Compelling news from the refugee and migrant sector
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

UK migration policy headed for a reset

3 June 20190 comments

Theresa May’s resignation as British Prime Minister could see a reset of UK migration policy as business groups and commentators call for changes to the country’s divisive migration rules and an end to the failed bid to set limits on people settling in Britain.

The influential Financial Times led the charge of calls for reform with an editorial this week.

“At least one good thing could come out of the Conservative party’s succession crisis: the party now has a chance to reset migration policy and ditch the failed target to limit net migration to tens of thousands per year,” the newspaper said.

“Candidates for the leadership have a chance to prove their claims to believe in a liberal, open Britain,” it said.

In a sign of imminent change, Environment Secretary and leadership aspirant Michael Gove has offered to waive fees for EU citizens living in the UK at the time of the Brexit referendum who wish to apply for citizenship.

Observers say this could be an opening bid in a competition to set out a new direction for migration policy that leaves behind the divisive rhetoric of the past.

The then Prime Minister David Cameron made the promise to cut migration in 2011 and it has since become a core policy of the Conservative Party.

Theresa May was responsible for hitting the cap during her time as Home Secretary. But reports say senior party members have already begun to turn against it.

“With Mrs May’s exit the pledge should be abandoned altogether. Balancing the needs of the economy against the public desire to see managed migration is tricky. But the policy has satisfied no one, and served mostly as a target that far-right opponents could criticise the Tories for missing,” the Financial Times said.

The UK government has never been able to bring immigration numbers down to its cap level and attempts to do so led to the much criticised “hostile environment” regime and the even more reviled ‘Windrush’ scandal, which saw migrants from the Caribbean who had lived in the UK legally for decades wrongfully deported.

Also, the National Audit Office, the UK parliament’s spending watchdog, has urged ministers to examine whether foreign students who had visas revoked following allegations of cheating on language tests were also wrongly expelled from the country.

UK immigration numbers are based on passenger surveys which were never designed for that purpose and have frequently been shown to be wrong. They also currently include foreign students.

Business groups are urging a new approach based on rules, rather than numbers.

They say caps on skilled workers should be abolished; and a 12-month limit and minimum income threshold for unskilled migrants should also be reconsidered.

The business groups say many of the people the country needs, such as care and construction workers, often earn less than the threshold of £30,000 a year.

Other groups have called for the expansion of the ‘Shortage Occupation List’, which stipulates the jobs that can be filled by foreigners.

“Expanding the Shortage Occupation List will help businesses access the skills they need when they can’t recruit locally,” said a British Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman.

“Listing occupations, rather that job titles, simplifies the system and gives welcome flexibility to those hiring for new or emerging roles.

“But the ending of free movement will present significant costs and challenges for employers. Businesses continue to raise concerns about proposals for rigid salary thresholds, time restrictions for lower skilled workers, and the extension of the Immigration Skills Charge – all of which will ramp up costs and worsen recruitment difficulties,” she said.

“Our research shows that three-quarters of firms are currently unable to find the talent they need, and vacancies are being left unfilled.

“Employers know they must invest more in the skills of the future, but people development does not happen overnight, particularly as the UK’s training system is not yet fully fit for purpose. Until then, businesses need an efficient, light-touch and cost-effective system that provides ongoing access to skills from around the world,” spokeswomen said.


Laurie Nowell 
AMES Australia Senior Journalist