Saturday, March 28, 2020
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This plan won’t deliver true control of immigration

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ENDING low-skilled immigration into the UK would be a huge win both for the British economy and for the British public.

As we know – and as confirmed by the official committee of immigration experts, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) – this type of immigration has had a negative impact on both wage growth and productivity (see p124 of this link). 

Although the Home Secretary says the new proposals will close lower-skilled routes, at the same time reducing lower-paid immigration, the reality is more complicated.

The main safeguard of a suitable pay threshold will be weakened (as will the skills requirement, from graduate to A-Level), with an added loophole that so-called ‘new entrants’ – those under 26 but who might be workers with a decade of experience – will be able to take visas on jobs paying barely more than the UK minimum wage.

Looser visa arrangements detailed by the government this week are likely to lead to a ‘sharp’ increase in non-EU work visa grants (as Professor Matthew Goodwin of the University of Kent has noted). That would be anathema to many who are already unhappy that non-EU immigration stands at a 15-year high.

It is a major risk to scrap the cap on numbers coming via the main route from the outset, and the fact that no official assessment has been published regarding the estimated impact of this plan on non-EU immigration levels is deeply concerning.

Perhaps it is because the government suspects that high immigration is likely to continue into the future, with a strong risk that it could spin further out of control. That’s what happened under New Labour.

Incidentally that government also introduced what was billed as an ‘Australian-style points-based’ system. It led to, or entrenched, a host of problems, including abuse and flawed outcomes, some of which were detailed by a MAC report last month.

It’s vital that such problems aren’t allowed to occur again. Yet proposing a points-based scheme both for students and for workers suggests this government has failed to learn the correct lessons from previous experience.

Ongoing high immigration can lead only to ever-greater pressure on our beleaguered NHS and on school places, affecting working families who are not insulated from the impact, unlike many of the chattering classes.

Mass immigration – the chief factor behind an average UK population increase of 460,000 per year over the past decade – also adds enormously to crippling congestion on roads, trains and tubes, while worsening the housing crisis. 

Despite laudable rhetoric from Ministers about training and investing in young people here, there is every chance that those earnestly wishing for real action on this score will be sorely disappointed.

In fact, what was not noted by ministers this week is that this plan would further institutionalise a dependence by employers (both public and private sector) on cheaper migrant labour; the major change will be that this insatiable appetite is catered for by a much larger (global) pool of millions of potential recruits with much lower relative incomes than in Europe.

Not only will millions of UK workers see their jobs opened up to new or greater competition, but employers will no longer have to advertise for candidates here at home before searching abroad.

Instead of pandering to business pressure, ministers should demonstrate a firm belief in young people who are already here. A cap on visas, as well as better wages, more training and more flexible conditions, should be the priority.

 It’s time finally to deliver on long-standing promises. Let’s not make the situation even worse; let’s not dig this hole even deeper.

Any increase in immigration resulting from these proposals – which is a serious risk – would add insult to injury. It is the exact opposite of what 30million people want. 

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Dr Ben Greening
Dr Ben Greening is executive director of Migration Watch UK.

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