Andrew Thorpe-Apps says the Coalition is making good progress on immigration reform.
Net migration to the UK has fallen by a third. There was a net flow of 163,000 migrants to the UK in the year ending June 2012. This was a significant decrease compared to the net flow of 247,000 the previous year. There were 74,000 fewer immigrants. The numbers emigrating from the UK remained similar.
The statistics suggest that the government’s target of cutting net migration to under 100,000 by 2015 is an achievable one. Of course, the removal of transitional controls on workers from Romania and Bulgaria at the end of this year may yet throw a spanner in the works. But there is at least a sense that Britain’s immigration system is finally back under control.
The last Labour government presided over a shambolic system which saw the net migration of 2.2 million people to Britain over 13 years. Ed Miliband has said Labour ‘got it wrong’ by not listening to public concerns over the issue, but stopped short of a full apology. The fact that Labour continue to oppose significant reforms suggests they still have not learnt any lessons.
Stalwart proponents of mass immigration argue that curbing the numbers arriving is not in Britain’s interest. Universities and the business sector often talk of the importance of attracting the ‘best and the brightest’ to the UK. It is certainly right that Britain should welcome talented students and highly skilled workers. Sustainable immigration is beneficial to both the economy and culture of Britain. The trouble is that, for too long, the system has been abused.
A Home Office pilot study found extensive abuse of the student visa system, particularly in India. When a sample of Indian students granted visas were interviewed, it was found that 59% would have potentially been refused on credibility grounds. It has been suggested that in 2008 – the year that the ‘points-based system’ was first introduced – between 40,000 and 50,000 ‘bogus students’ were granted student visas. Bogus students cost the UK taxpayer over £400 million each year and take unskilled jobs that should go to British workers.
Upon the release of the figures, the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee attacked the government for not taking international students out of its target to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. The Committee said: ‘The Government should listen, think again and change course.’
The reality is that there has actually been an increase in the number of genuine international students. Non-EU student visas were up 3% among the universities. The fall in student numbers was among the colleges where widespread abuse occurred. The number of visas granted for English language schools – a particular favourite of bogus students – fell by 69%. This was aided by the government’s action in closing down 180 bogus colleges. As David Cameron recently said on a visit to India – there is no limit on the number of foreign students who can study and work in Britain, but abuse will not be tolerated. It is also worth noting that the number of business visitors increased by 100,000 to 1.7 million last year.
The statistics show that Britain’s immigration system can be tightened up whilst the country remains open and welcoming to those coming for honest reasons. Net migration has been reduced largely by the reforms to the student visa system. UK Border Agency officials will now conduct interviews with more than 100,000 student visa applicants from ‘high risk’ countries outside the EU. Furthermore, a new ‘genuine entrepreneur’ test will help to tackle the rising number of foreign nationals attempting to enter the UK by falsifying bank statements and setting up fake businesses.
Although the government is making progress in the area of immigration, there is a great deal more to do. Not enough has been done to combat illegal immigration (there are an estimated 1.1 million illegal immigrants in the UK). There has been a fall in the number of deportations of people who have broken immigration rules, and a reduction in the number of people being stopped at the border. It is vital to make examples of those caught employing illegal immigrants by imposing severe financial punishments and even terms of imprisonment.
In 2010, net migration was a staggering 252,000. Just like the 50p tax rate, Gordon Brown used immigration to undermine the incoming Conservative-led government – tribal politics at its worst. Yet David Cameron now has a firm grasp on this issue. Even if the government falls short of its 2015 target, the public can be confident that things are moving in the right direction.