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11 September 2000

279/2000 11 September 2000 020 7273 4650


The time is right for a debate on the future of immigration policy and how it might better serve the interests of the United Kingdom, the Immigration Minister, Barbara Roche, said today.

Speaking at an Institute of Public Policy Research conference, "UK Migration in a Global Economy, Mrs Roche said:

      "Immigration policy must protect and promote our national interest, both economically and socially. It cannot be static and must respond to changes in the world around us. Our economy is part of a global system that is becoming ever more tightly integrated. Increasingly, the global economy is driven by knowledge, and our future within it is determined by the skills of our people. Transport is cheap and accessible. An increasingly global culture raises expectations and ambitions. And international migration is a central feature of this global system.
      "As with other aspects of globalisation, there are potentially huge economic benefits for Britain if it is able to adapt to the new environment. We are in competition for the brightest and best talents - the entrepreneurs, the scientists, the high technology specialists who make the global economy tick. In order to seize the opportunities of the knowledge economy, and to play a constructive part in shaping these huge changes, we need to explore carefully their implications for immigration policy.

      "The evidence shows that economically driven migration can bring substantial overall benefits both for growth and the economy. In the United States, as Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has commented, the huge recent inflow of migrants - 11 million in the 1990s - has been key to sustaining America's longest-ever economic boom.
      "In the UK we are now seeing the emergence of labour shortages in key areas of the economy.
      "Many will be familiar with the shortage of skilled workers in the IT sector, where there is an international scramble to attract experts and wealth creators, and I am pleased that many choose to come to the UK above other countries. But there are also major shortfalls elsewhere, for example in parts of the health sector. Nearly a third of doctors nationally are non-UK born, and nearly a third of all nurses in inner London are non-UK trained.

      "There were even reports this summer that fruit was being left in the fields to rot because farmers could not find workers to pick it.

      "We have already made some changes to ensure that our policies and practices are meeting the needs of business. The recent work permit review has led to some welcome improvements. And we have just begun a pilot scheme to attract more business innovators to the UK. Under the new scheme, people with business experience and ideas will be able to apply to set up business in the UK. It will relax existing arrangements - they will no longer be required to use personal funds to start up their business.
      "And last summer the Prime Minister announced a long-term strategy to attract more international students to the UK. Overseas students make a huge financial contribution - more than Ј700 million a year - to the British university system. And their presence creates a huge and invaluable source of goodwill for Britain abroad, as well as enriching our culture.
      "But we need to be sure that our policies are in tune with the realities of the 21st century. We must learn from experience from around the world as well as looking at new ideas.
      "We do not yet have the answers for Britain. What we need now is a genuine debate on the benefits and challenges of managed migration. We want to hear a wide range of views contributing to the debate. I am particularly keen to hear from members of the business community about how they think the Government can help to attract those with the skills and expertise they need.
      "And to inform the debate, we need more research on migration - to find out what brings people here, what their skills are, where in the UK migrants settle, how they integrate with British society, and how we can balance legal migration with social stability. Work is already underway, but there is clearly much more to be done.

      "We must have effective immigration controls. We must have a firm, fair and credible asylum system which honours our international obligations and which cannot be exploited by the racketeers. But our immigration policy must also meet real expectations and emerging needs. And if we ensure that it does, then I believe that we can face a new century of migration with confidence."

Mrs. Roche was speaking at an IPPR conference, "UK Migration in a Global Economy," at the British Bankers Association at 10:30am on 11 September.

A text of Mrs. Roche's speech is available on http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/new.htm or from the Home Office Press Office. 

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