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UK minister calls for cap on EU immigration

The UK's Home Secretary, Theresa May MP, has suggested that individual EU states should be allowed to limit the number of migrants who immigrate from within the EU.

Writing for the PoliticsHome website, Mrs May wrote 'Why should individual member states not be allowed to impose a cap on numbers if European immigration reaches certain thresholds'.

Mrs May's article was published on 28th November 2013, the same day that the latest immigration figures were published by the UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Net immigration rose by 15,000

The figures show that net immigration into the UK rose by 15,000 on the previous year to 182,000. The UK's Coalition government made a commitment to cut net immigration to below 100,000 a year by 2015 from the 2010 level of 250,000 a year.

Mrs May stressed that migration had been good for the UK but said that there was a difference between controlled migration, which was of benefit to Britain and 'mass migration' which caused problems in society. It put pressure on services and housing, took jobs from UK workers and threatened social cohesion, she said.

She said that this was why the Coalition government had decided to cut immigration to below 100,000 a year. She said it had made good progress in controlling migration in the area in which it has the power to do so.

100,000 fewer people from outside EU

This, she said, was limited to controlling immigration from outside the European Union. She said 'Last year, there were nearly 100,000 fewer people immigrating to the UK [from outside the EU] than in 2010'.

She said that the government had done this by

  • Restricting economic immigration to the UK from outside the EU: the Coalition has put a cap of 20,700 on the number of Tier 2 (General) skilled worker visas. It has also closed down the Tier 1 (Post Study Work) visa stream which allowed international students to work in the UK for two years after graduation
  • Tightening the rules for family migration: UK citizens cannot now bring their spouses to the UK unless they earn above a certain amount every year
  • Ending the 'industrial-scale abuse of the student visa system: The government has closed down 'hundreds of bogus colleges', Mrs May said. She said that this had been necessary to prevent abuse of the Tier 4 student visa. Because of this, the number of students studying in the UK had fallen, she said.
However, Mrs May said, net immigration had still risen because the level of immigration from within the EU had risen. She said 'European immigration is up by almost a half in the last year from 72,000 to 106,000'. She said that there were higher numbers of migrants coming not just from eastern Europe but also from western European countries, particularly Spain. 'This suggests that the economic problems faced by Eurozone countries are behind this new trend' she said.

Britons need jobs

Mrs May said that it was vital to limit immigration so that British people would stand a better chance of getting a job.

She said that the government was acting to limit the 'pull factors' that might attract EU migrants to the UK. She said 'we are changing benefits rules so they are as tough as they can be' but she said 'in all honesty, whatever the government does in terms of reducing the pull factors,…as long as there is such an enormous disparity between EU member states in terms of income per head, there will be an overwhelming incentive for people to move from poorer member states to richer member states'.

She added 'that not only puts pressure on communities in countries like Britain, it robs poorer EU member states of their most talented people'. Mrs May concludes 'in future, we must put in place new arrangements to slow full access to each other's labour markets until we can be sure it will not lead to mass migration'.

EU reform is vital

Mrs May said that the UK government must 'seize the opportunity presented to us by the Prime Minister's (David Cameron) plan to reform the EU – and address the problems caused by free movement'. 'Why individual member states should not be allowed to impose a cap on numbers' she asked.

The UK's Prime Minister David Cameron travelled to Lithuania for a European leaders' summit on 27th November. While there, he attempted to persuade other EU leaders of the need to reform the EU's rules on free movement to prevent so many people from moving from poorer countries, mainly from the former Eastern Bloc Countries to the richer countries in the west.

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