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Theresa May explains why she wants to reduce net migration and how she will go about doing it

By Jonathan Isaby

Theresa May Home Secretary Home Secretary Theresa May gave her first major speech on immigration this morning, to the think-tank Policy Exchange. Below are some of the key passages of her speech.

The benefits of well-managed migration and the pressures of poorly managed migration: "Historically migration has enriched our culture and strengthened our economy. Well-managed migration can benefit the UK, economically, socially and culturally. And in today’s globalised economy, we need to be able to attract the best and the brightest to ensure our companies remain competitive and our standard of living remains high. The benefits of well-managed migration are deeply rooted in British values, reflecting our openness as an economy and society, our liberalism and our tolerance. So managed well, immigration is something that can bring great benefits. But managed poorly, it is something that can cause great economic and social pressure... The mismanagement of the migration system by the last government has shaken public confidence in the system. So the debate we need to have is about how we can manage migration in a better way, not about whether migration is good or bad."

Why we want to reduce net migration: "While the right type of immigration can stimulate growth, Labour’s immigration policy did little to improve the standard of living or the economic prospects of people in this country. But more importantly, badly managed migration has led to serious social impacts in some areas, with pressure being placed on key public services such as schools, the health service, transport, housing and welfare. And it also led to many more difficult to quantify social impacts, like the segregation we see in too many of our communities. This created community tensions and helped contribute to a society that is not as integrated as we would like."

Theresa May promises to take action: "The public should know that I will take action. I am determined to get the immigration system back under control. And I can achieve that without impeding business from getting on with the role of stimulating growth. But we cannot do that, with the tools we currently have at our disposal. The points based system alone is not sufficient. It’s been tried and it is not effective... We need consistent management of all aspects of the immigration system. We can reduce net migration without damaging our economy. We can increase the number of high value migrants: the entrepreneurs, the investors, the research scientists – at the same time as we reduce the total number of people coming to Britain through the economic routes. We can attract more of the brightest and the best at the same time as we reduce the overall number. And as the recovery continues, we need employers to look first to people who are out of work and who are already in this country."

The limit on migration: "On the economic route, the policy you will all have heard about is our proposal to place a limit on the number of people coming to the UK from outside the EU for work... The limit should reduce the number of people coming here to work from outside the EU. The interim limit has reduced it this year by 5% compared to last year. And the full limit will reduce it again next year. Second, businesses have told me that intra-company transfers should not be part of the annual limit. We have listened carefully to this advice, as the PM announced earlier this week. And we need to ensure that companies only bring across the highly-skilled and the genuinely needed. Third, we should change that limit each year, in response to the economic and social conditions. The Migration Advisory Committee – the well respected and independent advisory body on migration policy – will take stock of the position annually."

Tightening the eligibility rules: "But alongside the overall limit, we need to ensure that only the brightest and best can come. So we need to tighten the rules for who is eligible to apply in the first place... Last year the UK only attracted 275 high-value investors and entrepreneurs. I want a new approach: one that is more selective; that brings in more of the genuinely skilled; and those who will make a real difference to our economy. Operating effectively, tier one should only be used by investors, entrepreneurs and people of exceptional talent; in short, the genuinely highly skilled. Not only that, we also want to actively encourage entrepreneurs to come. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, we will reform the rules for entrepreneurs so that if you have a great business idea, and you receive serious investment from a leading investor, you are welcome to set up your business in our country... Our research shows that many people entering the UK through the Tier 1 or Tier 2 routes are earning low salaries, are not highly qualified or are not highly skilled. So we will need to look at taking action to raise the minimum skill levels in Tier 2 and ensuring those coming to do skilled work will be undertaking a suitable job with a sponsoring employer. But work routes accounted for less than a quarter of the non-EU citizens entering Britain last year."

Managing applications from foreign students: "The majority of non-EU migrants are, in fact, students. Including their dependents, students accounted for around two thirds of the visas issued last year under the Points Based System. Numbers are now so high that last year the UK Border Agency had to suspend student applications in various parts of the world because the system could not cope with the numbers and could not prevent students without the right qualifications or applying to questionable institutions from getting a visa.  We want suitably qualified students with the genuine desire to study to come to our country but we must have a more robust system to manage their applications and, most importantly, to ensure their departure at the end of their legitimate stay. People might imagine that by students we mean people who come here for a few years to study at university and then go home – but that’s not always the case. We estimate that nearly half of all students coming here from abroad are coming to study a course below degree level. We have to question whether these are the brightest and the best that Britain wants to attract – they may be, or they may not... I want a system where we continue to attract the top students to our top universities. A system where well equipped students come here to study and at the end of their period of study return to their country of origin. And a system where we only let in those students who can bring an economic benefit to Britain’s institutions and can support Britain’s economic growth... We will follow exactly the same principle as in the skilled work route – a more selective approach, which attracts the highly skilled, the talented and the genuinely needed, but reduces numbers overall by weeding out those who do not deserve to be allowed in."

Minimum standards of English for those applying for marriage visas: "As well as tackling abuse of the marriage route we need to ensure that those who come here can integrate successfully into society and play a part in their local community. So from November 29th, those applying for marriage visas will have to demonstrate a minimum standard of English. This is only right. People coming to this country must be able to interact with the rest of the population... We know that speaking English is key to integration. Our requirement for foreign spouses to be able to speak English will help and we are committed to reviewing language requirements across the immigration system with a view to tightening them further."

Making it harder for temporary stays to become permanent: "It is too easy, at the moment, to move from temporary residence to permanent settlement. We will not implement Labour’s policy of earned citizenship, which was too complicated, bureaucratic and, in the end, ineffective. If people enter this country saying that they will only stay here temporarily, then it is obvious that they should only stay here temporarily. Working in Britain for a short period should not give someone the right to settle in Britain. Studying a course in Britain should not give someone the right to settle in Britain. Settling in Britain should be a cherished right, not an automatic add on to a temporary way in. That does not mean bolting our borders shut. It means welcoming the best and the brightest, genuine family members and people who can help our economy."


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