UK: Prime Minister David Cameron”s new crackdowns on Immigration from within and outside the EU

New plans, announced by David Cameron during Prime Minister”s Questions, have been designed to crackdown on immigration from outside the European Union. The intention is to continue the government”s plans to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands.

This announcement follows the first meeting of the newly formed “Immigration Taskforce.” This Taskforce will be headed by the PM himself and has the objective of reducing net migration through domestic measures.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, will be forwarding the government”s proposals to the Migration Advisory Committee.

The changes will include the following:

  • Measures to raise minimum salary thresholds for migrant workers. In theory the idea is to stop employers from undercutting British workers by hiring migrants on a lower salary.

  • A further limit/cap to the number of Tier 2 work permits

  • Introducing new business levies for businesses employing migrant workers

  • Reconsidering the occupations that come under the “Shortage Occupation” category. This will also include a time limit as to how long a sector can claim to have a skills shortage.

  • Encouraging employers to invest in apprenticeship schemes. Mr Cameron also intends to introduce 3 million more apprenticeships.

There is a variety of criticism around these changes. For example, Mr Cameron intends to focus on apprenticeships to encourage employers to hire from within the UK. However, as apprenticeships only lead to vocational level qualifications, it seems difficult to claim that this will remove the need to hire from abroad. The skills in shortage in the UK are degree level skills needed to fill engineering, nursing, and teaching roles currently taken by migrants on Tier 2 visas for skilled workers.

Simon Walker, Director General of the Institute of Directors, has also said that the cost factor has little to do with the need to hire from abroad and “the fundamental concern is about finding people with the skills needed by employers.” This implies that increasing salary thresholds, adding a levy on employing migrants, capping working visas and time-limiting occupations on the skills shortage list will do little good to boost employment in shortage skills areas, from within the UK labour market.

This is because employers are not driven by a desire to acquire “cheap labour.” Rather, there is a genuine lack of workers with shortage skills in the UK and the British economy is dependent on international skills. Further, whilst it is a sensible idea to train British workers, there is no way to push individuals to take up certain occupations or train in certain areas.

The PM will also be heading the cabinet committee on Europe. The purpose of this is to work on issues relating to the planned in/out referendum on the EU in 2017. The Prime Minister is also proposing measures to reduce the number of migrants entering the UK from the EU. The primary focus will be a reform to the welfare benefits regulations.

However, a study completed by the European Commission in 2013 actually found that EU Citizens living in the UK are not driven to move in the UK for the purposes of ‘welfare tourism.’ Specifically, EU migrants account for less than 4% of Jobseekers Allowance recipients in the UK. This compares to the fact that they make up more than 5% of the workforce in the UK. Therefore reforming the benefits structure, will do very little to change the number of EU Migrants present in the UK.

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