Labour's Cooper proposes alternative UK immigration policy

Today, 7th March 2013, shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper delivered a speech acknowledging that the last Labour government made 'mistakes' on immigration and laying out the party's new position and policies.

Ms Cooper was speaking at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in London. She said that immigration was a difficult subject for politicians but too important to ignore. She said that the UK must not 'pull up the drawbridge on the outside world'. She said that immigration had enriched the UK but said that 'mass migration can create stresses and strains'.

She said that Labour had been listening to British people and had come up with a new approach to the subject. She echoed the suggestion made by Labour leader Ed Miliband yesterday that all immigrants should be made to learn English to help them integrate. She then went on to outline the party's new position on immigration in more depth.

Three main areas

She said that the party's proposals focussed on three main areas
• Tackling the unequal impact of immigration
• Introducing immigration controls
• Enforcement

Ms Cooper said that proper enforcement of the UK's minimum wage would remove one of the incentives for bringing immigrants to the UK. Labour would also crack down on slum landlords who put up immigrants in inadequate housing. She said that there should be tougher penalties for those that breach the rules and more training for UK citizens to help them get jobs in sectors currently dominated by immigrant labour.

Ms Cooper said that the pace at which immigration occurred was important so controls on the numbers of immigrants were necessary. She said that the cap on Tier 2 (General) visas did not seem to have caused too many problems so Labour would not interfere with that.

Current policy 'too simplistic'

However, she said that the immigration policy of the UK's Coalition government is 'too simplistic' By focusing on the single headline figure for net immigration, the government is treating all immigration as the same. This, Ms Cooper said, needed to change.

The Coalition is focussing on reducing net immigration to under 100,000 a year by 2015 after David Cameron, then leader of the opposition, now Prime Minister, told the BBC in 2010 that immigration was too high and ought to be reduced to 'tens of thousands' annually.

The net immigration figure is calculated by calculating the number of immigrants in a given year and subtracting the number of emigrants over the same period. For much of the time that the last Labour government was in power, the net immigration figure was about 250,000. The latest figures show that the headline figure has now dropped to about 160,000 a year.

Damaging the economy and not addressing the problem

But Ms Cooper said that focusing on this headline figure was damaging the economy and was not addressing the real problem of immigration. She said 'Astonishingly, two thirds of the drop in net migration is actually British citizens. And it seems a large proportion of the rest is students. Net migration has gone down by 72,000 since the election. Yet that includes a 27,000 increase in Brits leaving the country and a 20,000 drop in the number of Brits coming back home. Meanwhile student immigration dropped by 38,000'.

She says that the drop in student immigration has cost the UK economy £8bn a year and done nothing to address problems caused by immigration.

Ms Cooper said that the government had got hung up on the 'tens of thousands' pledge and was doing nothing to address genuine immigration concerns that did not impact on that pledge. She said 'everything that is included in net migration is treated as the same while the government tries to bring it down. Everything excluded from the 'net migration' measure is being ignored – even if it causes serious problems.'

Government is ignoring illegal immigration

Therefore, Ms Cooper said, the government is ignoring illegal immigration because illegal immigrants do not show up in the immigration statistics. In particular, she said that the government is doing nothing to address potential abuse of the student visitor visa. The number of these visas issued has gone up by 30,000 a year since 2010. But people with student visitor visas are not included in the net immigration statistics. Ms Cooper said that more should be done by UK immigration to check that people coming to the UK on student visitor visas were actually studying.

She said that there must be much greater effort put into policing illegal immigration with unannounced checks on employers suspected of breaking immigration law and the power of arrest going to UKBA officials. She also called for proper exit checks to be put in place at UK ports and airports so that the UK immigration authorities can know how many people are in the country and arrange 'swifter action when people overstay'.

With regard to EU immigration, Ms Cooper said that the UK should, in future, impose the maximum possible transitional controls. She said that cracking down on employers who pay less than the minimum wage would prevent employers from trying to gain an advantage by employing cheap eastern European labour.

She also said that the government should introduce a residency test and lobby Europe to remove the requirement that countries should pay family benefits to be paid to workers from abroad who leave their children in their home countries. Ms Cooper said that workers from Newcastle could not go to work in London and send benefits home so it was wrong that workers from Paris or Prague should be able to do so.

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