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Immigration policy: basis for building consensus

15 Jan 2018

Read our brief summary of the Home Affairs committee report, which aims to provide recommendations to build a future immigration system in the UK.

Read CaSE’s press release responding to the publication of the report.

On migration targets and messaging

The Government’s existing net migration target set at “the tens of thousands” is not working to build confidence or consent. The continued discrepancy between the target and reality has damaged the public’s view of the immigration system because it undermines trust in the state’s ability to control migration in the way it intends or to deliver on its plans. Setting a long-term target or aspiration does not solve the challenge of achieving credibility, as people want to see practical steps that can be taken in the short-term. As we set out later in this report, the target should be replaced with a new framework of targets and controls based on evidence.

We call on the Government to be more proactive in challenging myths and inaccuracies about immigration and the asylum system, including by publishing more factual information about the costs and benefits of immigration at local and national levels. As we set out below, this could be achieved by an Annual Migration Report and debate. We believe that the Government should table an Annual Migration Report and set aside parliamentary time for debate on that report. The report would detail the previous year’s migration flows, the economic contribution from migration to the Exchequer and the measures taken by the Government to manage impacts and pressures.

The Government should not rely on its “hostile environment” policy as a panacea for enforcement and building confidence, especially given the current concerns about accuracy and error. We are concerned that the policy is unclear and, in some instances, too open to interpretation and inadvertent error. Not only can these errors be deeply damaging and distressing to those involved—as with letters being sent to EU nationals about their right to live in the UK—they also undermine the credibility of the system.

On a future migration system and use of evidence in future policy

Evidence to our inquiry and from the National Conversation suggests that any approach that treats all migration as the same encourages polarisation of the debate. Treating different kinds of migration differently would reflect most people’s views of immigration, and allow for much greater consensus to be built into the debate, as well as for greater transparency over immigration policy in general. The Government should replace its net migration target with an evidence-based framework for different types of immigration that takes into account the UK’s needs and its international obligations to accept people, arising from both trade and humanitarian agreements. Different targets or controls for different kinds of migration should be set out in the Annual Migration Report, as part of a three-year migration plan. Doing so would allow for more specific consideration of the costs and benefits of immigration and might help to build greater consensus behind different approaches to different kinds of migration.

On international students

International statistical rules require students to be included in the way migration is calculated but we do not believe that it is logical or in the best interests of the UK to include international students in a target based on restricting migration flow, given that they represent a large group of migrants who are in most part temporary and whom the Government is keen to encourage to come to the UK. There should be no national target to restrict the numbers of students coming to the UK. As a minimum, the Government should remove immediately student migration from the net migration target.

In calling for more international students to come and study in the UK, universities must be mindful of local impacts of large numbers of students and work with local authorities to help manage pressures on housing and public services. Universities should be expected to consult local authorities on future student numbers in their area.

On dependants

Much of the evidence we received for this inquiry called for immigration policy and those responsible for its administration to be more sensitive to the rights of families and children, particularly where there was evidence—beyond the salary of the key sponsor—that they would be able to support themselves. Fees, requirements for regular visa extensions and salary thresholds and qualifying periods are just some of the barriers that we were told prevented people from being able to live a settled life in the UK. We believe that striving to meet the best interests of families and children should be at the heart of immigration policy. We urge the Home Office to take note of these concerns and review the impact of its policies on families and children.

On high-skilled and Shortage Occupation List labour

Throughout our inquiry we heard of the importance of high-skilled workers, especially for internationally competitive roles, and the need to continue to attract top talent. However, the definitions of high- and low-skilled are not well understood. In the current rules for non-EEA migration such definitions are based on salary thresholds. As a result, however, there are many public sector jobs which the majority of people consider to be high skilled—including nursing and teaching—which do not pay a high enough wage to meet the threshold for a high-skilled visa. We support the idea that the immigration system should treat different skills differently. There is also clear public support for the continued supply of high-skilled (not just highly-paid) workers to provide skills that are needed in the economy. Immigration rules should allow UK businesses and organisations easily to attract top talent in internationally competitive fields, and restrictions and controls should focus more on low-skilled migration.

We recommend that policy on immigration for work purposes be linked to strategies for improving investment in domestic skills and training with the target of reducing dependency on migrant labour.

To read the full report, click here