Regular readers of this blog will know that I take a special interest in immigration. It’s an issue that concerns many of my constituents and one that they often contact me about.
Managed correctly, immigration is good for Britain. Attracting the best and the brightest to work or study here strengthens our economy and public services and enriches our culture. When I hear people say immigration has been bad for this country, I think of all the people I know who are migrants or the children or grandchildren of migrants - friends, public servants, people who give freely of their time to local charities and community groups. Would my life be better if they weren’t here? No, of course it wouldn’t.
But uncontrolled immigration does cause problems. It works against those at the bottom of the labour market, it puts pressure on public services and it erodes public support for immigration of any kind.
That’s why this Government is right to continue to welcome the best and brightest from around the world, but to reform our immigration system to cut out abuse. This week, it has made progress on both fronts.
The Chancellor, who is visiting China to try to build stronger economic ties with what is now the world’s second largest economy, has announced that visa applications for Chinese visitors entering the UK will be simplified. This is a very welcome decision - we want Chinese tourists to come and spend their money here and we don’t want Chinese businessmen visiting this country to go through a slow, bureaucratic application process.
Meanwhile back at home, the Government has published a new Immigration Bill to ensure that our immigration system doesn’t place an unacceptable burden on our public services and that we can remove people here illegally much faster than we do at present.
As things stand, it is too easy for people to live and work in the UK illegally and take advantage of our public services and too difficult to remove people who shouldn’t be here. The Immigration Bill will make it:
- easier to identify illegal migrants by extending powers to collect and check fingerprints; search for passports; implement embarkation controls; and examine the status and credibility of migrants seeking to marry or enter into a civil partnership;
- easier to remove illegal migrants by cutting the number of decisions that can be appealed from 17 to 4 (at the moment, the appeals system is like a never-ending game of snakes and ladders); having a presumption that foreign criminals should be removed first and have their appeal heard in their home country; ensuring the courts have regard to Parliament’s view of what the public interest requires when considering Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights in immigration cases; and restricting the ability of immigration detainees to apply repeatedly for bail if they have previously been refused it; and
- more difficult for illegal migrants to live in the UK by requiring private landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants; making it easier for the Home Office to recover unpaid civil penalties; prohibiting banks from opening current accounts for migrants identified as being in the UK unlawfully; and introducing new powers to check driving licence applicants’ immigration status before issuing a licence and revoking licences where immigrants are found to have overstayed in the UK.
It Bill will also:
- introduce a new requirement for temporary migrants who have only a time-limited immigration status to make a contribution to the National Health Service; and
- give the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner new powers to better regulate the immigration advice sector to protect migrants from exploitation and prevent spurious and inappropriate applications which waste public funds and delay the handling of immigration cases (as an MP, I see plenty of examples of such exploitation so this measure is very welcome).
Taken together, these measures should deter people from entering the UK illegally, encourage those who are here illegally to leave, allow the Government to more effectively identify and remove those who choose to stay, reduce the cost to the taxpayer of doing so and in the process reduce pressure on public services.
We want Britain to be the most welcoming country in the world to the best and the brightest, but at the same time to be an unattractive destination for those who seek to come here illegally. This week’s announcements are welcome progress on both fronts.