MPs seek protection of British workers by cutting influx of migrants
Richard Ford, Home Correspondent
From The Times
August 20, 2009
Tighter restrictions to curb the flow of skilled immigrants coming to Britain from outside Europe were recommended by a government committee yesterday in an effort to safeguard the position of British workers in the job market.
The proposals from the Migration Advisory Committee would cut the number of skilled non-EU migrants entering the country every year from 50,000 to about 45,000.
The changes, to be implemented into the new immigration system under which entry to Britain is based on points awarded for skills and earnings, would ensure that skilled immigrants were not undercutting British workers, the committee said.
They involve higher earnings and qualification thresholds, longer advertising periods for vacancies before they can be filled by a migrant, and changes to the system under which people come to Britain through international company transfers.
The committee rejected suggestions that the points-based immigration system should be used to make more extensive curbs on the flow of skilled migrants to help to deal with unemployment caused by the economic downturn.
Professor David Metcalf, chairman of the committee, said that the points-based system should act as an automatic stabiliser and not be constantly adjusted in response to the economic cycle. He said the changes that were being recommended to the Government would be put forward regardless of whether there was rising unemployment. They are not a knee-jerk reaction to the recession, he said.
Professor Metcalf added: We believe that selective immigration that favours skilled workers, as the points-based system does, is vital to ensure that the UK continues to be a good place to do business or invest. However, it is important that British workers are not displaced. We have therefore made a number of recommendations which will help to avoid undercutting and any disincentives to raise the skills of UK workers.
The committee was asked by Jacqui Smith, when she was Home Secretary, to examine whether there was an economic case for restricting those allowed to come under the skilled worker arrangements to shortage occupations only.
Professor Metcalf rejected this idea and said that there was now an outflow of non-EU skilled workers leaving the Britain for work, or to look for jobs, for the first time in years.
The proposed restrictions will entail extending the period that a job has to be advertised in a local jobcentre from one or two weeks to a minimum of four weeks before it can be filled by a migrant worker. Exceptions will be made for senior posts in blue-chip FTSE companies.
Under the changes, minimum salary thresholds would also be raised, with workers requiring a job earning at least 20,000 or 32,000 if they did not have any relevant qualifications before they could be admitted.
The report recommends changes to the rules under which migrants enter Britain on intra-party transfers, such as Honda executives being brought from Japan to Swindon or Indian IT staff working on contracts in Britain.
Migrants would be banned from using this route to gain British citizenship and the qualifying period of working with a company before being allowed to transfer to Britain would increase from six to 12 months.
The committee recommends that allowances paid to those workers who transfer are not used to undercut local labour pay rates.
It said that the main users of intra-company transfers by a large margin were multinational IT companies that wanted to bring over staff predominantly from India to work in Britain.
Although the committee said that it had not seen any hard evidence of outright abuse of such internal company transfers, it called on the Government to ensure that the rules were being properly enforced.
Lord West of Spithead, a Home Office Minister, said: The committee has delivered a robust and thorough report and the Government will consider it carefully over the coming weeks.
Damian Green, the Conservative immigration spokesman, said: The one big gap in the points-based system is that there is no overall limit on how many permits can be issued in any one year. This is why the public has a lack of confidence in the immigration system, which people regard as being out of control.
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