The Committee acknowledges that the proposed cap is only a first step, but it concludes that even if visas were refused to all non-EEA nationals taking up job offers or seeking work - economic migrants - the total number of immigrants entering the UK would be reduced by considerably less than twenty per cent, and indeed, if a cap were implemented at the current temporary rate of five per cent, then the reduction would amount to less than one per cent.
Consequently, the Committee argues, to achieve anything approaching the reduction in overall immigration sought by the Government, other immigration routes - such as international students and those joining family members in the UK - will also have to be examined. And it is possible that in the long term the right to settle in this country may have to be removed from some immigrants.
In addition, the report highlights that, because of the technicalities required for compiling and verifying such complex data, the Government will not have finalised data to show that it has met its target of reducing immigration to ‘tens of thousands’ by 2015,but will have to extrapolate from the latest verified data available, which will be for the calendar year 2013.
The Government has announced its intention to implement an annual cap on net immigration to the UK. The level of the cap, which is to take effect from April 2011, is yet to be determined. An interim cap, amounting to a 5% reduction on the same period the previous year, was implemented in July 2010. Both limits are administered through Tiers 1 and 2 of the existing Points Based System, under which highly-skilled and skilled non-EEA migrants can enter the UK to work.
The Committee accepts that the Government has a mandate to reduce immigration to the UK, and so did not consider the policy basis for applying a cap. Instead, it has focused on the details of how the cap would affect immigration in practice. It is concerned that the proposed cap not only will make little difference to immigration overall, it may also damage the UK’s knowledge economy.
The report argues there are serious and widespread concerns that the proposed cap will hamper businesses, prevent top-class international professionals from coming to the UK and damage the UK’s ability to recruit the most distinguished scientists into universities and highly talented individuals into UK companies and public services.
The report quotes eight Nobel prize-winners who note that the UK produces nearly 10 per cent of the world’s scientific output with only 1 per cent of its population. The Nobel laureates highlight the exemption from the cap for international sportspeople, commenting:
“It is a sad reflection of our priorities as a nation if we cannot afford the same recognition for elite scientists and engineers."
The Committee agrees, stating:
“We consider it totally illogical that professional sportspeople should be exempted from the cap but elite international scientists are not.”
The Committee recommends that visa allocations should take place frequently - monthly rather than annually - and that a number of visas should be held in reserve for emergency cases.
For highly-skilled migrants in Tier 1, visa applications could be determined simply by raising the points requirement for different attributes, and for skilled migrants in Tier 2 a first come, first served system may be the best option, but visas should be stratified by sector.
The Committee is concerned that the cap has been rushed through with insufficient attention as to how it will work.
This is exemplified by the fact that the Migration Advisory Committee has been asked to propose a numerical limit for the cap before the Government has determined which groups will be included in the cap and how limits will be applied to different sectors of the economy.
This has reduced the Migration Advisory Committee’s ability to predict what effect the cap will have on different industries and geographical regions.
The report warns against what appears to be a consistent tendency, under both the current and previous Governments, to rush through complex changes to the immigration system via amendments to the Immigration Rules rather than through primary legislation. Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon Keith Vaz, says,
“Successive governments have enacted changes to the immigration system with almost immediate effect, bypassing parliamentary conventions.
Such unnecessary haste leads to poor decision-making which is more likely to be challenged in the courts.
The Government must ensure that Parliament be given the opportunity fully to scrutinise all significant changes to the immigration system before they are introduced.”
“We were particularly concerned about the potential effect on international students of a reduction in immigration, seeing as they account for around 25% of total long-term immigration each year.
Although the Government has not yet unveiled plans for reform of student immigration, our evidence underlined the crucial importance of international students to the cultural and intellectual life, as well as the finances, of UK educational institutions.
The Government should direct its efforts to tackling those who abuse the system – bogus colleges and visa overstayers – rather than penalising legitimate students”.