Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said:
My goal is to create consensus for controlled immigration and therefore better treatment of migrants.
The government has made it clear that it will control the numbers coming to the UK from outside Europe to ensure that migration works for the benefit of the country.
The power of our new Australian-style points system comes from the flexibility it gives us to control who is allowed to come here. We keep the system under constant review, taking into account the needs of the labour market, the country as a whole, and population projections.
Migration has brought us considerable benefits but we need to control it carefully. I recognise there can be impacts on public services and communities. That is why the Government will continue to provide fair funding to reduce pressure on housing, health, schools and policing.
By creating a firm but fair immigration system we can build a consensus around controlled migration, which means immigrants themselves should receive a warmer welcome in the UK.
The points system is better than a cap, and we have already demonstrated its flexibility through the suspension of Tier 3 for low-skilled workers and our plans to toughen up the existing Resident Labour Market test for employers.
In addition, we will tighten the criteria for highly skilled migrants by raising the qualifications and salary level needed to enter the UK. In light of the economic climate, we have also asked the independent Migrant Advisory Committee to consider further changes to the way in which foreign workers can come here.
This all builds on the ring of security that already protects Britain, including fingerprint visas and ID cards for foreign nationals that lock people to one identity. We will use electronic controls to count people in and out at the border, while using new technology to screen high risk people. All of this will ensure we know who is here and that people are who they say there.
We do not think that population in general is beyond sustainable levels. However we do recognise that there is an asymmetry to the immigration in the UK. With so much of the population focused in the South East it is creating a strain on public services and on resources. However, in Scotland this is less the case. In a recent debate in the House, Chris Huhne, our Home Affairs Spokesperson, floated the idea of incorporating locality into the points based system.
We are quite open to immigration and understand its merits. There are perhaps a few key points about where we stand:
- We don’t think the Government has done enough for immigration, or that it is competent enough to deal effectively with this issue
- We believe it is vital to our economy and public services and in a world where borders are lowered we should welcome people who can bring skills and talent to our country and our public services. There are many examples of outstanding contributions from people from overseas
- It is too easy to blame lack of jobs on immigrants, but the economy is a result of poor economic management by the government. Many people are now going home, such as recent reports about the Polish Communities returning to Poland. We should not forget that many people in Britain benefit from jobs in Europe and around 2 million Brits live in the rest of the EU.
- Asylum seekers are different to immigrants, and we have international obligations to those who seek sanctuary in our state. However, they should be able to work and not be dependent on benefits.
- We need exit checks to help manage and monitor the rates of illegal immigration, both Tories and Labour did away with these
- We should deal with immigration at a regional level, catering to the capacity/resources and needs of different parts of the country – whilst the South East has a very dense population, Scotland has a relatively sparse population, meaning more space for any influx in population
- Those who come to Britain should learn English, be able to integrate into society and respect our values
- We would have better cooperation with our partners to tackle illegal immigration and would have a National Border Force with powers of arrest
- We would also do more to monitor employers who have illegal immigrants on their staff and penalise or prosecute accordingly
Immigration is an important issue, which deserves calm and serious treatment. We believe that Britain would benefit if a consensus could develop about the best way to make sure we benefit from migration. We also believe that a socially responsible immigration policy needs proper controls to build public confidence in the system. This is an attempt to help build that consensus.
Our main conclusions are:
- Asylum policy should be separated from policy on economic migration
- Britain benefits economically from immigration, but not all or any immigration
- We propose a two-stage process for deciding whose application should be successful. The first stage will be to make eligible for admission those who will benefit the economy. The second stage will be to control the numbers with regard to the wider effects on society. These effects include the ability of the public services and infrastructure to cope with new arrivals at both national and local levels, the environmental impact of a rapidly rising population, and the potential effects on community cohesion
Most years, we would expect the result of our approach to be a positive level of net immigration, but the exact figure would only be calculated after an annual consultation exercise with a number of bodies, including local authorities and housing and public service providers. While the precise number for any year cannot be predicted at this point, we would expect it to be significantly less than current levels from the rest of the world outside the EU.
To make this work we need better enforcement methods. This means a border force which is also trained and empowered to concentrate on those who over-stay, and the backlog of those working here illegally. All of this should be put in the context of a proper national debate about demographics, population levels and the distribution of population.