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Reform and public involvement needed to restore confidence in immigration system

15 January 2018

The Home Affairs Committee calls on the Government to make it a clear and stated objective of public policy to build greater consensus and trust on immigration as part of major overhaul of immigration policy making.

Public appetite for engagement on immigration

Drawing from the “National Conversation on Immigration” launched in Parliament a year ago and involving citizens' panels all across the country, the Committee finds that there exists considerable public appetite for engagement on immigration and much common ground on which to build consensus but that the debate requires care, honesty and the opportunity for people to be involved. Achieving greater consensus on immigration will require a transformation in the way policy is made because in too many areas the current approach has served to undermine trust in the system.

Calls to replace net migration target with evidence-based framework

The Government's net migration target of the ‘tens of thousands' is not working to build confidence and does not reflect the public's view that different kinds of immigration should be treated differently. The Committee calls for the net migration target to be replaced by an evidence-based framework for different types of migration taking into account the UK's needs and humanitarian obligations. At a minimum students should be removed from the target.

Targets and controls on immigration should be set out in a newly established Annual Migration Report laid before and debated in Parliament. The annual report would also detail the previous year's migration flows, the economic contribution from migration to the Exchequer, consideration of the requirements for different regions and nations and measures taken by the Government to promote integration, manage impacts, costs and pressures.

Similar to a model used by the Canadian Government, the Annual Migration Report would set out a three-year plan for migration which would be reviewed annually and include public consultation at local and regional level. It would include parallel training plans to tackle skills shortages which are increasing demand for overseas workers and measures to tackle exploitation of low skilled migration. It would be informed by independent advice from the Migration Advisory Committee, just as the Budget is informed by the OBR. Adopting this approach would allow for better consideration of the costs and benefits of immigration and would help build greater consensus.

British Future and HOPE not hate

The Committee was supported in its work by British Future and HOPE not hate who have been working to hold 60 citizens' panels in every nation and region of the UK. Findings from the ‘National Conversation' have fed directly into the Committee's inquiry to provide a clearer picture of public attitudes on immigration. British Future and HOPE not hate are publishing their interim findings alongside the Committee's report.

Based on this and other evidence to the Committee, the report concludes that there is significant common ground on which to build a consensus – including around economic benefits, the need for effective enforcement and controls, the principle of contribution, common humanitarian obligations and support for local communities to manage the impact of migration. But it also warns that the debate currently is too often divisive, with little trust in the system. And it warns strongly against allowing division over immigration to grow or be exploited.

This report does not include consideration of specific policy options for EU migration as the Committee will be examining this once the Government publishes its forthcoming White Paper on immigration.

Report recommendations

The Report recommends:

  • An Annual Migration Report setting out a three-year, rolling plan for migration – with the explicit objective of building consensus and involving extensive public consultation. This would detail migration flows, the Government's controls and targets, the economic contribution from migration, measures taken to manage impacts and pressures, and action on skills, training and integration.
  • The Annual Migration Report to be informed by a stronger and more independent Migration Advisory Committee in the way that the Office for Budgetary Responsibility informs the Budget – enhancing transparency and accountability with independent, evidence-based analysis.
  • Clearer and simpler immigration rules, underpinned by principles and values – including the contributory principle, supporting family life and safeguarding security
  • A greater focus on early enforcement, clearer criminal and security checks, and improved Home Office performance to tackle errors and delays and reassure the public that the system is both fair and under control.
  • Replacing the net migration target with an evidence-based framework for different types of immigration that takes into account the UK's needs. There should be no national target to restrict the numbers of students coming to the UK, and at a minimum the Government should immediately remove students from the current net migration target.
  • An immigration system which treats different skills differently. There is clear public support for the continued arrival of high-skilled (not just highly paid) workers who are needed in the economy. Immigration rules should allow UK businesses and organisations easily to attract top talent, with restrictions and controls focused more on low-skilled migration.
  • Immigration plans should be linked with training plans to increase domestic skills in sectors and regions where there are skills gaps that need to be filled through migration.
  • Stronger action to prevent undercutting and exploitation of workers from overseas, including strengthening the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) and expanding its remit.
  • An assessment of the positive benefits and negative pressures of immigration on public services, leading to additional funding for local authorities with higher levels of migration.
  • A national integration strategy and local authority led local integration strategies
  • No diminution of the UK's approach to international humanitarian obligations, upholding the principle of asylum and honouring existing commitments. Following on from the well supported Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, a permanent resettlement scheme should be established.
  • An overhaul of evidence and data, with a rolling commission for the Migration Advisory Committee, the recording of all entry and exit information, analyses of migration flows by local areas, and an annual estimate of the number of people who have breached the rules in that year to remain in the UK.

Government's responsibility to build consensus and confidence

On publishing the report, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP commented:

"The Government has a responsibility to build consensus and confidence on immigration rather than allowing this to be a divisive debate. But that requires a transformation in the way that immigration policy is made as too often the current approach has undermined trust in the system.

We've deliberately done a different kind of inquiry, working with British Future, HOPE not hate and other organisations to hear from people in citizens' panels and community meetings right across the country. What's striking is that there is considerable common ground in contrast to the polarisation we too often hear in national debates.

But we need a much more open and honest debate, with sensible reforms to address people's concerns. We are proposing an Annual Migration Report like the Budget each year with proper public consultation and independent advice. It should include wide ranging plans to address integration, support for public services, action on skills shortages and measures to prevent exploitation as well as targets and controls.

The net migration target isn't working to build confidence and it treats all migration as the same. That's why it should be replaced by a different framework of targets and controls. And frankly the system needs to work effectively. As long as there are so many errors and so many problems with enforcement, people won't have confidence that the system is either fair or robust.

Most people think immigration is important for Britain, but they want to know that the system is under control, that people are contributing to this country and that communities and public services are benefiting rather than facing pressures. And crucially they have different attitudes to different kinds of migration. We believe people should be working together to build consensus on the benefits and address concerns about problems on immigration.

Immigration has always been an important part of our history, economy and culture and will continue to be a crucial policy area for our future. We cannot stress enough how important it is to prevent escalating divisions, polarisation, anger or misinformation on an issue like immigration. To fail to respond risks doing long term damage to the social fabric, economy and politics of our country." 

Further information

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