Senior Conservative says UK can still meet immigration target

The UK can still hit the government's target of cutting net immigration to below 100,000 by 2015, according to Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps. Mr Shapps was speaking on the BBC's Sunday morning politics programme The Andrew Marr Show.

In February, the latest UK net immigration figure showed that net immigration had risen by 59,000 in a year from 153,000 in the year to September 2012, to 212,000 in the year to September 2013.

Many commentators say that the figure is likely to rise further as more people come to the UK from southern Europe and fewer Britons emigrate to live overseas.

Election still a year away

But Mr Shapps refused to concede that it was impossible for the UK to hit the government's target. Speaking on Sunday 1st March, Mr Shapps said that the government had pledged to reach the 'tens of thousands' target by the next election, which will be held in June 2015, which is still over a year away.

Andrew Marr said that the trend appears to be 'up and up and up'. But Mr Shapps insisted that it could be reversed. He said that government policies to prevent 'benefits tourism' were likely to reduce immigration from within the EU.

He added that the UK is attempting to lobby for reform of the European Union. He said that 'anything is possible' and suggested that the German premier Angela Merkel might assist with this reform. Andrew Marr put it to Mr Shapps that Mrs Merkel had expressly ruled out German support for fundamental reform of the sort he proposed but Mr Shapps insisted that it might still occur.

Extremely unlikely that UK will hit 'tens of thousands' target

Sanwar Ali of workpermit.com said 'of course it is technically possible for the UK to hit its 'tens of thousands' target by 2015. However, it is extremely unlikely. In fact the opposite may happen. We may very well see a significant increase in net immigration to the UK.

'This is because of immigration from the EU, about which the government can do nothing. It is time they dropped this silly promise that seems to have been made by Mr Cameron in a desperate attempt to win votes on a Sunday morning television programme'.

Mr Ali is referring to the occasion in January 2010 when, before the last general election, David Cameron then leader of the opposition, promised to cut net immigration from the then level of around 250,000 per year to 'tens of thousands' per year by the time of the next election in 2015

Coalition

Mr Cameron's Conservative Party did not win outright power at the 2010 election but was able to form a government with the centrist Liberal Democratic Party. Mr Cameron became prime minister and the government adopted his 'tens of thousands' commitment as policy. It has been attempting to reduce net immigration ever since.

Unfortunately for the government, what Mr Cameron may have thought was a straightforward matter of cutting the number of visas issued turned out to be far more complex than that.

Annual net migration is calculated by subtracting the number of people emigrating over any given year from the number of people coming to live in the UK. All immigrants, whether from within or outside the European Union are included in the figures as are all categories of immigrant; students, workers, family members and asylum seekers.

EU citizens free to live in UK

The government cannot cut the number of people leaving and it cannot prevent EU citizens from coming to live and work in the UK. Therefore, the only steps it can take to cut net migration is to cut the number of people coming from outside the EU.

To that end, the Coalition government immediately set about reducing the number of people settling in the UK. It

  • Closed down the Tier 1 (General) visa stream. These visas allowed 'highly skilled' foreigners to move to the UK and work for any employer. Over 50,000 people annually received Tier 1 (General) visas but many, critics said, did not work in jobs requiring high levels of skills.
  • Closed down the Tier 1 (Post Study Work) visa stream. This visa allowed foreign graduates of UK universities to stay in the UK and work for up to two years after graduation. If they found work in that period, they could then apply for Tier 2 (General) visas and stay in the UK.
  • Made it harder to obtain a Tier 2 (General) work visa. Anecdotal evidence from almost all UK employers suggests that it is much harder to obtain a Tier 2 (General) visa. The government also introduced a cap of 20,700 on the number of Tier 2 (General) visas that could be issued annually. However, this cap has never been reached.
  • Introduced far more stringent checks for Tier 4 (Student) visa sponsors and visa applicants. The government has removed the sponsorship licences of over 700 educational institutions in the UK, thereby barring them from teaching students from outside the European Economic Area. It has also introduced new language checks for students and insisted on evidence that students can support themselves while studying in the UK.

The government initially made some progress towards meeting this target and cut net immigration to around 153,000 in the year to September 2012. Unfortunately for Mr Cameron, it has been climbing steadily ever since and this trend shows no sign of reversing.

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