The UK's prime minister, David Cameron, has announced changes to the UK's immigration system which, he says, are 'a vital part' of his 'long-term economic plan to secure a better future for Britain'.
Mr Cameron wrote a piece in The Daily Telegraph, a UK newspaper, on 28th July 2014, in which he explained to readers the changes to the immigration system already made in the four years since he became prime minister and also provided some details of changes that will be introduced over the next six months.
Mr Cameron said that his government's policies had three main objectives
- Clamping down on abuses of the system
- Making sure the right people are coming here for the right reasons and
- Ensuring the British people get a fair deal'
The main changes are
- Colleges with over 10% of students found to be 'bogus' to lose licences
Any UK college or educational institution which allows too many bogus students to enrol will have its Tier 4 student visa sponsorship licence removed. A recent investigation by the government found that some colleges and universities were not carrying out sufficiently stringent checks to ensure that prospective students were genuine students. Some colleges were allowing students to enrol and then not ensuring that they attended classes allowing them to remain in the country on their Tier 4 student visas while in many cases working full time. Tier 4 student visa holders must attend classes and study but can work during vacations and for 20 hours per week during term time.
- Requiring landlords to check whether tenants are legally in the country
From November 2014, UK landlords will be required to check whether prospective tenants are entitled to be in the UK.
- Illegal immigrants to be barred from opening bank accounts
From December, banks will be required to check whether migrants are in the country legally before allowing them to open a bank account.
- Allowing courts to deport criminals before immigration appeals are heard
From this week, many foreign criminals who have committed offences in the UK will be deported to their own countries before immigration appeals are heard. This will only apply to migrants from countries which are considered safe.
- Curbing the right to family life
The European Convention on Human Rights guarantees all citizens the 'right to family life'. Mr Cameron said that there has been 'abuse' of this clause of the convention. He says 'Too many judges have treated this as an unqualified right. So we have written very clearly into the law that when weighing up these cases, judges must also consider the British public interest too'. He continued 'As far as this government is concerned, the rights of law-abiding citizens come well above the rights of criminals'.
- Reducing the amount of time that EU migrants can claim unemployment benefits in the UK from six months to three months
Mr Cameron said that his government intended to lessen 'the magnetic pull of Britain's benefit system'. The government had previously acted to prevent EU migrants from claiming benefits until they had been in the country for three months. Now, not only will they have to wait three months to claim benefits but will only, once eligible, be able to claim benefits for a maximum of three months. Mr Cameron says that this change is likely to save the taxpayer £500,000,000. Some academics have expressed doubts about how much difference the changes will make in practice pointing out that most EU citizens come to the UK to work, not to claim benefits.
- UK jobs can no longer be advertised exclusively abroad
Mr Cameron says that UK employers have been 'hunting out cheap labour abroad while too many young people are out of work'. He said 'we are banning overseas-only recruitment; legally requiring these agencies to advertise in English in the UK'. He added 'In the past, all vacancies advertised in Jobcentre Plus were automatically advertised on an EU-wide job portal. This meant advertising over a million job vacancies across the EU. So we are going to massively restrict this, aiming to cut back the vacancies on this portal by over 500,000 jobs'
'A different kind of Britain'Mr Cameron wrote in the Telegraph 'This is about building a different kind of Britain – a country that is not a soft touch, but a place to play your part, a nation where those who work hard can get on'.
However, many commentators suggest that these changes are cosmetic and will change little. They say that, in fact, their true purpose is to win Mr Cameron the next election by persuading voters that Mr Cameron is 'tough' on immigration.
Mr Cameron's Conservative Party lost a great deal of support to the anti-EU, anti-immigration UKIP at the European Parliament elections in May. UKIP came first in the election taking 24 of the UK's 73 seats in the parliament and securing 27.5% of the votes cast. Mr Cameron's Conservative Party came third in the election.
UKIPWhile it is unlikely that UKIP will do nearly so well in the next national elections, to be held in May 2015, it is possible that enough traditional Conservative voters will vote for UKIP to allow the left-of-centre Labour Party to win several seats from the Conservatives. This could allow Labour to win the election.
Therefore, it seems, Mr Cameron is doing his best to win back those voters with some eye catching immigration initiatives. This theory is supported by the fact that some, at least, of these changes will have little if any actual effect.
All studies show, for example, that European immigrants to the UK do not come to claim benefits. The proportion of EU citizens in the UK on benefits is far lower than the proportion of UK nationals claiming benefits.
'Little evidence to support the welfare magnet hypothesis'Indeed, as online journal The Huffington Post points out 'The government's Migration Advisory Committee dismissed claims about benefits tourists coming to Britain finding 'there is little evidence to support the so-called welfare magnet hypothesis as a migration driver across EU countries'.
Sanwar Ali of workpermit.com said 'Mr Cameron claims that these changes are a vital part of his plan for the UK, but many might think that they are much more a part of his strategy to win back votes from the UK Independence Party (UKIP) at the next election'.
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