A new points system that aims to ensure migrants wanting to work in the UK have the right skills is at the heart of the government’s new immigration strategy.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke told MPs migrants were vital for the UK economy and society but it needed controls.
The plans include fines for employers using illegal workers. There are also moves to prevent asylum abuse.
The Tories say Labour is offering half steps and the Lib Dems say the plans may not produce an efficient system.
The five-year plan comes as immigration looks increasingly likely play a contentious role in campaigning for the election—widely predicted for May.
Tony Blair told BBC News there was real public concern and it was in Britain’s interests to allow in only those migrants’ whose skills were really needed.
To critics who say he has taken too long to act, he said: “This requires a long, hard patient slog, not a magic bullet.”
In the Commons, Mr Clarke stressed the positive effects of immigration and warned: “It is a lack of confidence in our systems of control that can foster bigotry.”
He announced an end to the automatic right to settle for immigrants’ families.
Existing work permit schemes would be rolled into one Australian-style system where migrants qualified for a certain number of points according to their skills.
A new labour market advisory group would recommend what skills British businesses needed.
In sectors particularly open to abuse, workers would have to pay money up front as a bond which they would only get back once they returned home.
And all visa applicants would be fingerprinted as part of tighter border controls.
The changes mean only high-skilled workers will be allowed to settle in the UK—temporary labour from inside the European Union will now fill low-skill vacancies.
On asylum, Mr Clarke proposed that genuine refugees would no longer have permanent leave to remain in the UK.
Instead, they would get permission to stay in the country for five years before it was decided whether it was safe for them to return to their countries of origin.
He also promised more detention of failed asylum seekers and agreements to return them home.
Maeve Sherlock, from the Refugees’ Council, said refugees the plans risked leaving refugees “in limbo” for five years.
“It seems particularly unfair on refugees who may have lost their whole families or suffered torture or, at worst, ethnic cleansing,” she said.
Conservative shadow home secretary David Davis said the system desperately needed reform from the “mess this government has created over eight years in power”.
He welcomed a points system but accused the “panic-stricken” government of promising only half measures.
Clear limits on the number of immigrants were needed because of pressure on public services , he argued.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten said Labour was right to reject the Tories’ idea of quotas on asylum.
But he warned about the dangers of a “bidding war” on the issue between the other two major parties.
The UK Independence Party also wants a points system for economic migration but complains there are no limits on the number of EU workers coming to the UK.
BBC News, Feb. 7
The government has announced what it says is a five-year plan to shift the entire UK work permit system for migrants to one based on points. BBC News explains how this will work.
THE CURRENT SYSTEM
Today’s economic migrant system is complicated and not easy for the public to readily understand. The government admits as much as it has been expanded over the years as ministers have tinkered at the edges rather than embarking on major reform.
Depending on the type of worker you are, your entry into the UK is controlled by one type of permission or another, even though the government sees each in its own way as contributing to the economy.
So, at present, a banker must meet different entry criteria from a student who, in turn, will be governed by rules different from those, perhaps, affecting a Thai chef. The right to settle—and ultimately to seek British citizenship—is handled entirely separately.
HOW THE SYSTEM WILL CHANGE
All the different work permits and entry schemes will be replaced by a single points-based system. The more skills you have, the more points you will gain, increasing your likelihood of entry to the UK. European Union workers will not be affected—they and a few other European countries will still be able to come and go under the free market rules also available to British people.
Similar systems are already used in other industrialised countries and the basic principle is perhaps best summed up as “entry-through-skills”. Supporters of a points system, such as Australia, believe it is much more transparent and responsive to the needs of the economy.
The Conservatives have also proposed such an approach, although they say they would link it to quotas set by Parliament.
THE FOUR TIERS OF ENTRY
There will be four “tiers” within the points scheme within which people applying to work in the UK would be categorised.
Tier One: Highly skilled
The most skilled professionals will automatically have enough points to come to the UK without a job offer and seek work or set up a business.
This group would include doctors, engineers, IT specialists and top-flight graduates in key sectors, such as business and finance. Workers in this category will have the most flexibility in the UK and greatest opportunities to settle for good.
Tier two: Skilled
This covers people with qualifications or important work-related experience in a huge range of sectors from health service workers to white collar jobs and the trades.
People in this category will be given points on their talents and will be allowed into the UK if they have a job offer in a “shortage area”.
Tier three: Low skilled
The government currently allows temporary migration to jobs in hospitality, food processing and agriculture from all over the world.
It says it will start to phase out these permissions in favour of workers from the expanded European Union, although it adds that it may allow controlled quotas in certain sectors.
Workers in this category must find an employer as a sponsor. The employer will also have some responsibility for ensuring someone remains within the terms of their visa.
Tier four: Specialists and students
This final group covers those where there is “no significant issue of competition” but an economic benefit resulting from someone’s presence. This includes students paying for tuition in the UK, foreign government representatives and may include professional sports people and ministers of religion.
WHO GETS IN?
The Home Office will have the final say but it says it will establish an independent advisory board which can give accurate information on where the gaps exist and to recommend changes to the system.
So, for instance, if in one year there is a shortage of plumbers in the UK, the board may recommend awarding more entry points to foreign plumbers. A few months later it may suggest cutting the points available as the gap is plugged.
There will be two key sanctions against overstaying. Firstly, workers in some sectors prone to abuse will be expected to hand over a financial bond, repayable when they leave at the end of their visa. Secondly, employers themselves will be fined £2,000 for each illegal worker.
WHO STAYS IN THE LONG TERM?
Home Secretary Charles Clarke is clear: “The route to settlement is through skilled labour,” he says. This means that the more skilled you are, the more likely you are to be able to stay. Under the proposals, low-skilled workers will no longer have to stay in the UK; they will have to leave when their visas expire.
Only skilled workers who support themselves financially can apply to stay permanently after five years—up from four years—and they must prove their ability to use English fluently.
The government says it also wants to end the complicated phenomenon of “chain migration”. This occurs when someone allowed to settle on the basis of ‘family reunion’—a husband or wife of someone in the UK—can in turn sponsor the arrival of other family members.