Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:53 pm on 18th May 2020.

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Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 8:53 pm, 18th May 2020

It is a pleasure to formally welcome the new shadow immigration Minister to her post; I have not had the chance to do so before at the Dispatch Box.

The breadth of views expressed by Members today clearly demonstrates how important an issue this is, not only to our constituents but personally. Given the unusual circumstances in which we meet, I will not have time to give a detailed response to each point raised, but will seek to respond to the broad themes that have been brought out in the debate.

The Bill is before the House not only to deliver on our manifesto pledges, but to lay the framework for our new immigration system, which will be fairer because we will treat people from every part of the world equally, while respecting our historic links with Ireland and the Belfast agreement, and firmer, because we will have control of our own borders from 1 January and all migration policy will be in the hands of this Parliament. It will be skills led, because the system will be based on the skills, talents and qualifications that people can bring to this country, not two radically different systems based on where someone’s passport comes from.

Let us be clear: this is a framework Bill, not an immigration shopping list. In response to some comments, especially from those who wish to build an economic version of Hadrian’s wall, I emphasise that this Bill sets up the framework for a single, global points-based migration system, with the rights of Irish citizens protected and ensuring the ability of Ministers to respond to any agreement on social security co-ordination.

The detail of our migration rules will continue to be set in secondary legislation, to ensure that they remain flexible and able to respond to changing situations but always based on the key policy principles I have outlined. The reaction to the coronavirus emergency shows why that is necessary. Imagine our having to pass primary legislation to amend visa end dates, automatically renew NHS workers’ visas, grant waivers to in-country route-swapping conditions or allow tier 4 sponsors to move courses online. Hence this Bill, in common with those on this subject that came before it, does not replicate the immigration rules in statutory form, and neither should the House regret its not doing so.

We have already moved to create the first part of our new migration system with the creation of our global talent route. I saw at first hand at Glasgow University what this could result in and the strong offer it presents, clearing the path for some of humanity’s most complex problems, such as the fight against malaria, to be solved by teams recruited on a global basis and based here in our United Kingdom. The new graduate route, which will be introduced next summer, will help to retain some of the brightest minds coming out of our universities, giving a simple path to future residence and settlement. As our universities see an increasing number of international students arrive to study here, we know that more will be inspired to make their life and career in vibrant locations such as Glasgow, Belfast, Exeter, Cardiff and Coventry. Our immigration system should allow them to do so.

I hear the frustrations of those who see our migration and humanitarian protection system being abused by those who engage in human trafficking—as highlighted well by my hon. Friends the Members for Dover (Mrs Elphicke) and for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) —and the risks being run by those using small boats to cross the channel. A key part of ensuring a fairer system is to tackle that type of behaviour. My hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts is leading work on that, which is benefiting from the input of my hon. Friends.

The Migration Advisory Committee report earlier this year provided a strong and evidence-based view for our future points-based migration system. We accepted its key recommendations: a reduction in the general salary threshold for the key skilled worker visa from £30,000 to £25,600; moving the skills threshold from degree to A-level, to ensure that we include those with significant skills levels, such as senior carers; and tradable points, with a salary floor of £20,480 for jobs on the shortage occupation list or where significant potential is shown by holding a relevant STEM-based PhD. We are working hard to bring the new system into effect, and I thank the teams in the Home Office who have continued doing this in the extraordinary circumstances we have found ourselves in over recent weeks.

We will continue to work closely with the Migration Advisory Committee and its interim chair, Professor Brian Bell. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to advise on the future shortage occupation list. Its call for evidence has now been issued, and that will provide an opportunity to look at the skills needs of a range of sectors that Members have highlighted today. I encourage all businesses to take part and have their voice heard; no one should allow themselves to be silenced. Several Members have been keen to highlight groups with whom I can speak about this. For example, I look forward to a video conference with seafood businesses in north-east Scotland arranged by my hon. Friend David Duguid. I know he shares my passion for ensuring that the new migration system serves our whole Union and the skills needs of Scottish businesses, rather than the political aims of Scotland’s separatists.

Talking of serving the needs of our nation, no organisation has done that more than our NHS and social care services over recent weeks. Our new system will not just allow but actively welcome a range of health professionals to the United Kingdom. This will be via not only the points-based system being based on national salary scales for roles such as doctors, nurses and physiotherapists, but an NHS visa, which includes discounted fees and fast-track application processes for those with a job offer from our NHS or for those providing services to it. This process will build on the dedicated team that the Home Secretary has already established in UKVI to process applications from those with NHS job offers. Our social care sector will benefit from simpler processes to recruit qualified medical staff and key roles such as senior carers on a global basis.

One area that has been regularly queried in the debate is our acceptance of the MAC’s recommendation that there should be no general route for employers to seek to employ temporary or permanent employees on the legal minimum wage with limited training and no requirement to speak a basic level of English. I gently say to Members that if the lesson they have taken from the events of the last two months is that paying the legal minimum to those working in social care who migrate to the UK from low-pay economies is the right approach, they have drawn the wrong conclusion. Similarly, those who think that the migration system is the go-to option for recruitment issues in social care, rather than creating career paths and increasing the value of such roles, should read the MAC’s specific rejection of this.

No one can deny the economic impact that the measures necessary to deal with the coronavirus will have. Many of our friends and neighbours will need to find new employment opportunities, and it is therefore vital that our migration system aligns with this goal, rather than providing an alternative to it. I have welcomed speaking to my hon. Friend the employment Minister about how we can ensure that our goals align and that those seeing migration as their first port of call are instead steered to the efforts being made to get UK-based workers back into employment and to the Disability Confident scheme, which helps to get unique talents into the workplace. There will still be some flexibility. For example, there is provision for the further expansion of our youth mobility schemes, through which 20,000 young people come to the UK for a period of work and travel each year, along with the adult dependants of those who come as skilled workers, who can also access the employment market. However, we will not create a minimum wage general migration route.

Alongside creating our new points-based global migration system, we are also taking the chance to work on a long overdue simplification of the immigration rules. I am grateful to the Law Commission for its thoughts on this area of work, and we will take most of them forward as we create the new system. Many will not be headline-grabbers but changes that will make it easier for those who need to use our immigration system to both understand the requirements and to comply with them. This will sit alongside moves such as the abolition of the resident labour market test, which will make it easier for employers to recruit skilled labour, and will remove some of the bureaucracy and time associated with doing so.

Finally, it was predictable that some would use this debate to re-fight the battles of Brexit, despite the clear result in the recent general election. The Bill delivers one of the key commitments that the Government made: a single global migration system. However, we are also delivering on our pledge to protect those who have moved here and made their life here in good faith under the current arrangements. The European settlement scheme is the largest documentation of immigration status in UK history. More than 3.5 million applications have been received, with more than 3 million decisions made, and only a tiny number of refusals by comparison. I am afraid that those calling for systems where rights are granted but not recorded do not seem to have learned the lessons of the past. The European settlement scheme means those entitled can prove their status easily for the rest of their lifetimes, while also ensuring that those who arrive in years to come cannot abuse the scheme’s provisions.

We recognise that immigration is vital to the social, cultural and economic life of this country. The new system will aim to create global equality of opportunity, giving everyone the same chance to live and work in this country. The Bill is the first step in ending free movement, establishing a fair and equal immigration system and upholding the scientific and commercial excellence of our country. Above all, it will help us to build a better future for this country and its people as we rebuild after the impact of covid-19. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.