There are reports of a growing rift in the UK government over immigration. The Guardian, a UK newspaper, reports that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, held a meeting with Home Secretary, Theresa May, in late October to see if the government could abandon its key immigration policy to reduce net immigration to under 100,000 a year.
When the Coalition government came to power in 2010, it promised to reduce net immigration into the UK from outside the European Union to 'tens of thousands' every year from the level at that time which is thought to have been about 250,000 per year.
So far, the Home Office, which has responsibility for policing immigration, has made little impact on the headline figure. The most recent figures released by the UK's Office for National Statistics suggested that net immigration had fallen to about 216,000 but, the ONS says, because there is so much uncertainty around the figures, the fall was 'not statistically significant.'
Home Secretary Theresa May MP has introduced many measures to try to limit immigration numbers. She has introduced an annual cap on the number of Tier 2 (General) visas that can be granted. The cap stands at 20,700 annually. That cap has never been reached but immigration experts say that this may well be because of the expense and difficulty of making Tier 2 (General) visa applications.
The Home Office, through the UK Border Agency, has also been cracking down on bogus colleges that were, it feared, taking fees from non-EEA students who entered the country on Tier 4 student visas only to work illegally once inside the UK.
However, other ministers in the cabinet are believed to be increasingly worried by the impact that the immigration crackdown is having on the UK economy. Chancellor George Osborne and the Business Secretary Vince Cable are particularly concerned that UK business is being hampered by the Home Office. Many businesses are lobbying the government complaining that the immigration rules are extremely complex and restrictive.
The universities minister David Willetts is also a critic of Home Office policy. Mr Willetts wants British universities to take in more foreign students. The UK is one of the most popular destinations for international students to take university courses. Mr Willetts is concerned that the UK's reputation among international students was damaged by the UK Border Agency's decision on 29th August 2012 to revoke London Metropolitan University's licence to teach students from outside the European Economic Area. It is said that Mr Willetts wants students taken out of the immigration statistics. This would enable the government to meet its target but also allow the 'export education' industry to expand. It is believed that Mrs May does not approve of this compromise.
Business too has voiced its frustration with Home Office policy. There have been numerous calls for a less restrictive policy on skilled immigration. The Guardian reports that Neil Carberry of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said 'Our members report long waits, difficulty in booking appointments and applications being turned down for minor clerical errors. There is a growing sense of anger in the business community with the delays and poor customer service that means it is proving difficult to bring people in, even where the new rules would allow it.'
Lord Heseltine former Deputy Prime Minister from 1995 to 1996 issued a report on 31st October 2012 in which he called for a simplification of the rules on skilled immigration. Lord O'Donnell, the former head of the UK Civil Service also recently said, in an interview with London newspaper The Times, that the government was 'shooting itself in the foot' by preventing skilled migrants from working in Britain.
Imran Khan of the Campaign for Science and Engineering said 'we need scientists to be mobile and to collaborate with India, China and Brazil and we need to be able to attract the best scientists'.
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