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Sir Andrew Green: There is little sign of progress towards the government’s migration pledge

GreenSir Andrew Green is Chairman of Migrationwatch UK

I would expect Conservatives to be very concerned about today’s immigration figures while the immigration industry rejoices. Net migration fell last year from 252,000 to 216,000 but the drop is not statistically significant. There is thus very little progress to show nearly half way through the government’s term.

The public are bound to ask whether the government’s pledge to reduce net migration to tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament is achievable and, if so, what more needs to be done.

The reasons for the slow progress are clear. The immigration rules are so complex that they have taken two years to review and many of the changes have not yet taken effect – partly because the courts do not allow the government to change the rules on those already here. The numbers will come down in future years but nobody can be sure that they will be below 100,000 by the end of this Parliament.

So what can be done? The first thing is to choose the right target. EU migration is a distraction. It amounts to only 20-30% of net foreign migration and is largely cancelled out by British emigration. In the long term it would decline if the economies of Eastern Europe improved.

The real reason for the increase is the inflow from non-EU countries triggered by Labour policy. For the last ten years 300,000 people have arrived from outside the EU every year but only 100,000 have left; last year was no different. The government have been right, therefore, to tackle each of the main routes – students, economic migration and marriage. It is widely agreed that Damian Green has done some sterling work – strongly supported by Theresa May.

Measures on economic migration have probably been taken as far as they can for the time being. Business now needs a period of stability and predictability. Meanwhile, they should stop bleating about Britain not being “open for business”. In the first year of operation of the “cap”, less than half of the work permits available have been taken up. Transfers by international companies, which are not capped, grew from 22,000 in 2009 to 30,000 in 2011. There are also special arrangements for entrepreneurs.  Furthermore, 12 million people arrive every year from outside the EU, including over 1.5 million business visitors. The complaints of the business community do not stand up. Indeed, they are damaging their own cause by feeding such a false impression.

The real battle ground now lies with international students. The numbers have increased by 60% in the last 5 years and many institutions have plans for even further increases. Nearly 20% of students stay on legally and an unknown number do so illegally. With half a million non EU students now arriving every year and still no checks on their departure, a conflict is developing between the ambitions of the higher education sector and the strong public demand for immigration control.

The consequences of failing to control immigration are beginning to dawn even on the enthusiasts. If net immigration is allowed to continue at the 200,000 a year as over the last ten years, our population will grow by an extra five million in just 15 years. This is equivalent to building our eight largest cities outside the capital – that is Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Sheffield, Bradford, Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol – just for new immigrants and their children. Where can we possibly find the money for this when £1 in every £4 that the government spends is borrowed?

The public are increasingly aware of this. As maternity units, primary schools and housing come under growing pressure they will not understand why the government has failed to get a grip of immigration – especially as we are an island.

It follows that firm action must be taken to cut out bogus students and ensure that genuine students return home at the end of their courses. The government will also have to look at some way of limiting the inflow of foreign students – perhaps by focussing on those who really are the brightest and the best. This will not be popular with the lesser universities and colleges but it is unavoidable if the overriding objective of policy is to be achieved.

The government must also reform the Points Based System introduced towards the end of the Labour years. It has proved to be mindless and bureaucratic. It infuriates business and confuses visitors. We must restore the element of human judgement – sometimes called common sense – which has been deleted from the system. This may cost money but the cost of failing to control immigration – in both financial and social terms – would be vastly greater.

In political terms, it is time the Conservatives turned up the heat on Liberal Democrat obstruction. 70% of potential Lib Deb voters support the government’s immigration objectives but it seems that their activists wield the whip. As for Labour, they admitted 3½ million foreign immigrants while 1 million British people departed our shores and they left the system in chaos. They are in no position to carp but, in the absence of any serious policy, they are dong just that.

The reality is that both the Prime Minister’s credibility and the public’s trust in the political system are on the line. The Conservatives cannot afford to fail on this issue.


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