Tuesday, 31 July 2012
Our immigration 'crackdown': absurd effects
It might have escaped your notice, but the present government is committed to reduce the numbers migrating to the UK from the hundreds of thousands 'to the tens of thousands' by the end of this Parliament. This was in the Conservative Manifesto, of course, and on the face of it they're just going about the humdrum business of implementing their programme - as they are across most of government.
But the unintended consequences of such rash pledges become ever clearer. Leave aside the fact that it's probably impossible to get down to this figure anyway - a fact that (once again) is helping to bring the very making of public policy into disrepute.
Let's narrow in a bit to look at some of the implications.
One of the main deleterious effects of this promise will be to hurt Britain's universities - which are of course one of its top ten foreign earners or exporters, and contribute many billions of pounds to the economy every year.
Because the only way that these numbers can come down is if the Government cracks down on visas for students. Not at those 'dodgy' colleges that Ministers make so much noise about - while legitimately using the police to shut them down. No, it'll be top universities, completely legitimate institutions that have been taking on foreign students by the tens of thousands because governments have told them to. It's them that'll get hurt.
Net immigration stood at 250,000 in 2010-11. So Ministers need to take 151,000 incomers out of those figures - or persuade more people to leave, a goal their economic policies may achieve if we're not careful. But leave that for another day. There are about 250,000 students coming into the country annually - the largest single group of incomers by far (and about 40 per cent of the total).
So where's the soft target - the easy win? You got it. Students. New rules limit how long they can stay, and how much paid work they can do while they're here - while choking off the numbers overall as well. Want a recent PhD or MSc from outside the EU to research for you, teach for you, work in your company? You can forget it. Great.
Students. I ask you. It's ridiculous. Students who usually don't stay anyway (only fifteen per cent of them do - so about 37,000). Students who pay for the privilege of coming here - subsidising home students. Students who've now seen a 62% fall in the number of study visas issued in the first quarter of this year alone, and a concomittant 40% fall in non-EU applications.
I'll tell you what - why not just count the estimate of students who stay permanently in the figures? That would get Ministers to their total right away, and avoid the harm being done to Britain's high-end economy. The House of Lords has said so. The Business Secretary thinks it's a good idea. Sir James Dyson has spoken up for the idea. Universities UK wants this to happen.
Will it? Probably not, no. But immigration is such a hot-button issue with voters that politicians are just afraid of them. That is the bottom line. Cutting your nose off to spite your face? Certainly. Craven? Definitely. Depressing? Definitively.