact assessment, as the noble Baroness knows. But I have to agree with her point about how women are adversely affected by policy. Immigration alone will not be the solution to some of the problems that women in the care sector face. The point I made about employers upskilling workers and not relying on cheap labour—I think that would be to the benefit of women in the care sector. I want women to be more valued in the work they do.
My Lords, my noble friend the Minister made reference to the uncapped and fast-tracked global talent visa. It has been widely welcomed by the science and innovation sector, which will be critical for our post-Brexit success. Will she also undertake to look into the problems faced by world-leading experts who are seeking to come to speak at academic conferences and universities in the UK? Such short-term collaborations are critical to scientific knowledge exchange and the UK’s reputation as an innovation nation, and any immigration form that seeks to attract the brightest and the best will have to get this right.
I totally concur with my noble friend. On 20 February—only a few days ago—we launched the new fast-track arrangements, managed by UK Research and Innovation, which enable UK-based research projects that have received recognised prestigious grants and awards to recruit that top global talent. However, as she also says, we want those experts to be able to come and furnish us with the benefit of their knowledge: I will most certainly take that back.
My Lords, will the Minister answer a couple of questions about the impact of this points-based system on the higher education sector? First, she said in the Statement that there would be an English test: is that test to be carried out by the Home Office or by the higher education establishments, which are required to offer a place to a student before they can get a visa? Secondly, I think she said, but perhaps she can confirm this, that the points-based system will not apply to higher education. However, my reading of the Statement is that it will apply. What I cannot understand, for the life of me, is how on earth students coming to our universities can acquire the points that are required. They certainly cannot state that they are going to get a particular income. They are not getting an income at all: they are coming with a large amount of money in their hands to pay to us. Will she answer those two points about higher education, and also perhaps say how we are going to test whether they have enough funds to see them through a three- or four-year course?
A student coming to this country will have to demonstrate that they have the funds to pay for the course and be sponsored by the relevant university or higher education establishment. I think that point has long been clear. As for a student coming to this country having the English language, I have a feeling it depends on the course, but I will check that for the noble Lord and return to him on that point. Of course, the student can now stay for an additional two years after they have qualified in order to find work, which obviously makes the system far more generous than it was before.
My Lords, given that, for more than a century, our catering and hospitality services have been heavily staffed by young Europeans, to the apparent satisfaction of our own people and tourist visitors to the United Kingdom alike, are the Government absolutely confident that the importance of this sector to our economy will in no way be impaired by the new system?
My Lords, we have made it clear that it is incumbent on UK businesses to start to upskill the people who work for them and not to rely on cheap labour from the EU and beyond, as they did before. That is the challenge to businesses, but I take my noble friend’s point—I can hear the tutting—and obviously we will keep the system under review. It is a brand new system and the MAC will, of course, be advising us on it as we proceed.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that the words that she has uttered today will have given little comfort to the many employers in this country who are worried about having enough people to work and do the necessary jobs that they have? The Statement referred to talented employees and she talked about people with A-levels and so on. Is there not a danger that we will simply be denuding key industries of the people we need? Is there not a terrible danger to the health service, particularly in social care? I am not aware of anything in what the Minister suggested that would make us feel that social care is going to work. It is on the point of collapsing anyway, and it will collapse even further if there are no people willing to do the job. Of course, the answer is to have a whacking big pay increase for people in social care, but that is not for this afternoon: it is for another occasion. I implore the Minister to understand that employers are desperately worried about what is going to happen, and they have not had any assurances in what she said.
My Lords, in the coming months, we will engage widely with different sectors and, I hope, allay their fears. It is important to say, though, that employers should be moving away from reliance on the UK’s immigration system as an alternative to investment in staff retention, particularly in areas such as technology and innovation. There are two things that run alongside each other: immigration must be considered alongside investment in, and development of, the UK’s domestic workforce. That includes—and this relates to the noble Lord’s point—valuing care staff and paying them a decent wage.
My Lords, on 19 February, the Government published a new policy statement, to which noble Lords have referred. As part of this, we announced the expansion of the seasonal workers’ pilot, which raised the quota for this year from 2,500 to 10,000 places. It is not designed to meet the full labour needs of the horticultural industry; it is designed to test the effectiveness of our immigration system and to support UK growers during peak production periods, while retaining robust immigration control and ensuring that the impact on local communities and public services is kept to a minimum. It must be said that seasonal workers can stay in the UK for up to six months in any 12-month period.
My Lords, I have made the point before, and the Government have recognised, that our science and innovation sector is world-class. That cannot be achieved without a team, and that includes a lab technician. Yet the Government, through their immigration policy, do not recognise that, although they are skilled workers, they are not paid up to £20,000. Is it not bizarre that we train our own people as lab technicians and pay them less £20,000 but we cannot accept through our immigration system somebody who is paid the same amount of money because it is less than £20,000? The same applies to computer scientists: we have a great shortage in cybersecurity of low-level, trained, skilled people who will, in due course, move up, but initially they do not earn £20,000.
New entrants will receive a 30% reduction on the salary threshold that would otherwise be required for their occupation. Given that the skills level has come down to A-level, I think a new technician entrant would meet the salary threshold.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that only very rich disabled people will be able to afford help? What will happen to all the thousands of disabled people who are not super-rich? Does it not mean that disabled people will be discriminated against?