I warmly welcome today's debate, and thank my hon. Friend Mr. Soames for introducing it. It gives us the opportunity to discuss openly the challenges that we face over immigration control. Unfortunately, as has been alluded to by both my hon. Friend and Mr. Field, some politicians discuss this topic only when quick and populist headlines are required. That is regrettable because it reduces the legitimacy of immigration as an important issue to be discussed rationally and pragmatically. It also leads Government to produce confused and contradictory policies that are too lenient in some cases and too tough in others. Moreover, it fails to address the economic needs of our country, or prepare local authorities for the challenges on the ground. Most importantly though, it isolates the British public who are left feeling that the only outlet for their worries about immigration is to be found on the extremes of the political arena.
Let me make it clear that our borders should be open, to an extent, to hard-working, skilled professionals from abroad, but closed to those who will not contribute or integrate. We should also look more favourably on those who play by the rules by firmly rejecting the notion of an amnesty on illegal immigrants.
Immigration is the single biggest issue in my inner-city constituency postbag. It gives me daily exposure to what is, at times, the chaos in the Home Office. I regret to say that because the Minister has been extremely helpful to me on a number of occasions, and has taken great care with some of the cases that have come through. None the less, there is a problem in the Home Office that may, within a few months, face my hon. Friend Damian Green, so I hope that he, too, is listening to what I have to say. My team here at the House of Commons often despair at the day-to-day failings of the system. The last time I spoke in this House about immigration, I touched on a few specific cases. All too often the Home Office has failed to serve the correct paperwork in relation to deportation attempts. I shudder to think of the cost of each of those attempts.
Many cases in my daily postbag prompt the question why the Home Office is so desperately inept at enacting its own decisions. Bizarrely, while we seem to find it, at times, impossible to remove people who have no right to be here, employers in my constituency have untold difficulties in securing passage for some of the highly skilled migrants to whom they have offered jobs. Such employers have looked for personnel in the UK, but are forced to employ skilled people from abroad as the domestic pool cannot often fulfil their need.
Despite stumping up increasing amounts to make applications for visas or for leave to remain-the fee for a paper application is now £820 and the cost of a face-to-face appointment a staggering £1,020-highly skilled migrants and their partners inform me that they are facing ever longer delays. Once an application is made, and that cannot be for fewer than 28 days before a visa is required, passports are retained by the Home Office. Any attempt to request the return of such documents for travel or businesses purposes results in the withdrawal of the application and the loss of fees. Getting any information on a likely time scale is near impossible for a full 14 weeks after application, and there is very little accountability in the management structure. Business folk in my constituency now say that their international companies are choosing to recruit highly skilled global personnel for the German or French offices rather than negotiate with the unpredictable and costly British Home Office.
Two meetings I had yesterday with constituents about their particular cases lead me to believe that the Government are now deliberately delaying applications in the hope that the published immigration statistics immediately ahead of the general election will show a decreasing number of successful applicants. That is cynicism at its very worst.