Damian Green MP has now been appointed the new immigration minister. During his election campaign he took time out to write for the JCWI bulletin to outline Conservative policy proposals on immigration. Here is the article in full:
Immigration is a big political issue for millions of people in the UK. Recent events have reinforced the position of immigration as one of the most salient issues for the public, which is reflected in my own postbag from constituents and citizens across the country.
As politicians, we must listen to why so many see this as a problem facing Britain today and ask how we can start defusing the tensions. I believe that Britain would benefit if a consensus could develop about the best way to make sure we benefit from migration.
Conservatives believe that Britain can benefit from immigration, but not uncontrolled immigration.
Many immigrants have enriched British society and widened the horizons of the whole British people to the rest of the world. Economic immigration brings economic benefits and cultural diversity.
We also believe that a socially responsible immigration policy needs proper controls to build public confidence in the system, both to see good race and community relations and for the orderly provision of public services.
Therefore we have developed an immigration policy based on three strands: controlling economic migration; preventing illegal immigration; and promoting integration.
It is evident that the immigration levels of the last decade have caused significant problems as well. Since 1997 the UK has seen the largest and most sustained rise in immigration in the UK’s history, a five-fold increase in the ten years to 2007.
Recently published figures have shown that 512,000 people came to the UK as immigrants in the year to December 2008, little change on 527,000 in the year to December 2007. These figures show the pressure immigration places on public services such as housing, health and schools.
Grants of settlement also rose by 19 per cent from 124,855 in 2007 to 148,740 in 2008. This fact shows that the pressure on public resources, imposed by high immigration numbers in recent years, will be permanent.
Yet the Government has failed to address the way immigration fits into our economic circumstances. The fact that the British economy has gone from boom to bust in the last 18 months means that policy in a wide range of areas has to be radically changed.
As the Home Secretary said last month, referring to Labour’s open-door immigration policy: “I accept that governments of both persuasions, including this one have been maladroit in their handling of this issue”.
We must be able to react to the economic situation. Conservatives support the points based system, but believe that it can only be fully effective when a limit is implemented.
The Conservative Party would introduce an explicit annual limit on the numbers of non- EU economic migrants taking into consideration the effects a rising population has on our public services, transport infrastructure and local communities.
This would be set after consultation with business, local government and public services. The ability to move the limit up and down would be a visible sign that the immigration system is sensitive to the needs of British workers in a recession. This would enable us to react directly to fluctuations in the labour market.
As we try to rebuild our broken economy, we need those with skills and investment. We live in an increasingly globalised world, and it is inevitable that highly skilled people will spend some proportion of their career working outside their own country.
Many are attracted to Britain, and London in particular, which shows the strength of our capital city. Conservative immigration policy will aim to attract the brightest and the best from around the world to help revitalise our knowledge based economy.
Skilled migrants currently account for around 2.5% of the UK workforce, and are estimated to generate £36bn for the economy.
As well as having a better controlled immigration system we badly need welfare reform and improved skills training so that we are not simply ignoring millions of British workers, which is why Conservatives have launched a plan to Get Britain Working. We need to do better in making British workers competitive.
A further step we can take to control immigration directly is the imposition of transitional controls for new EU entrants. They should be applied here as they are in other countries.
To reduce the amount of illegal immigration, Conservatives will ensure our borders are properly policed. No immigration system will inspire confidence if our borders remain as badly protected as they have been throughout the lifetime of this Government.
A Conservative Government would introduce a dedicated border police force to protect the UK from illegal immigration, organised immigration crime and human trafficking.
We believe that everyone coming to this country must be ready to embrace the core values of British society, and become a part of their local community.
For this reason we will introduce new measures for those coming to the UK as spouses, including an English language test for spouses to ensure that only those whose command of English allows them to play a full part in British life are able to settle in the UK.
Once here, we want to encourage immigrants to play a full part in their local community. For this reason, we would conduct a review of the citizenship process. We believe that British citizenship is a privilege, not a right.
However, we have always argued that any changes to citizenship must be fair and reasonable, and take into account the practical effects on those that are already here.
We will be seeking to ensure that the citizenship criteria strikes the proper balance for those people living in the UK who are properly and fully committed to our society and its values.
This year will be a year for change. In this new era a new approach to immigration is needed. It is no longer sustainable for net immigration to be in the hundreds of thousands.
A Conservative Government would substantially lower this number, through the annual limit and the range of other policies outlined in this article. Labour’s approach has led to increased pressure on our public services, community tensions and the dangerous rise in support for extremist politicians.
The people that most benefit from a reduction in community fears are always the most recent immigrants, which is why minority communities in particular need a successful immigration policy.
Perhaps the biggest long-term danger is that uncontrolled immigration disguises the benefits that can come from properly controlled immigration. A Conservative Government would change the system to one that works in the best interest of British citizens and immigrants who can help Britain’s economy grow.