Limits on Non-EU Economic Migration

Part of CCTV – in the House of Commons at 4:36 pm on 28th June 2010.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department 4:36 pm, 28th June 2010

Immigration has enriched our culture and enhanced our society. Britain can benefit from immigration, but not uncontrolled immigration. The levels of net migration seen under the previous Government-an annual figure of almost a quarter of a million at its peak in 2004-were unprecedented in recent times. It is this Government's aim to reduce the level of net migration back down to the levels of the 1990s-tens of thousands each year, not hundreds of thousands.

Of course, it is necessary to attract the world's very best talent to come to the UK to drive strong economic growth, but unlimited migration has placed unacceptable pressure on public services and, worse, severely damaged public confidence in our immigration system. Our over-reliance on migrant labour has done nothing to help the millions of unemployed and low-skilled British citizens who deserve the Government's help to get back to work and improve their skills. The coalition's programme for government confirmed the Government's intention to introduce an annual limit on the number of non-EU economic migrants admitted into the UK to live and work. We have always said that we will consult on the implementation of that limit. It is important that the Government take full account of the views of business and other interested sectors. We want to ensure that we can properly weigh the economic considerations against the wider social and public service implications.

I am therefore launching a consultation today on the mechanisms for implementing that annual limit, including questions about the coverage of limits, as well as the mechanics of how they will work in practice. The consultation also recognises the need to attract more high net-worth individuals to the UK through the routes for investors and entrepreneurs, which will not be covered by limits, and we ask for views on how that can be achieved. At the same time, I have commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to provide advice to the Government on the levels at which limits should be set for the first full year of their operation, which I intend should be from April 2011.

I am sure that all Members of the House would agree with me that the Migration Advisory Committee has an excellent track record in this area, and I want to take this opportunity to record my thanks to David Metcalf and the rest of the committee for taking on this critical piece of work. The consultations will be complete by the end of September, and I intend to make final announcements about the first full annual limit before the end of the calendar year.

It is important that today's announcement does not lead to a surge of applications during this interim period, which would lead to an increase in net migration, undermining the purpose of the limit and putting undue strain on the UK Border Agency. I am therefore also taking a number of interim measures, and I have laid a statement of changes to the immigration rules in support of those measures. First, I am introducing an interim limit on the number of out-of-country main applicants to tier 1 (general). For 2010-11, this route will be held flat from the equivalent period for 2009-10. The tier 1 routes for investors, entrepreneurs and the post-study route are not affected. Secondly, to ensure that those who do come through this route are the brightest and best, I am raising the tier 1 (general) pass mark by five points for all new applicants.

Thirdly, I am introducing an interim limit on the number of migrants who can be offered jobs by sponsor employers through tier 2 (general). This route will be reduced in the interim period by 1,300 migrants, the equivalent of a 5% reduction across the relevant routes of tiers 1 and 2. The tier 2 routes for intra-company transfers, ministers for religion and-I am not sure whether to say this, given the comments at the end of the Prime Minister's statement-elite sportspeople are not affected. These interim measures will take effect from 19 July.

It is vital that we restore public confidence in our immigration system. Our plans to do that extend much further than the measures I am announcing today. We support e-borders and the re-introduction of exit checks. We have said that we will create a dedicated border police force to enhance national security, improve immigration controls and crack down on the trafficking of people, weapons and drugs. We have committed to improving our asylum system to speed up the processing of applications. We have said that we will end the detention of children for immigration purposes, and the UK Border Agency has already launched a review engaging a wide range of experts and organisations on how to achieve this.

Our commitment to reduce net migration will require action, as I am sure Alan Johnson will indicate in a moment, beyond the economic routes. It may assist him if I tell the House now that I will be reviewing other immigration routes in due course and will be bringing forward further proposals for consideration by the House. And, of course, unlike the previous Government, we are committed to applying transitional controls for all new EU member states.

The commitment to introduce limits on non-EU economic migration is a major immigration commitment of the coalition Government. Today's announcement is a key step towards the delivery of that commitment, and I commend this statement to the House.