The Government’s commitment to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands has been in trouble from the outset. A major part of the problem is that they have no control over two key factors affecting net migration, out flows/emigration and the number of EU citizens who choose to come to the UK. The latest figures available showed that there has been an almost 20% rise in net migration over the last year; with the net figure standing at 196,000. The increase is largely due to a 13% fall in those emigrating and a 35% increase in overseas students coming to study in the UK. In other words the task that they have set themselves seems to becoming more difficult. The Government’s policy on migration, driven by political opportunism, is in a mess. But for those who might wish to take pleasure in their predicament, remember that it will damage the UK economy and it will hit public services as many of those we may have relied on to enter via Tier 2 will find it increasingly difficult to do so.
The attempt to cap immigration is one of the few direct tools available to the Government in trying to achieve their goal. Whilst their immediate attention has been to cap economic migration via Tiers 1&2 of the Points Based System (PBS) it has soon become clear that capping economic migration will not deliver the reductions they are looking for – in total it only accounts for 20% of non-EU migration. The Government’s announcement last Tuesday made it clear they would also be looking to reduce other areas of migration including students and family reunions.
The Government’s problem with capping economic migration has however not been confined to the fact that by itself it can not deliver the numbers. Imposing an arbitrary cap on economic migration has been criticised by business and indeed from those inside Government, notably Vince Cable, who have argued that it will ultimately damage the UK economy. The TUC has largely agreed, arguing that economic need should determine economic immigration and not some anti-migrant bias. The only area that the TUC has fundamentally disagreed with business over is Intra Company Transfers: long a source of abuse of the migration system with overseas workers taking jobs that could be done by those already in the resident labour market. It’s therefore a bitter irony that the Government now intend to go ahead with the cap but give a relatively privileged position to those coming via the Intra Company Transfer route.
In bare bones the Government intends to do the following:
- Impose a limit of 21,700 across Tiers 1 & 2
- Limit of 20,700 under Tier 2 and raising the bar to graduate level jobs so that only the most skilled can come
- Intra Company Transfers will be exempt but will raise standards and lower numbers by placing a new salary threshold of £40,000 for ICTs longer than 12 months (clearly saying they are exempt but saying they will cut them is a contradiction but reflects the contradictory statements the Prime Minister has made to different audiences)
- Close the Tier 1 General Route: those coming to UK looking for work who have not got a job on arrival
- Overall cut of 20% in line with the Migration Advisory Committee report
This will however make it even more important for them to make reductions in the overseas student numbers and family reunions (accounting for 60% and 20% of immigration respectively). Reductions in these areas will also pose their problems. Given the Government’s onslaught on university finances, universities will be desperate to attract overseas students and the finance they bring with them. Attacking overseas students in areas like those attending language courses also has its problems. Genuine language colleges are a welcome source of revenue but also some 30% of all those overseas students recruited to graduate courses are recruited in the UK, of those very same language courses. The other area, family reunions, also has its difficulties (even putting aside moral considerations) not least that for the UK to further restrict this area will probably lead them into clashes with international law.