Guy Taylor, JCWI: on The Immigration Cap

GMT 16:55 Saturday ,18 December 2010

 Migrant Voice - Guy Taylor, JCWI: on The Immigration Cap

Guy Talylor, JCWI
One of the first acts of the Coalition government was to introduce the interim cap on immigration, turning political dogma into policy without time for any significant consideration. In April next year, the permanent cap on immigration will be enforced. With the UK government having no control over EU migration, all policies will affect non-EU people, with the vast majority coming from Asia and Africa. Committed to achieving the election promise of cutting net immigration “from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands” by the time of the next election in 2015, the Coalition Government are pulling every trick they can to hammer immigration – and immigrants. The ministers responsible are finding obstacle after obstacle. The stated aim of “hundreds to tens of thousands” sounds more and more like an arbitrary target based more on the need for a snappy sound-bite than any form of policy research. Indeed, the whole issue of the cap is about reacting to tabloid headlines appeasing tabloid editors, actions that reflect the priorities of political parties in the twenty first century. Having battled with big business to reach some form of compromise on the tier one and tier two skilled migrants quotas, and having settled on reducing the number of visas for both groups within that category by just 6,700. The quota system, operated on a monthly basis, inflicts a limit of another figure plucked from minister’s imaginations, rather than the needs of the business, science and entertainment worlds. This makes the system unsatisfactory and ultimately unworkable. Having cut the numbers of skilled migrants by less than they might have wished, the government is setting its sights on student and family immigration. Students, they argue, are often still in the UK five years after first being granted a student visa. Hardly surprising, we think given that many students study pre-graduate courses before tackling a bachelors degree, and many go on to take masters degrees and PhDs while some apply their new found qualifications working in the UK – to the benefit of everyone. The Migration Advisory Committee hinted that student numbers would have to be roughly halved in the next four years. Recent announcements from the home Office have concurred. These measures will have devastating effects on Further Education colleges, and many Universities that offer access and/or English language courses as a precursor to the degrees they run. Wider than that, the government’s own figures estimate a boost to the UK’s income through overseas students is around £5.3 - £8 billion per annum. Opponents of immigration have called for the restrictions to be applied to visiting students as well, that would target students coming to the UK to study for six months or less. Many towns, especially along the south coast of England, have thriving economies based around English language schools which are now under threat. Professor Steve Smith, president of vice-chancellors’ umbrella group, Universities UK, and vice-chancellor of Exeter University recently noted in the Guardian that the cap “...could be a serious blow to the UK market in the face of huge competition from other countries that are investing in higher education… with the investment that competitor countries such as the US and China are putting into universities makes them more likely to poach staff at British universities. All of which amounts to a serious worry.’ Theresa May and Damian Green have also got family migration in the cross hairs. At the end of November the pre-entry English language requirement was introduced. Despite the proclamations that the requirement was in the interests of the immigrants and designed to further their integration into British society, on a number of occasions on television and in printed responses, the government let slip it was really designed to keep numbers of immigrants down. This is what sucking up to tabloid editors results in – policies that will have a crushing effect on family life being introduced to keep at most a couple of thousand people out of the country. The further tightening of family migration rules will be eye-watering in the effects on a few and will make a tiny numerical difference to the overall net immigration figures. Already visa application fees have increased, heralding the age of immigration for the rich and a precarious undocumented existence for those not so fortunate. The Coalition government is fond of putting most political questions into an economic framework. The starting point in immigration debates has become “what’s in it for us?” rather than “how can we help?”. The European Commissioner for Human Rights has criticised the UK for its part in the failure of the continent to reach quota targets for accepting and giving sanctuary to refugees. But that humanitarian side of migration is not the side the Coalition government wants to dwell on for long. The Cap is the cornerstone of home office policy. It holds neither the economic health of the country nor the interests of ordinary people at heart. JCWI is committed to fighting the cap, through the courts and through the I Love Migrants campaign. I hope it will be opposed by every quarter of society. Guy Taylor Guy is the Campaigns & Communications Officer of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. He also blogs at

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