Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I counted them all in... errr...

The Government is finally cracking down on immigration – and if you believe that, you'll believe anything.

The Coalition's first stab at it is aimed at cutting the number of "skilled migrants" we welcome to these shores.

But there are two snags: the numbers don't add up and they're aiming at the wrong target anyway.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, told us this week it was time Britain did something about mass immigration.

She complained: "Over Labour's time in office net migration totalled more than 2.2 million people – more than double the population of Birmingham.”

At last, you might think, a politician is doing something about the big issue that dare not speak its name.

But look at the numbers and you discover Mrs May is actually doing little or nothing to reduce the 196,000 people a year moving to this country.

Please note, by the way, that the figure of 196,000 is not the total number of immigrants, it’s the net figure. In 2009 we saw total of 567,000 immigrants – but that was offset by 371,000 people who left this country.

These are official Government figures so, inevitably, they can’t be trusted. It’s pretty much guesswork.

As a Commons committee pointed out the other day: “Until exit checks are implemented in the form of e-Borders, it is not possible to count individuals out of the country, and so figures on the inflow and outflow of migrants cannot be matched.”

Mrs May is reducing the number of “skilled workers” allowed into this country without a job offer from 14,000 to 1,000 – a big cut, you might think.
This is for people of “exceptional talent” – footballers, nuclear scientists, ballet dancers and the like.
At the same time, Mrs May is increasing from 13,700 to 20,700 the number of people welcomed into this country if they already have a job offer.

Taken together, it would appear she has cut the total number of skilled workers allowed into the country from 27,700 to 21,700.

It’s only a cut of 6,000 but, at first glance, it seems like a modest step in the right direction. But that’s not the whole story.

The Government has imposed no limit at all to the number of people allowed into Britain under “intra-company transfers”.

That means thousands more people are exempt from any limits at all if their employers want to move them to Britain – more American bankers, for instance.

Last year, intra-company transfers added another 22,000 people to the immigration numbers.

This shows Business Secretary Vince Cable has won the first round in the alleged battle to curb immigration. He was lobbied hard by the CBI and other employers’ organisations which said industry needed the ability to move staff from one country to another without let or hindrance.

Mrs May has put a couple of limits on these transfers. They must earn at least £24,000 a year to be allowed here at all and, to stay longer than a year, they must be paid at least £40,000.

But few companies would want to move low-paid staff around the world anyway, so these limits are just window-dressing.

At best, Mrs May has cut immigration by 6,000; at worst, because of intra-company transfers, it won’t be reduced at all.

Either way, few people are bothered about the temporary importation of highly-skilled individuals who may well be of benefit to the British economy.

What we have is a minor adjustment to an almost irrelevant group of people masquerading as a bold new initiative to tackle immigration.

Mrs May’s plans will do nothing to meet David Cameron’s pre-election pledge to cut immigration by at least half, to “tens of thousands” a year.

The real numbers are in three categories which, so far, Mrs May has not dared to touch: students, family members and EU citizens.

We are told there’s nothing we can do about migration within Europe. We have open borders and anyone can go anywhere.

We could do something about it – but our politicians refuse to do so. They would rather be “good Europeans” than good Britons.

As for family members, the Government could change the rules on arranged marriages and the ability of one immigrant to bring over a large number of relatives.

It won’t because it’s afraid of falling foul of human rights laws – yet “family reunification” accounted for 48,000 immigrants last year, 64,000 in 2008 and 69,000 in 2007.

That just leaves students. Mrs May has already said she wants to cut the number supposedly looking for education below degree level.

The numbers are staggering. Last year, according to unreliable Government figures, 311,135 students came to Britain bringing another 30,170 dependents with them.

How many “students” were on bogus courses or dropped out and disappeared? No-one knows.

Meanwhile universities, desperate to boost their income now British students must mortgage their futures to get an education, have found a champion in Vince Cable.

He won’t let the Tories do anything drastic.

So will the Coalition get tough on immigration? It doesn’t seem likely. Rather like the statistics, on this issue the Government doesn’t know if it’s coming or going.

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