Friday, 10 December 2010

The Cap on Migration: How’s that working out for you Mr Cameron?

Immigration, immigration, immigration. It’s always an election issue and last year’s General Election was no exception. Enter Mr Cameron with his shiny new policy designed to rid the UK of its ‘immigration problem’: a cap on migration.
It plays well in the Daily Mail. It seems like a simple approach; just put a limit on it! Looks like he’s on to a winner. Err.... not quite.
There are many problems with the cap on migration. Firstly the majority of immigration to the UK comes from within the European Union and therefore can’t be limited. The UK signed up to a treaty when it joined European Union that agrees to freedom of movement within Europe. So if British people want their holiday homes in Spain or their Châteaux in France they have to accept that EU citizens can come and live here too. Without a complete withdrawal from the EU (which admittedly many Tories would favour) there is simply no way David Cameron can limit the largest single source of immigration to the UK.  
But this doesn’t seem to have deterred Mr Cameron. Instead he is pushing on with his pledge to reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands. He has already begun by looking at Tier 1 and Tier 2 migration. This means he is looking at limiting highly skilled workers and workers who come to fill jobs in shortage industries.   
Which leads us to the second problem. No one (except Daily Mail readers) actually wants to limit high skilled and shortage industry workers, because their contribution to the economy is very valuable. And from reading the number of exceptions to the cap in migration in the Government’s policy (for example they have excluded all intra-company transfers, which currently make up a large proportion of Tier 2 migration) it’s not clear that the Tory Government really even want it.  
This is one of the few truly uniting issues. I was a meeting about this Cap on Migration a few months back hosted by the Scottish Government and not one single organisation around the table thought the Cap was a good idea. This meeting included, among others, the Scottish Government, Local Government, the CBI, the federation of small businesses, the NHS, the oil industry and of course the trade unions. It is difficult to get us all to agree so wholeheartedly on anything but Mr Cameron has managed it.
Despite almost united opposition against this policy the Government are continuing on and will be limiting foreign students to Universities and Colleges and family reunifications next. These areas, of course, come with their own moral and economic problems. Not least of which is the amount of funding that Universities and Colleges receive from foreign students, which must be valuable as the Government seems to think there is a funding crisis in higher education, hence the introduction of £9000 a year tuition fees.
The final problem with the cap in migration is that it may not even work.  Mr Cameron is interested in net migration which is the total number of immigrants entering the UK minus the total number of emigrants leaving the UK. We have already seen the difficulties he has limiting immigration but he has absolutely no control over emigration. The levels emigration is primarily affected by the amount of British citizens who leave to go and live abroad. So if lots of British people decide tomorrow to up and leave and seek work in Australia (or anywhere else) Mr Cameron could reach his target on reducing net migration without lowering the numbers of immigrants entering Britain at all.
But equally if British people decide they don’t fancy leaving this year, for whatever reason, then net migration will rise. Interestingly this is actually what has happened.
After the Tories came to power they introduced a temporary cap on migration primarily to stop lots of people coming to this country before the real cap was in place. Despite the temporary cap on Tier 1 and Tier 2 migration, net migration has risen from 196,000 to 215,000 people. This is primarily because of a decrease in emigration not an increase in immigration.
It does make you wonder though. What is the point of this expensive, difficult to run and economically costly cap on migration? It doesn’t even work!

Helen Martin - STUC

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