UK eyes tougher immigration controls and student visa curbs

The prospect of the UK introducing tougher immigration controls – including a clampdown on student visas – heightened on Tuesday after Home Secretary Theresa May told the Conservative Party conference that mass migration was making it "impossible to build a cohesive society".

University students
With the backing of Prime Minister David Cameron, Mrs May claimed that Britain "does not need" net migration at current, record levels and that the net economic effect was, at best, "close to zero".She conceded that immigrants could fill skills gaps, but added, "Not every person coming to Britain right now is a skilled electrician, engineer or doctor."At best, the net economic and fiscal effect of high immigration is close to zero... there is no case, in the national interest, for immigration of the scale we have experienced over the last decade."In an uncompromising speech, Mrs May stressed that she was determined to press ahead with a crackdown on student visas because "too many" foreign students were not returning to their home nations when their studies were complete."So I don't care what the university lobbyists say: the rules must be enforced. Students, yes. Over-stayers, no. And the universities must make this happen," she said.The home secretary's stance caused unease among UK businesses. Tim Thomas, head of employment and skills policy at the manufacturers' organisation EEF, said, "In pushing forward with anti-immigration rhetoric, ministers must stop penalising businesses who need to recruit skilled employees from outside of Europe."Manufacturers make significant use of migrant labour, as well as intra-company transfers, and those in such roles provide a positive tax and economic benefit. Such migrants are often tasked with up-skilling domestic workers as part of their job."Choking off this supply of skilled labour only serves a target-driven approach which will do little to address the UK's underlying need for skilled migrant labour whilst, at the same time, training our home-grown workforce."Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, added, "What destroys cohesive society more than anything is whipping up fear and mistrust. David Cameron and Theresa May are encouraging division and hatred, encouraging a society that blames all its problems on those on the outside."We must end this Conservative obsession with denigrating immigrants, which pitches community against community. Britain is socially, culturally and economically richer for our outward-looking, tolerant approach. We unashamedly welcome the contribution immigrants make to our country."However, Mrs May won a wholehearted endorsement from the prime minister, who rejected suggestions that his home secretary was blaming unemployment on foreigners.He told the BBC, "No, what we are saying is that in an open, modern democracy like Britain, we need migration, we benefit from migration, but that migration must be controlled."One of the problems we have had in recent years is, because we have created more jobs than the rest of the EU put together, we have seen very high rates of migration."It's quite clear that we need to do more to bring migration into better balance because if you want an integrated, successful society, yes, you want immigration, but you want it at a rate where you can properly integrate people and bring them into your society and make sure that the school places are there and the hospitals aren't overcrowded and the pressure on our country isn't too great."Mrs May told the conference in Manchester that millions of people from poorer nations had a "perfectly understandable" desire to live in Britain but there was a limit to the number of migrants the UK could take."While we must fulfil our moral duty to help people in desperate need, we must also have an immigration system that allows us to control who comes to our country," she said."Because, when immigration is too high, when the pace of change is too fast, it's impossible to build a cohesive society. It's difficult for schools and hospitals and core infrastructure like housing and transport to cope. And we know that for people in low-paid jobs, wages are forced down even further while some people are forced out of work altogether."Mrs May also said there would be new policies for the tougher treatment for people who apply for political asylum in the UK from other safe countries. A new asylum strategy would be published next year, she said.For more Re:locate news and features on immigration, click here.

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