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UK government unveils new immigration bill

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The UK's Home Secretary, Theresa May has revealed details of the Coalition government's immigration bill which should be passed this autumn. Mrs May appeared on various television and news programmes to publicise the bill which she says will 'make it harder for people who are here illegally to stay here'.

At the same time, Mrs May says that the UK will 'continue to welcome the brightest and best migrants who want to contribute to our economy and society and play by the rules'.

Mrs May has been the UK Home Secretary since the Coalition government came to power in 2010. She has overseen attempts to cut the amount of immigration into the UK, both legal and illegal.

Government pledges to cut legal immigration further

In 2010, before he was elected, Prime Minister David Cameron promised to cut net immigration to the UK to below 100,000 a year by 2015 from its then level of around 250,000 per year. The latest figures showed that the level of immigration in the year to December 2012 was 176,000. Mrs May says that the government will continue to cut the numbers of legal immigrants by various means.

Many of the provisions of the new immigration bill, however, are aimed not at legal immigrants but at those who are living in the UK illegally. No one knows how many people are in the UK illegally but most estimates put the figure somewhere between 600,000 and 1.1m.

Most of these came to the country legally, perhaps on visitor visas or Tier 4 student visas, but failed to leave when their visas expired. It should be noted that the vast majority of those entering the Country leave when their visas expire. It is only a small minority that do not do so.

Steps to discourage illegal immigration

The government proposes the following measures to make life harder for illegal residents;
  • Requirement that landlords check the immigration status of prospective tenants
  • Requirement that banks check that prospective account holders are not named on a government database of known immigration offenders before they can open an account
  • Increase in level of penalties for those who enter into sham marriages in order to acquire UK residency/citizenship
  • Remove thirteen of seventeen possible grounds of appeal against a decision to deport thereby making it much harder to overturn a decision. Mrs May hopes to halve the number of appeals against deportation from 70,000 to 35,000 annually
  • Change the law so that some people will be deported before their appeal against deportation is heard. They will be entitled to appeal from elsewhere and return if successful
Mrs May told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme that the bill would create a 'hostile environment for illegal immigrants'.

Measures to cut down on health tourism

The bill will also introduce new measures aimed at ensuring that migrants pay for services that they use in the UK. The bill will provide for
  • A health levy for people in the UK on temporary residence visas such as Tier 4 student visas and Tier 2 skilled worker visas
  • Measures to crack down on 'health tourism'.Mrs May told The Today Programme that those in the country who are not resident in the UK will have to pay for their healthcare. She said that this was necessary because of the 'concern people have about people not contributing'.

A point of principle

When new Today Programme presenter Michelle Husain put it to her that health tourism accounted for only 0.06% of the UK's National Health Service budget and asked whether the system for collecting fees from foreign nationals might not cost more to implement than it would raise, Mrs May replied that it was 'a point of principle'.

But Dr Paquita de Zuluetta a GP who has worked in East London for over 30 years, said that the number of foreigners accessing healthcare was small. Most waited over three years to visit a doctor.

She said that to prevent them from seeing a GP would be likely to have negative impacts on public health because of the possibility that immigrants might transmit infectious diseases such as tuberculosis to the general population if they failed to get treatment.

Changes could cost money and endanger public health

She added that it would also be likely to cost the NHS money, not save it if, rather than getting treatment for minor complaints, immigrants allowed their symptoms to fester untreated before presenting themselves at an accident and emergency unit while gravely ill.

Professional medical associations have criticised the plans as has The Chartered Institute of Housing and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.

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