Friday, February 3, 2012

Migrants seeking a life in Britain will be asked: Can you make the country better?

Migrants seeking permission to enter Britain must prove they will ‘add to the quality of life’ and not become ‘dependent’ on state support, a minister will say today.

Immigration minister Damian Green will say it is time for a major overhaul of the system left behind by Labour.

He will tell an audience in London: ‘We need to know not just that the right numbers of people are coming here, but that the right people are coming here. People who will benefit Britain, not just those who will benefit by Britain.’

The minister will also criticise the idea of migrants coming to Britain to claim benefits, saying: ‘Importing economic dependency on the State is unacceptable. Bringing people to this country who can play no role in the life of this country is equally unacceptable.’

Mr Green will set out the case for becoming more ‘selective’ about which non-EU citizens are granted a visa to work, study or marry.

He says the debate so far has focused on the Government’s pledge to reduce net migration – the number entering the country, compared to those leaving – from 250,000 last year to the ‘tens of thousands’. But Mr Green argues it is now time also to focus on exactly who is coming here and what they have to contribute.

He will tell the Policy Exchange think-tank: ‘What we need is a national consensus on how we can make immigration work for Britain. We are evidently a long way from such a consensus but I want to start to build it.’

Mr Green, saying the country wants entrepreneurs and exceptional artistic and scientific talent, will add: ‘Britain does not need more migrant middle managers, any more than it needs unskilled labour.’

A string of policy announcements are imminent from Home Secretary Theresa May.

New controls on the spouses of immigrants entering Britain will require them to prove they can speak a certain amount of English, and that they will not be reliant upon benefits. The family will be expected to show they have a household income of up to £26,000 a year.

In a separate move, foreign workers will not be permitted to remain unless they have special skills or investment capital.

Britain will have to find room for three million more people by 2025 even if not a single new immigrant comes here, official estimates revealed yesterday.

The population will grow relentlessly to nearly 65.3million by then, largely because of the impact on the birthrate of mass immigration over the past decade and a half.

Just finding somewhere to put the additional three million people would require three cities the size of Birmingham.

The continuing effects of the large-scale immigration under Labour were set out in Office for National Statistics projections of likely population levels. Without taking any new migrants into account, numbers are predicted to rise from the 2010 population estimate of 62,262,000 to 65,292,000 in 2025. If net migration is 200,000 a year, the 70million mark would be reached in 2027.


Immigration is not just a numbers game – it’s about culture, too

Immigration stirs strong passions. But in Britain the debate about it can be rather confused. During the last election, a friend canvassed a finger-jabbing gentleman who said that he would be voting Liberal Democrat because “Nick Clegg will kick out all the immigrants”.

Most people know the difference between Nick Clegg and Nick Griffin. But do we know what immigration policy we want? Most of us – though fewer than in recent years – back some immigration. Since 1997, the share of our workforce born outside the United Kingdom has doubled from 7 per cent to 14 per cent. Net immigration rose from zero in 1992 to nearly a quarter of a million last year, when half a million people arrived but only half that number left.

The Government is trying to control overall numbers. But voters also want people who will fit in and contribute. Yesterday, Damian Green, the Immigration Minister, gave a speech exploring how to make immigration rules do those two things. He floated the idea that economic migrants might have to earn some kind of minimum salary – perhaps between £31,000 and £49,000 a year.

In this respect, his speech reflects an important change of approach. The Labour administration argued that migration expanded the economy, and had no impact on jobs. The new Government says it is interested not in the total size of the economy, but in the living standards of current residents.

In January, a report from the Migration Advisory Committee looked at whether non-EU immigration improved the welfare of current residents. It concluded that this question was impossible to answer at the moment. How do you compare the effects on jobs, tax, spending, congestion and so on? The report did, however, challenge the idea that migration has no impact on the labour market.

In the long run, migrants don’t “take” anyone’s job. The economy creates new jobs all the time. But it can take a while for this to happen, particularly in a recession. The MAC found that between 2005 and 2010, Britain gained an extra 700,000 working-age migrants from outside the EU. It thought this had reduced the employment of natives by about 130,000. However, they said the same effect might not occur in a period of stronger growth. To put this in context, there are 25 million UK‑born workers, so migrants reduced native employment by half of 1 per cent.

Limiting economic migration to those with better-paying jobs is one way to try to make it more likely that the net effect of immigration is positive for living standards. You might expect migrants with well-paying jobs to have a better chance of fitting in, but other things might help with this, too. For example, the Government has introduced an English language test for spouses, and is considering a test of their attachment to the country. It is also considering a rule that would prevent people on low incomes from bringing spouses. But it is treading warily because of human rights law. Judges recently struck down rules banning spouses aged under 21 from settling in Britain, introduced in a bid to reduce forced marriages.

For most people, culture is as important as numbers. So shouldn’t government also have a policy of integration once people have arrived? English language tuition might help them fit in. What about supplementary schools that mix children with others outside their community? Could housing policy avoid people becoming ghettoised? What kind of public events help people integrate?

The “citizenship test” under Labour became a joke, because it presented being British as if it was mainly about claiming benefits and knowing where the European Parliament meets. But what is Britishness, anyway? While the debate about immigration is becoming more sophisticated, the debate about Britishness and belonging has barely started.


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