Read Damian Green's speech to the Conservative party conference in full on politics.co.uk.
There is some debate about what was the biggest disaster of the Labour years. The economy; the benefit system: John Prescott But unarguably one of their catastrophic failures, and therefore one of the biggest challenges for our Government is immigration.
It’s really easy to rant and rave about immigration. And it’s really important not to. Labour talked tough but acted weak. We talk calmly but act firmly.
This country needs a tough, practical immigration policy that pushes the numbers down.
Down to levels where people feel comfortable. Down to levels which ease the strains on housing, schools, and the health service. Down to levels which help all our communities live at ease with one another.
The facts speak for themselves.
NET MIGRATION LEVELS
In the eighties and nineties under Conservative Government net immigration never rose above 77,000 a year. It wasn’t one of the big difficult issues, so those who came here could just get on with their lives and contribute to our economy and our society.
Look what happened after the Labour victory in 1997. The numbers rose sharply and stayed sky high. It might have been conspiracy, it might have been cock-up. Who knew with that lot? The fact is that from the first day to the last of Labour’s years in power immigration was out of control—and the British people won’t forget that.
THE LAST TWO YEARS
Look at the last three years. That’s after they introduced the Points-Based System that was supposed to end the crisis.
In all net migration under Labour reached more than 2.2 million – that’s four times the population of the city of Manchester. We are determined to bring annual net migration back down to sustainable levels.
And we saw that, in terms of controlling immigration, a Points Based System on its own is pointless. You need radical action of the type we have been taking in the past 18 months to set us on a new course.
WHY DO PEOPLE COME HERE?
The first thing to do is to recognise what drives people to come here in the first place. Most people move for one of three reasons: labour, learning, or love.
Changing this to the more prosaic language we have to use in the Home Office, we see that – alongside a few other reasons - 35 per cent come here to work, 42 per cent as students, and 14 per cent through the family route, as a spouse, partner or close relative.
At least those are the reasons they tell us. Some are not telling the truth. For example we found a woman who we arrested on her way up the aisle for a sham marriage. In her wedding dress which was many sizes too big for her and looked ridiculous was her return air ticket from Holland. Here one day, back the next. We stopped her, and we are stopping more and more of these criminals.
So we need to be careful in separating the genuine applicants from the rest. This is particularly important for those seeking asylum. Too many people confuse general immigration with asylum. Over the past ten years the numbers trying to claim asylum have fallen dramatically. Last year’s figure, less than 18,000 was the lowest for twenty years.
I am not understating the need for big change here. In one of the most startling pieces of Labour’s incompetence on immigration, which is a competitive field, they discovered a backlog of over 450,000 asylum cases which had been stuck in a warehouse and forgotten about. We are finally mopping up the last vestiges of that appalling neglect, and I can tell you that I will not to let that sort of backlog build up again under this Government.
And what about immigration from other European countries? In 2005 Britain was the only big economy to open its doors completely to the eight new countries who joined the EU. Labour Ministers were shocked that they all came here. They predicted 13,000 would come. The actual number— around 750,000. That’s another mistake we will not repeat. I can tell you that every new country joining the EU will go through a transitional period before they have full access.
What’s interesting is that now that particular Labour disaster is in the past, the vast majority of net migration into the UK comes from outside the EU. Only around ten per cent comes from movements inside the EU.
The lesson from all of this is that you have to act on all the main routes at the same time if you are going to have any long-term effect on immigration. The system is like a balloon where if you squeeze only on one side the air finds somewhere else to go. Workers, students, and family immigrants have to be dealt with, and that is precisely what we have been doing since we came to power.
We started with a limit on those who come here to work, as we promised to do in the Coalition Agreement.
The limit on unskilled workers is straightforward: it’s zero. Our first responsibility is to help unemployed British workers.
The limit on skilled workers is 21,700, and they have to have an offer of a specific job. Too many people were claiming to be skilled, and coming here without a job. We discovered in our early days that a third of those who came here as highly-skilled workers were either taking unskilled jobs, or were unemployed. We have stopped that.
I saw, in our office in Delhi, a man being interviewed for his visa. He said he was coming for a skilled job working on a busy production line making machinery. He needed an interpreter for his visa interview. He would not be safe on a busy, dangerous production line.
We have the limit in place, and every month since it came in the quota has not been filled. So we are bringing the numbers down, and meeting the needs of British business. Many people told us that an immigration limit would damage our economy. They were wrong, and they have been proved wrong.
By far the biggest numbers come as students. Well over a third of these students are not studying at universities but at colleges which have what I might politely call varying levels of academic rigour. We found one college that had 940 students and two lecturers. The students were required to turn up one day a month. Another that was based in London, at which every single one of its students was working in West Wales.
So the bogus colleges have to go. We have already revoked the licenses of 69, suspended the licenses of another 76, and introduced a much more rigorous regime of inspection. We are also demanding that every student can show a decent command of English if they come to learn in this country.
We have set out new limits on the type of student who can bring in their dependants not undergraduates.
And we want former students to stay on only if they have a job offer—no more hanging around for years just looking for a job. We estimate that these measures, when they are fully in place, will cut net migration by more than 60,000.
The universities and colleges also need to play their part. We did a study in Delhi last June, and found that more than a third of student applications contained a forged document. We check them, but I am going to make sure that the colleges make their own checks. We will continue to welcome genuine students, coming to study at genuine institutions, some of which are the best in the world. But no longer will we tolerate the abuse of the student visa for people who really want to come here to work—that is going to stop.
Next, we move onto the family route. We are in the final days of consulting on our proposals. We have suggested:
Tough new powers to tackle sham marriages, and the terrible scourge of forced marriages. This too often means young women treated practically as slaves. That has no place in modern Britain in any community.
A language test so that everyone who wants to settle here as a spouse or partner has to show they have a basic command of English before they arrive.
Making people prove that they have a genuine relationship. They will need to stay together for five years, instead of two which is the current rule, before the new arrival gains the right to settle here, and the full right to claim benefits.
We know the behaviour that needs to be stopped. We have found hundreds of people who came here to get married, dumped their spouse once they were entitled to stay here, and within two years had brought another spouse in from overseas. That’s not romance, it’s fraud, and we are going to stop it.
And we will make sure that it’s not possible for someone to come here, get married, and live off benefits. The sponsor will have to show that they can support their new partner.
SETTLING IN THE UK
Moving on to those who come and stay, we need to make the rules much clearer.
In 1997 10,000 people who came here to work qualified for settlement. By 2010 the number was 84,000.
We propose a stricter system which puts an end to the assumption that settlement will automatically be available to those who come here as skilled workers.
ENFORCEMENT AND REMOVALS
Part of the problem is, of course, getting rid of those who have been allowed in and have no right to stay.
Over the last 12 months we removed nearly 55,000 people.
Last week I was in Nigeria negotiating a deal which will allow us to remove Nigerian prisoners to serve their sentences in Nigerian jails.
By April next year we won’t only be counting everyone in at the border if they are travelling from outside the EU, we will be counting them all out as well. It was one of Labour’s early acts in 1998 to stop doing this. We think it’s necessary—we will bring back these checks.
And we are setting up at Border Police Command as part of the new National Crime Agency, giving us a unified dedicated force to fight immigration crime at our border and overseas. In opposition we promised a Border Police Force—it’s on its way.
INVESTORS ENTRPRENEURS AND THE HIGHLY TALENTED
Precisely because we are putting in place all these controls, we can work harder to attract those we really want—the best and the brightest who will spark our economy and bring cultural and scientific inspiration.
We have created a specific route for investors and entrepreneurs, who will create tomorrow’s jobs.
We also have a new route for those with exceptional talent in the arts, science and engineering. This is designed especially for young people. We want Britain to be the natural home for the next generation of great performers or Nobel Prize winners.
None of this is easy, and the results will not be immediate. Those who say that because the numbers were bad in 2010 they will be bad in 2015 are being short-sighted.
We worked for years in opposition to warn about the problem and to prepare solutions. We started the work to bring immigration back under control the day David Cameron led us into Government, and under his leadership, we have carried on that work every day since.
It is the absolutely the aim of these measures to bring net migration back to those sustainable levels, in the tens of thousands, that we saw before the last
Labour Government wrecked the system.
There are of course, think tanks, newspapers and vested interests who stand against us. But I will be driven, this Government will be driven, by the most important interest group of all—the British people.
Overwhelmingly, whatever their politics, whatever their background, whatever their race or religion, they want us to bring immigration back under control. It is one of the most important tasks of this Government and we will do it.