British PM says ‘tough but fair approach’ to immigration
Posted on November 13th, 2009

By Janaka Alahapperuma from London

The British Prime Minister delivered a speech on immigration in Ealing, West London on 12 November 2009 and said that he would favor a “tough but fair approach” to immigration. During the speech he announced new plans to tighten the points-based system of immigration.

The PM said points-based immigration creates a system that serves the national interest by “recognising what we, as a country, need for a successful economy, but also what will strengthen our society and our communities. Under this system, first and foremost – we must continue our efforts to equip our people with the skills they need to compete in the global economy”. He further said that the British Government would decide what categories of skills were allowed into the country under the new immigration rules and migrants who want to stay in the UK permanently would be required to “earn” UK citizenship.

Mr. Brown said the Government also needed to manage the impact of immigration on communities through mainstream funding and the new Migration Impact Fund, which would see newcomers pay an additional contribution to help ease the pressures of population change.

“It is because we believe those who look to build a new life in Britain should earn the right to do so, that we will now push forward the points-based system to the next stage by introducing a points-based test not just for entry, but also for permanent residence and citizenship.”

Gordon Brown said at the same time the Government is continuing to focus on strengthening UK borders. Because of the new tough measures taken by the government the annual figures for net inward migration show that overall net immigration is down 44% on last year, the PM said.

The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s full transcript of the speech as follows,

Can I say, first of all, what a huge pleasure it is to be with two of the best Members of Parliament in the country- and to thank them for what they do for their constituents, and what they do for the whole of our national life in Britain. We are very proud of what you do. Can I say also that we meet this morning, in this great hall, in a capital city where over 300 languages are spoken; a city that is one of the most culturally rich places in our world; a city that epitomises the strong values and the diversity that has helped to make Britain one of the most dynamic countries in human history.

Today I want to celebrate with you – Members of Parliament, Councillors, representatives of a large range of different organisations from all over our communities that diversity; and I want to also address head on the issue of immigration. The case for managed and controlled migration where it is in the national interest – economically, socially and culturally – is a case that I have constantly made. I have never agreed with the lazy elitism that dismisses immigration as an issue, or portrays anyone who has concerns and questions about immigration as a racist.

Immigration is not an issue for fringe parties nor a taboo subject – it is a question to be dealt with at the heart of our politics; a question about what it means to be British – about what are the values we hold dear, the responsibilities we expect of those coming into our country; about how we secure the skills we need to compete in the global economy; about how, out of diversity, we preserve and strengthen the richness of our communities.

And it’s a question which must be seen in its proper context. People who come to this country have made and continue to make an enormous contribution – across the decades, in every walk of life – from business to sport, from the social fabric of our communities to our culture, from our public services to our public life. Right here in Ealing, Virendra’s own story – first coming to better himself on a scholarship; today representing the people of Ealing Southall as their MP – epitomises the contribution that one person can make to our country, and the benefits of welcoming talented people to our shores who join in with British society, who pull their weight, and contribute to our economy, as seen in thousands, indeed hundreds of thousands, of examples of Great British citizens.

And I believe also that attracting highly skilled migrants with scarce or specialist skills is essential to our continued success and influence as Britain, in the global economy. Now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t risks or costs to immigration or that we shouldn’t acknowledge them and do our best to minimise them. The top line about the benefits of immigration disguises significant variation in how those benefits and costs are felt across the country, or across different parts of the economy and society.

You see, if you are working for a multinational company in a growing sector in a big city then a more diverse workforce from across the world is likely to seem like an exciting source of new ideas – and it is. If you work in a sector where wages are falling or an area where jobs are scarce, immigration will feel very different for you, even if you believe that immigration is good for overall employment and growth.

If the main effect of immigration on your life is to make it easier to find a plumber, or when you see doctors and nurses from overseas in your local hospital, you are likely to think more about the benefits of migration than the possible costs. But if you’re living in a town which hasn’t seen much migration before, you may worry about whether immigration will undermine wages and the job prospects of your children – and whether they will be able to get housing anywhere near you. And everyone wants to be assured that newcomers will accept the responsibilities as well as the rights that come with living here – they’ll accept the responsibilities to obey the law, to speak English, to make a contribution.

So if people ask me, “ƒ”¹…”Do I get it?’ Yes – I get it. I have been listening, I understand, and I am now announcing some new changes to our policies. You see, ours is a something for something, nothing for nothing society. In an older world we could perhaps assume that people would accept all their responsibilities as well as their rights. In a fast moving world it is vital for cohesion that all people in Britain explicitly sign up to the direct responsibilities that come from being part of a community. So, in the interests of fairness, a condition for entry to our home, our British family, must be that you will commit to maintaining all that is best about the country we love. British values are not an add-on for us – an option, or an extra to take or leave. Those who wish to come to our country must embrace them wholeheartedly and proudly, as we do.

And we must set these issues in their proper context – and we must never stop pointing out the facts. That British society has gained immeasurable benefit from its diversity, from being continually refreshed by new talent and new perspectives, from the confidence that comes from defining ourselves positively by our values, rather than negatively by any hostility to others. And we must continually remind ourselves also that net inward migration from both within and outside the EU is not rising but it is falling, with the annual figures showing that overall net immigration is down 44% on last year, and with independent migration experts like Oxford Economics predicting further sustained falls. And we must also point out the fact that over the past decades, people who have come from abroad to our country have boosted employment and growth; have filled key skills gaps in both our public and private sector.

I want to ensure, as I will explain later, that we give British people looking for jobs the best chance of filling vacancies that arise as we come out of the downturn. But where there are vacancies that have been advertised here and are unfilled, it is necessary for businesses and for the economy to be able to recruit more widely. So we reject the views of those who argue for an inflexible, arbitrary quota or cap on immigration. It would deny British business flexibility; it would prevent them from getting the skills that they need; it would prevent employers from filling vacancies; it would overturn our obligations to our neighbours in the European Union; it would damage our economy; it would hurt our public services.

To understand the damage a quota system would do to our economy, we should go back to the American system during the early part of this decade. There was an annual quota for skilled IT workers – seven times that quota was exhausted before the end of the year. It is this that has led President Obama to say that he will now reform the difficulties in the system. The chairman of Intel, Craig Barrett, said when the quota ran out with most of the year still to go: “These arbitrary caps undercut business’s ability to hire and retain highly-educated people in the fields where we needed to maintain our leading position. Instead of arbitrary caps,” he said, “a market-based approach that responds to demand is needed. Only then will the U.S. be competitive and have the ability to hire the best and the brightest.”

So we favour a tough but fair approach rooted in a points system under which we decide what categories of skills are to be allowed into this country. This combines the flexibility and control that is right, with a continued commitment to strong borders, and the rigorous enforcement of the laws against illegal immigration.

So it’s a system which is positive about managed and controlled migration while ensuring that it serves the national interest; it recognises what we, as a country, need for a successful economy, but it also strengthens our society and our communities. So under this system, we must continue our efforts, as I will explain today, to equip our people with the skills they need to compete in the global economy. As a result we will, as I can announce today, tighten our successful points system – and I will detail our measures in a minute.

Second, we must understand and manage the impact of immigration at a local as well as a national level – with mainstream funding responding more quickly to changes in population, and the new Migration Impact Fund ensuring that newcomers pay an additional contribution to help ease the pressures that happen to some communities.

And then, third, our new proposals for earned citizenship will now ensure more explicitly that people from outside the European Union who want to stay here permanently must earn the right to do so – not just through their economic contribution, but also by their respect for our values and our language and by their wider contribution to society.

And then fourth, and finally, the measures to strengthen our borders are now more coordinated than ever: our new Border Agency, biometric visas, electronic border controls counting people in and out, ID cards for foreign nationals – ID cards that are designed to prevent illegal working and protect our national security.

Now let me just address the policy points in turn. First, using the Points Based System to target immigration on skills gaps, while at the same time improving the skills of British men and women to fill those gaps for the future. Two years ago there were 80 different immigration categories which had developed in piecemeal fashion over many decades. Now there is a simple, easy to control, five-tier system, with one of the tiers, for low skilled migrants, currently closed.

We are continually working to improve the management of the system but we believe it is above all the flexibility of the points system which has allowed us to help British workers through difficult times, when it is right to be more selective about the skills levels we need from migrants. In March this year we raised the minimum salary level and the qualification level for tier one. We required Job Centre Plus to apply the resident labour market test for tier two, so that no job can go to a migrant unless it has first been advertised to jobseekers in the UK for two weeks. The changes we have made mean that, from this autumn, local workers will get a better chance, with jobs advertised now for four weeks in local Job Centres before they are offered more widely.

We set up the expert Migration Advisory Committee to advise on the effects of the Points Based System on the labour market, and while their latest report suggests that there remain skills we need to recruit from abroad, it confirms that we no longer need to recruit civil engineers, hospital consultants, aircraft engineers, ships officers – and so these and other jobs are being taken off the list. And the report shows that we are able to target the list on narrower, more specific vacancies including certain types of scientist, geologists, critical care nurses, highly specialist trade workers. But as growth returns I want to see rising levels of skills, wages and employment among those resident here, rather than employers having to resort to recruiting people from abroad.

So I have talked with the chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee, Professor David Metcalf, about how government and the skills agencies and the sectors can respond faster in training the existing labour force for the new skills we need. To date this year we have been taking a further 30,000 posts off the list and over the coming months we will remove more occupations and thousands more posts from the list of those eligible for entry under the Points Based System. So we are building on the skills strategy which set out the new more tailored programme yesterday to invest in reducing these skills gaps by training up workers here.

And I have asked the UK Commission for Employment and Skills to provide advice in January about national priorities for the skills system. I have asked the Commission to work with the Migration Advisory Committee to consider removing certain occupations on the shortage list – for example, engineering roles, skilled chefs, care workers – and to link that to the priorities of our future investment in the skills of the future. As part of this review I have asked the two expert bodies to consult employers, training providers and other agencies to develop realistic timescales during 2010 for when these occupations will be taken off the list.

As the economy recovers, we need to do more to ensure that people with low skills and poor job prospects are helped into work and to secure decent living standards for them and their families. More investment in skills, more help for families with childcare, tougher welfare reform – all will ensure that British people can meet the responsibility to take up work whenever they can but in return ensure their right to be properly rewarded for doing so.

Now our second priority is to understand and manage the impact of immigration at local as well as national level. Whenever there are short-term increases in the numbers of children at your local school, or patients using local GP services, extra resources should of course be provided. The new Migration Impact Fund, launched earlier this year, requires every non-EU migrant who comes to Britain to pay – on top of the visa – an additional charge into the £70m fund. And this fund is already paying out to provide more teaching assistants and to increase GP cover in the areas most affected by immigration. And I believe it is entirely fair that newcomers themselves should be asked to make an additional contribution, over and above tax, to help the communities that they are joining.

There are concerns in some areas about how social housing is allocated. And I want to emphasise the importance of local councils, following the new guidance we have just issued asking and encouraging them to give more priority to local people and those who have spent a long time on the waiting list – and to engage more closely with their communities in setting allocation policies.

Now this comes on top of a pledge to create more housing opportunities all round – a £1.5 billion investment in housing which shows we are committed to investing through the downturn to continue to build the new housing our communities need, helping to deliver over 100,000 new affordable and, in this case, energy-efficient homes for young families to rent or buy over the next two years.

And then third, we must set out clearer expectations of newcomers who plan to stay in our country for any length of time. It is because we believe those who look to build a new life in Britain should earn the right to do so that we will now push forward the Points Based System to the next stage by introducing a points based test not just for entry, but also for permanent residence and citizenship. And this will enable us to control the numbers of people staying here permanently just as we are controlling the numbers coming in.

So the right to stay permanently will no longer follow automatically after living here for a certain number of years. Instead, as we have said, that after living here for five years, migrants will have to apply to become probationary citizens – and at that point they will pass a points-based test, with evidence of continuing economic contribution, of skills, of progress in English and knowledge of life in Britain.

And of course everyone must show a clean criminal record. The most basic but also must fundamental principle is that anybody who comes here – whether to work, to study, or to live – should obey our laws and pay the price if they don’t. Now, our position since August 2008 is that those coming from outside the EU who commit any crime resulting in a sentence of over one year will be considered for deportation. But since April this year our position is that those from inside the EU who are convicted of sex, drug or violent offences resulting in a sentence of 12 months or more will be considered for deportation.

And we are deporting an increasing proportion of foreign criminals. For when a mother or father is grieving for a son who has been killed, or caring for a daughter who has been assaulted, it cannot possibly be right for that grief to be compounded by the knowledge that the perpetrator had no right to be here in the first place. In total we remove 68,000 people from the UK each year, double the level in 1997 – and this includes more than 500 European nationals who have committed crimes. Let me be clear – all newcomers to Britain have a responsibility to obey British law. There are no exceptions. Serious offences will be met by deportation, but even less serious offences will count heavily against progress towards citizenship – delaying or even ending the process.

The second requirement of earned citizenship is that as well as obeying our laws, we expect newcomers to be able to speak English. This applies to workers coming under the Points Based System, who wish to stay permanently and settle their family in the UK. In 2004 we introduced language requirements for citizenship. Now there are requirements for those coming under the Points Based System. And we have set out plans to introduce a new language requirement for spouses.

And we expect that newcomers should not be a burden on the country which has offered them the opportunity to come and make a new life. Those who applied to come here to work and who want to stay must show they are continuing to make the economic contribution. Those who came to settle with their family must show that their family have made every reasonable effort to support them. This message will be clear: if you cannot achieve the points necessary for probationary citizenship, you will not acquire it. And unlike the current categories, probationary status will be just that – probationary. If after a number of years as a probationary citizen – a minimum of one year but a maximum of five – someone wants to stay in this country, they will have to meet the test of full citizenship or permanent residence – or go home.

Because we believe in a something for something society, under this new system many of the rights and access to public services, which are currently available to migrants early in their stay, will not be available to probationary citizens. They will follow only when newcomers move to full citizenship or permanent residence. That’s the right to post-18 education at the “ƒ”¹…”home rate’, the right to permanent social housing tenancies, the right to some social security benefits – saving hundreds of millions of pounds.

But at the same time, we will encourage probationary citizens to demonstrate their commitment to this country and their local areas through volunteering and community service. This will be reflected in the new points system so people will be able to move more quickly towards citizenship when they have made a difference in their community.

This new pathway to probationary citizenship and then to full citizenship shows the clear expectations we have, as a society, of people who come to our country. Clear expectations at every stage of their journey – because living and working here, becoming a British citizen, is of course a set of obligations as well as a guarantee of rights; and it’s a prized asset to be aspired to, earned, and cherished.

Now the final area I want to talk about today is that our systems for managing migration are matched by our continuing work to strengthen our borders: new investment, innovative approaches to meeting the changing demands of what everybody knows is a fast moving world. More UK immigration staff and equipment are now based abroad, helping of course to stop suspect or dangerous travellers before they travel – for example turning back 240,000 individuals from flights in the last 5 years. Increasingly we require visas from most countries – even just for a holiday – and all our visas are now biometric – not just a piece of paper with a stamp on it, but fingerprint records which allow us to detect those who try to violate the rules and so prevent those who have abused our system from coming to Britain again.

We are also using the new requirement under the Points Based System for all employers and colleges to obtain a licence to act as a sponsor for each migrant – and in return accept certain responsibilities to check on their progress and whether they are following the rules. This year for example we have inspected colleges approved to sponsor student applications, and we’ve cut the list of approved colleges by more than half, from 4,000 to 1,800 – as well as temporarily shutting down applications for student visas from parts of China where there was evidence of abuse. And I want to thank Phil Woolas, our immigration Minister, who’s done so much to make this a far better system.

Where visa abuses arise, we will deal with them. The risk of abuse is higher in relation to shorter courses at lower qualification levels below degree level. Our universities continue to offer high quality degree and post graduate courses to foreign students; they contribute greatly to universities, and to our research base and to our economy.

I am announcing today a review of student visas – to be conducted jointly by the Home Office and the Department for Business. It will involve key stakeholders, and will report in December. We will look at the case for raising the minimum level of course for which foreign students can get a visa. The review will also examine the case for introducing mandatory English language testing for student visas other than for English courses. And it will review the rules under which students on lower qualification courses work part-time, especially those on short courses, to look at whether temporary students are filling jobs that would be better filled by young British workers.

To enforce these tougher rules we have more than doubled the number of immigration officers at the border. Last year we set up the UK Border Agency. It is a single force bringing together immigration, customs and visas powers and checks – and last year the agency stopped and turned back almost 28,000 people crossing the Channel illegally. We have toughened the rules on exclusions and deportations. Since November last year we have issued 100,000 identity cards to foreign nationals.

And the next stage of reform is the electronic border controls, which are already counting people in and out. Not the pointless bureaucratic process which was withdrawn in the 1990s but effective, real time checks of identities against passports or visas, which are then matched against the warning indexes for crime, terrorism and immigration. It’s already led to 4,000 arrests; it’s ensured that those who have been properly removed or deported from Britain, or who have committed a serious crime in their own country, will not be able to enter.

One of the greatest obstacles to dealing with illegal immigration is the refusal of foreign governments to accept back their citizens after they have deliberately destroyed their identity documents. Now, where there is a problem of nationals from certain countries overstaying their visas or working illegally, we will require those countries to accept evidence of the travel document scanned at the border, as sufficient for them to accept back their citizens.

And, as you know, we are stepping up our action against employers who hire illegal workers – sometimes abusing them shamefully, in a way that is completely unacceptable, as well as undercutting people here. And it has caused resentment, as you know, in some areas. So we have raised the penalties for employing illegal workers up to £10,000 or 2 years in prison, and also the penalties for employers who undercut the minimum wage or risk health and safety – and have provided additional money for enforcing these new rules from the Migration Impact Fund.

Many people also feel it’s not fair if agency workers can be used to undercut their pay – and most agree it is not fair that even after months in a job, agency workers can be paid less than staff they work alongside. That is why we are changing the law. Last year Britain took a leading role in negotiating an agreement across Europe that will see agency workers in Britain get equal treatment after 12 weeks in post. And we intend that this law will be on the statute book soon.

So we live in a fast-changing world. Government must change to meet the new challenges. Our immigration system is a very clear example. In 1997 we inherited an immigration system with 80 different categories, a small and old fashioned Immigration Service, a paper-based system for recording entry and exit which the previous government had accepted was unworkable but had no plans to change.

This was a system which was clearly not ready to respond to the new global trends that were already evident. As these new trends continued in our first few years in government, our first priority became to reform our asylum system to deal with the worldwide increase in asylum applications. And as those reforms succeeded and numbers came down, our priority in the last two years, as I have set out, has been to reform our system of entry for working migrants.

The changes I have set out today – the new Points Based System on entry, the proposed Points Based System for citizenship – amount to far more than a different mechanism for handling these difficult issues. Together they constitute a fundamental reform of a decades-old system – a reform founded on the British values of personal responsibility and our civic duties. They are aimed at ensuring our economy continues to attract and retain the highly skilled workers we need, whilst reinforcing the rights and responsibilities of newcomers as part of our community, and the expectations society has of them at every stage. They amount to a fundamental restatement of what we expect of those who aspire to British citizenship and how we intend to strengthen the idea of what it means to be British.

I am proud of my country; I am proud to be British. Everybody here is proud to be British. This is a country of diversity and yet solidarity; of different cultures and yet universal values. And we will always be a country that, whatever the challenges we face, can never be broken by anyone or anything. For we will never compromise on that enduring British ideal – that rights and opportunities will always be matched by clear responsibilities for everyone. That is what a Britain of fairness and a Britain of responsibility means to me. Thank you very much.

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