The Commons Home Affairs Committee has today concluded that practical implementation of the new Points Based System for managed migration on the whole gets a cautious welcome, in particular for the emphasis it places on transparent and objective criteria. However, the Committee says that awarding points for past earnings or academic qualifications gives undue priority to easily-quantifiable attributes and ignores ability or experience, and it recommends that professional training and experience should be recognised under the system. In a wide-ranging report, it also concludes that several key structures on which the system is built - most notably the calibration of points, the shortage occupation lists, the compliance responsibilities placed on sponsors and the introduction of administrative review - need revision.
The Committee says that given that the number of job vacancies in the UK has reduced by a third over the last year and currently stands at its lowest level since comparable records began in 2001, it is obvious and right that employers should seek to recruit first from the UK labour market. However, where there are certain skills of which a genuine shortage exists - the report examines specific sectors in detail - short term recruitment from outside the EEA should be allowed if otherwise the UK’s global competitiveness could be harmed. But the Committee stresses that the Government’s priority must be on retraining the British workforce, saying that it must ‘redouble its efforts to link skills shortages to training’.
The long term inclusion of certain occupations, such as “ballet dancer”, on separate ‘lists’ of shortage occupations which attract additional points appears to be to compensate for poor design elsewhere in the system because such skills cannot be recognised through the points criteria. The Committee says long term and structural shortages should be addressed by adapting the points criteria, not by these ‘lists’.
The Committee also warns that failure by the UK Border Agency to test the major IT programmes underpinning the Points Based System will have ‘potentially dramatic’ consequences for the reputation and finances of UK businesses and education. It says that the Border Agency must provide a faster and better informed service to sponsors of migrants if it expects them to take over enforcement of immigration conditions.
International artists travelling to the UK are being deterred by the slow processing of new biometric visas by the UK Border Agency, which is ‘consistently failing to meet its own target times for visa processing’. The Committee says that it must establish more biometric collection points worldwide, and ‘improve its processing times as a matter of urgency’.
Removal of appeal rights under the Points Based System will inevitably lead to a rise in judicial review challenges, and may mean an increase in representations made to Members of Parliament to intercede in individual cases. Responses to representations made to MPs on behalf of their constituents are already slow and poor, and the UK Border Agency is ‘spectacularly failing to meet its target of responding to 95% of correspondence within 20 days’.
Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chairman of the Committee said:
"The introduction of a system of objective criteria to manage migration and shortages in the labour market is very welcome but we must not so oversimplify a complex issue that we get perverse outcomes. It seems spurious that a fresh Master’s graduate in their first job should qualify as a ‘highly skilled migrant’, where a businessperson of 25 years’ global experience earning hundreds of thousands of pounds without a Master’s degree does not. Similarly, just tacking on lists of “awkward” professions that don’t fit the system is not a substitute for adapting the points structure so that it works.
"One of our key concerns remains the lack of an independent appeals process in immigration and asylum cases. This will lead to even more representations to MPs and ministers as an ‘alternative appeals process’ – a grave concern given that the UK Border Agency is spectacularly failing to meet its target of responding to 95 per cent of correspondence within 20 days as it is, and many of our constituents are being advised that their asylum case may not be concluded before 2011. We have urged the Border Agency to address this problem many times. It is therefore imperative that the Border Agency considerably improves its performance in processing the backlog of undecided cases, and in responding to MPs’ representations.
"We also feel that discretion is being applied in illogical ways – for example, no special provision has been made for exceptional cases of international artists or performers who occasionally require emergency visas, rendering them unable to perform in this country – whereas in other situations special exemptions have been granted for no apparent reason: why for example should footballers be exempt from the requirement to speak English? That seems to be a case of money speaking louder than merit."