Brown details tighter immigration rules

Author: By Andrew Woodcock, Press Association

In a high-profile intervention in the immigration debate, the Prime Minister
will accept that immigration is an issue “at the heart of our politics”
which must not be regarded as a taboo or surrendered to fringe parties.

Speaking shortly after the furore over British National Party leader Nick
Griffin’s appearance on Question Time, he will acknowledge voters’ concerns
over the impact of migrants on wages, jobs and housing and will say it is
wrong to brand those worried about immigration “racists”.

And he will say that as Britain recovers from recession, revived growth should
mean better wages and more jobs for UK residents, not a rush from employers
to recruit staff from overseas.

In his first speech on migration since February last year, Mr Brown will
defend the Government’s points-based system for deciding which migrants from
outside Europe can come to work in the UK, arguing that it has contributed
to a 44 per cent fall in inward migration over the past year.

And he will announce that hospital consultants, civil engineers, aircraft
engineers and ship’s officers are to be removed from a list of in-demand
skills which Britain needs to recruit from abroad because it cannot meet its
needs from its own population.

Delisting the occupations, on the advice of the Migration Advisory Committee,
will make it much more difficult for workers from outside Europe to take up
such posts in the UK under the points-based immigration system.

Speaking in west London this morning, Mr Brown will say he has always believed
in the case for managed migration, where it is in the national economic,
social and cultural interest.

But he will add: “I have never agreed with the lazy elitism that dismisses
immigration as an issue, or portrays anyone who has concerns about
immigration as a racist.

“Immigration is not an issue for fringe parties nor a taboo subject – it is a
question at the heart of our politics, a question about what it means to be
British; about the values we hold dear and the responsibilities we expect of
those coming into our country; about how we secure the skills we need to
compete in the global economy; about how we preserve and strengthen our
communities.”

Following the BNP’s election to two seats in the European Parliament earlier
this year, internal critics such as Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas have argued that
Labour should do more to challenge the rise of the far right by showing it
takes seriously the concerns about immigration among its traditional
supporters in the white working class.

Earlier this week Home Secretary Alan Johnson said: “People think we have
shied away from a debate on (immigration). They may well be right.”

Mr Brown will today indicate that he understands the differing impact
immigration has on people from different social backgrounds, with the middle
classes seeing migrants as a source of plumbers and nannies while
lower-income families regard them as rivals for jobs and homes.

“If the main effect of immigration on your life is to make it easier to find a
plumber, or when you see doctors and nurses from overseas in your local
hospital, you are likely to think more about the benefits of migration than
the possible costs,” Mr Brown will say.

“But people want to be assured that newcomers will accept the responsibilities
as well as the rights that come with living here – obeying the law, speaking
English, and making a contribution.

“People worry about whether immigration will undermine their wages and the job
prospects of their children. They worry about whether their grown-up
children will be able to get housing anywhere near them.”

Mr Brown will say that the points-based system, launched in February 2008, is
the right approach to manage migration by restricting access to the UK while
ensuring that workers can come from abroad to plug skills gaps.

He will highlight changes introduced in March to raise the thresholds for
highly-skilled migrants and to require lower-skill jobs to be advertised in
a UK JobCentre for two weeks before being offered to a migrant.

But the Prime Minister will build on his promise to create “British jobs for
British workers” by saying that more needs to be done to ensure that people
already living in the UK with low skills and poor job prospects are helped
into work.

“It is above all the flexibility of the points-based system which has allowed
us to help British workers through difficult times, when it is right to be
more selective about the skill levels of migrants,” he will say.

“We set up the expert Migration Advisory Committee to advise on the effects of
the points-based system on the labour market, and their latest report
confirms that there remain skills we need to recruit from abroad – but
confirms also that we no longer need to recruit civil engineers, hospital
consultants, aircraft engineers and ships officers from abroad – and so
these and other jobs are being taken off the list.

“But as growth returns, I want to see rising levels of skills, wages and
employment among resident workers, rather than employers having to resort to
recruiting people from abroad.”

In an interview with the Daily Mail ahead of today’s speech, Mr Brown said he
did not believe Britain’s population will reach 70 million, as some
projections suggest.

And he said that training will be stepped up to close the skills gap which
forces Britain to recruit some specialist workers from overseas.

“One of the reasons that immigration will fall is the tightening of the new
points system and it will continue to tighten over the next few months,” he
said.

Shadow immigration minister Damian Green told GMTV the Government’s proposals
will make “very, very little difference in terms of numbers or in terms of
the practical ability of British workers to get jobs”.

He said: “What the Government is doing is toughening up its rhetoric, but it’s
not actually changing the policy very much.”

Home Secretary Alan Johnson admitted it had taken the Government a “long time”
to get on top of immigration.

“It took us a long time to actually get the system in place that we’ve got
now, which is the points based system to deal with some of the abuses of
colleges, many students coming over to bogus colleges and also to tackle the
issue of how we turn round asylum seekers,” he told GMTV.

“It’s right that we should have a system that grants asylum to genuine asylum
seekers but the process took too long.”

He said timescales and backlogs had been reduced during the last 12 years from
35 months to process and a 60,000 backlog to eight months and a 6,000
backlog, but added: “I think you are right that it took a long time to get
on top of this and in the time that that was happening there was a huge
influx in asylum seekers.”

Mr Johnson denied there had ever been an “open door policy” and said
immigration had helped institutions such as the NHS in the past when medical
staff from abroad were needed.

“Now we are in a position where we are self sufficient in doctors and
consultants and we don’t need to bring them in from other countries, but as
you can see you can’t do it overnight,” he added. “It does take time.”

He also criticised suggestions there should be a pre-determined cap on the
number of non-EU migrants.

“The Conservatives accept as we accept that we need to bring in skilled people
to fill the gaps.

“They say that you have a predetermined cap.

“What we say and what most of British business say is what are you going to do
if unforeseen circumstances crop up, what are you going to do if someone
says we need these particular technicians to come in and you’ve met your cap?

“It’s the inflexibility about that that I think is absolutely wrong.

“I think our system where we actually measure it and keep control of it is
much better.”

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