Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 25th November 2008.

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Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism) 8:30 pm, 25th November 2008

My Lords, I acknowledge that each of the tiers breaks down into others, but the system is certainly simpler—and, I think, more straightforward—than the current 80-plus routes.

The rules cover several areas. Taken together, they have the effect of tightening our immigration control and clarifying key provisions, and they will come into effect on 27 November. I shall briefly describe the most important provisions before going on to answer the points made by noble Lords during the debate.

The rules will enable us to implement two of the most important parts of the points-based system for managed migration from outside the European economic area. We are introducing the points-based system to ensure that only migrants that the UK needs will be able to work and study here.

This new system will create a more efficient, transparent and objective application process. It will improve compliance and reduce scope for abuse. The process of overhauling the UK immigration system began earlier this year with the launch of the points system for highly skilled migrants. The points-based system is about getting the right people the country needs and no more. It is a flexible system in which the Government can raise or lower the bar depending on the needs of the labour market, as advised by the independent Migration Advisory Committee, and the country as a whole, taking account of views and evidence from the Migration Impacts Forum.

Secondly, the rules clarify the route for business visitors to come to this country. They do so by creating a new business and special visitor category making it clear exactly what people who come to the UK on business, and for the other purposes covered, can do. These changes have developed following public consultation and in partnership with key stakeholders.

Thirdly, we are raising the minimum age of a spouse and their sponsor for a marriage visa from 18 to 21. Notwithstanding what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds said, we believe it to be important to protect young people from being forced into relationships that they do not want at a time in their lives when they could be establishing a degree of independence as an adult through further education or work. It is interesting that information from the Forced Marriage Unit shows that the highest number of forced marriage cases dealt with in the period 2005-08 involved those aged 18, of which there were 72 cases, followed by those aged 17 and 19, of which there were 68 cases each. This is an important measure. We believe that raising the age will provide an opportunity for individuals to develop maturity and life skills and to complete their education. It may also allow them to resist the pressure of being forced into marriage. It will delay sponsorship for marriage until the age of 21 and allow vulnerable young people an opportunity to seek help and advice.

I shall now respond to the points made. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, spoke of the burden on smaller businesses. We are moving towards a more transparent and objective system, which will enable employers to recruit the migrants they need. To recruit workers from outside the EU, employers must be registered as sponsors with the UK Border Agency. With sponsorship comes responsibility. We will be looking to employers to safeguard the UK's workforce by showing that the resident labour market test has been met before employing a migrant. We also expect employers to fulfil other duties, such as reporting non-attendance at work, changes to a migrant's terms of employment and in time, using ID cards to check entitlement to work. These requirements have been developed in close consultation with employers.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned that maintenance requirements act as a barrier to non-OECD countries. Maintenance is set at £800, which is the sum required for the UK. The value of that sum outside the UK is not quite so important. We have listened to concerns from stakeholders, including employers and lawyers, and now allow A-rated sponsors to provide a written undertaking for migrants on maintenance. We have also listened to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and have extended that provision to migrants' dependants. It is now possible for migrants to meet the maintenance requirements to come to the UK without showing that they have savings.

I am aware that the issue of sponsored researchers is a difficult one. It was raised by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Norton and Lord Bew, and noble Baronesses, Lady Williams and Lady Sharp. I have genuine sympathy as I understand the difficulties. There has been no intention directly to replace every route within the current system, but we felt that the five-tier framework broadly provides routes of entry to allow a continuation of activities benefit for the UK. In that context, I have already had discussions with the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. I know that she will have another discussion with my honourable friend Phil Woolas. I understand that she had a meeting with No. 10, the outcome of which I do not know as yet. Whether there will be any change as a result, I am not sure, but we are sympathetic to the concerns that have been put forward.

Until yesterday, we were not persuaded that amending the policy for the framework of tier 5—temporary workers and those whom the Government authorised in the same subcategory to cater for that group—would be conducive to maintaining our robust immigration controls more generally. The safeguards put in place for Government-authorised exchange are particularly important as many participants will be coming to the UK essentially to work, but unlike in other parts of the system, they will not need to meet stringent tests on expected earnings or a minimum standard of the English language before entry to the UK.