04 September 2000
Labour to invite 100,000 foreigners a year into UK
IMMIGRATION controls are to be relaxed for the first time in 30 years to allow up to 100,000 foreign workers a year to settle in
The Government has decided to make the most significant changes to the immigration system since 1971 because of a severe skills shortage among British workers.
In 1971 a blanket ban on immigration was
introduced, excluding only asylum-seekers and those with relatives in Britain, following racial unrest and high-profile calls for controls, including Enoch Powell's infamous "rivers of blood" speech.
Before the ban almost anyone was free to apply to enter Britain for economic reasons. In the late Fifties and Sixties there were campaigns in Asia and the Caribbean to recruit public transport and health service staff.
Now, with unemployment at a 20-year low, ministers believe that economic immigration should resume. They argue that it is hard to retrain the poorly educated, unskilled jobless in sectors such as information
technology, engineering and teaching.
Barbara Roche, the Home Office minister, will outline the proposals in a speech at the Institute for Public Policy Research in London on September 11. The scheme, which is
likely to be launched in a pilot version from next April, will allow foreigners to come to Britain on the basis of points awarded for age, education, language skills and family ties.
The Home Office will set a
maximum quota, probably of 100,000 a year. Priority will be given to people with skills needed in Britain or those with firm job offers. Their right to enter would be assessed on whether their qualifications would
enable them to find employment and boost the economy.
Last night a Home Office spokesman confirmed: "The minister will talk about immigration controls and the action the Department for Education and Employment
has already taken to streamline the work-permit programme.There will be an acknowledgment that there are shortage areas.
"Mrs Roche will talk about how the immigration policy might develop in the future. The
points system is one of the things she will talk about. She will reiterate the need to deter bogus asylum applications but, beyond that, she believes that we do need to look at wider immigration issues."
present overseas skilled workers who have been offered jobs in Britain can apply for temporary leave to enter the country for work purposes; that does not, however, confer automatic right to remain.
the shadow home secretary, last night said the existing work-permit scheme was perfectly adequate. She said: "I see no reason to relax the existing controls on immigration. If we have a shortage of skills the
existing work-permit scheme seems to function perfectly well.
"This will no doubt be sold as a method of tackling illegal immigration by allowing more people into the country legally. In fact, it will do
nothing to tackle illegal immigration and we must have robust-but-fair immigration and asylum policies."
In the past three decades asylum-seekers or people wanting to join relatives or a spouse have been
allowed to settle. The only exception has been made for those setting up a business or entertainers who could prove that they had at least ъ250,000 to support themselves.
In March, Gordon Brown, the Chancellor,
changed the rules to allow companies to bring in foreign workers for short periods without applying for permission from the Government, as they had to do in the past.
Home Office officials have been studying the
points system used in Canada, Australia and the United States. In Canada, immigrants must earn a minimum of 70 points to enter: 10 for being aged 21 to 44, a maximum 16 for a post-graduate degree, a maximum 18 for
certain skills, 10 for a job offer, 15 for fluency in English and a bonus five points for having relatives resident in Canada.
Despite her new plans for a relaxation of immigration controls, Mrs Roche has courted
controversy in the past by remarking that asylum-seekers begging with children were "vile". Her comments, and the use by other ministers of the words "bogus" and "floods" in connection with
asylum-seekers, brought accusations of racist language. Britain has a backlog of 85,000 asylum-seekers waiting to have applications processed. They are not allowed to work until they have been given leave to remain,
which can take two years.