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Session 2006 - 07
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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Regulations 2007

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Derek Conway
Blunt, Mr. Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
Browne, Mr. Jeremy (Taunton) (LD)
Byrne, Mr. Liam (Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Green, Damian (Ashford) (Con)
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay (Chorley) (Lab)
Jones, Mr. Kevan (North Durham) (Lab)
McCafferty, Chris (Calder Valley) (Lab)
McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
McKechin, Ann (Glasgow, North) (Lab)
Mullin, Mr. Chris (Sunderland, South) (Lab)
Penning, Mike (Hemel Hempstead) (Con)
Redwood, Mr. John (Wokingham) (Con)
Reed, Mr. Jamie (Copeland) (Lab)
Rowen, Paul (Rochdale) (LD)
Sheridan, Jim (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab)
Soames, Mr. Nicholas (Mid-Sussex) (Con)
Celia Blacklock, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Third Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 26 March 2007

[Mr. Derek Conway in the Chair]

Draft Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Regulations 2007

4.30 pm
The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Regulations 2007.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr. Conway. I do not think that I have had that privilege before. This debate is the third in as many weeks on charging for immigration services and the use of that money. Many Committee members were engaged in quite a protracted debate during the Committee stage of the UK Borders Bill, which was extremely useful—the Bill emerged much stronger for those deliberations. Once or twice, we had the opportunity to debate the principles before us this afternoon. In those debates, I set out the context of many of the questions that will arise this afternoon, so I shall not detain the Committee for too long.
In essence, those principles are five-fold. Last July, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set out the most radical shake-up of the immigration system and, at the beginning of this year, I set out five proposals that we will take forward in 2007. The first was an enforcement strategy to combine the resources of the Government and public services to tackle illegal immigration. The second was for stronger international alliances so that we can co-operate more effectively and expeditiously internationally in order to share information on those of concern and to make it easier for legitimate travellers to move between countries.
Thirdly, we said that we would introduce new technology, in particular, identity technology, which will help us lock down an individual’s identity, so that they can be checked in and out of the country more effectively. That will mean also that when individuals are in the country, they will be able to prove who they are and what rights they have more efficiently than they can today. Fourthly, we will introduce new powers, including ones to strengthen our borders, which we set out in the UK Borders Bill. Finally, we announced extra resources—up to £100 million over our operational costs—in order to strengthen enforcement and compliance and to reinforce our border controls.
Last week, we touched on market pricing and whether we should we set fees at a level more in relation to what the market will bear, rather than simply recovering administrative costs. I think that the principle that we should was accepted by both sides. Last week, in Committee, the hon. Member for Ashford said:
“we have no charging fees for the various instruments and permits included in this aspect of legislation”.
The hon. Member for Rochdale said:
“Although we have no objection to the principle of cost recovery, we want to see the basis on which these...increases are founded.” ”.—[Official Report, Second Delegated Legislation Committee, 12 March 2007; c. 4-5.]
The question, therefore, is what the money should be spent on and, indeed, from where it should come.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I am glad that the Minister is looking at ways of using productively the money raised by these fees. However, will those include interviewing women and children coming in to this country separate from those with whom they might be travelling to ensure that they are not the victims of trafficking, which defaces this country as we are, I believe, the trafficking capital of Europe?
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful for that intervention. In the next few days and weeks we will set out in much more elaborate detail our proposals for strengthening border controls and overhauling the visa system. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will permit me to defer my answer until then.
The debate that we had last week touched on the kinds of the things on which we should be spending our extra resources—the long list is provided in 31 pages of the enforcement strategy, which was published on 7 March, and which the Committee will be delighted to hear I shall not go through in detail now. Those extra resources will include millions extra to help increase information collection and dissemination so that we can block the benefits of Britain to those here illegally, and to strengthen our ability to detect, detain and deport those with no right to be here; 250 additional police officers and nearly 300 additional immigration officers by March 2008; 100 staff based in police stations; millions extra for increased capacity in the detention estate, including a 420-bed facility opening next year in Gatwick; the electronic monitoring of up to 2,000 extra individuals who will be subject to tagging or voice verification; millions extra for voluntary removals and to ensure the compliance, particularly of sponsors when we introduce the new points system next year, and money to provide feedback, both to employers—to help them to understand their obligations—and to those who may be visiting.
There are four categories in which we can extend the principle of cost recovery and over-cost recovery: visitors, students, workers and those who seek to settle here. Because visitors bring in £14.3 billion to the economy each year and students £5 billion, we decided to privilege those categories. Therefore, we decided to seek to over-cost recover from those who are working and those who are settling—the people who stand to benefit most from coming to this country.
In the work category, we propose to over-cost recover in respect of applications from the highly skilled migrant programme, which will increase from £315 to £400; work permits, increasing from £150 to £190; and leave to remain for work permit or highly skilled migrant programme applicants, increasing from £335 to £350. We think that that is measured. The market research that I shared with the Committee last week showed that the prices that we proposed were either below or very much in line with the price that people said was reasonable. That was probably the most extensive piece of market research that the immigration and nationality directorate had ever conducted into the demand elasticity of many of the immigration products that we provide.
The final category in which prices are increased substantially is those applying for indefinite leave to remain—that is, settlement. Again, we thought that there was a valid case for the increase. When somebody decides to make Britain his long-term home he is making a long-term commitment to the country, and he becomes entitled to an extensive array of benefits, including jobseeker’s allowance, attendance allowance, disability living allowance, invalid care allowance, income support, working families tax credit, disabled person’s tax credit, child tax credit, state pension credit, payment from the social fund, child benefit, housing benefit, council tax benefit, access to the NHS, access to local authority housing and access to the education system. Therefore, to answer the question that the hon. Member for Rochdale asked last week, I do not anticipate an enormous drop in demand for settlement as a result of the price rises. Consistently, our research shows that the route to settlement is identified as one of the most important reasons for coming to this country in the first place. The evidence also shows that there is a low price sensitivity to increased fees for settlement and nationality.
In conclusion, migration brings great benefits to this country, but both UK citizens and newcomers want the immigration system to be made stronger. Changes do not come cheap, they cost money, and these over-cost recovery proposals will help us to contribute to that cost. I commend them to the Committee.
4.38 pm
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): As ever, it is an extraordinary privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Conway.
I should like to start by thanking the Minister for having sent me the extensive Home Office research on the matter. It gives rise to a number of questions, not all of which he has addressed. I hope that we can tease some of them out so that he addresses them later. I am sure that he will recognise that some of the increases are huge and will create a degree of hardship for some of the people being asked to pay them.
It is important, at the outset, to put the proposals in context. The Chancellor has already announced that the Home Office is losing out in the comprehensive spending review. Its budget will be frozen for the next three years, so the Home Secretary is scrabbling around for money and this is one of the places where he has chosen to find it. As the Minister said, we have gone round this course in our debates in the UK Borders Bill Committee. He correctly quoted me as having said that we have no objection in principle to raising the price of some of the permits. However, he went on to say that therefore the only debate was about how the money would be spent. I think that he is missing an enormous middle part of the debate; it is extremely important for this Committee to ask for clarification of the thinking behind the rises, as well as bringing up the individual issues that have been raised by a number of representative groups.
The first big question that lies behind the research is what assumption the Minister is making about the effect on the number of applications in each category. I make the point about each category because, as he says, there are different levels of increase because he is seeking, in effect, to make it more difficult, or certainly more expensive, for certain classes of people who have come here than others. Presumably, he wants more students to come, and people with the right levels of skills to come here to work. It is important for him to say where he thinks the effects of the measure will lie. As he has already said, the Government are proposing to spend £100 million extra on enforcement, and it is my understanding that all of that extra £100 is coming from the increase in charges here. The Minister has never quite been explicit about that, but that is my understanding of what he has been saying. Is that £100 million predicated on existing trends in each of the different categories being maintained? Does the Minister think that the existing number of applications in each category is broadly right? Would it be a worry to the Government if, for instance, applications for work permits or from foreign students fell, or if a large number of those who are already in this country, whether as students, working, or as family members of those who are working, decided not to stay or apply for indefinite leave to remain? If family members decide, because of the cost, to go back to their own country, the principal worker who is here will probably decide to do that as well. That would clearly have an economic effect on the skill base of this country. I should be grateful if the Minister could address that point as well.
Another particularly important point in the research is that one of the most important factors encouraging people to come here is the access that they gain to public services. That is noteworthy but not very surprising. Has any further research been done about how much extra has to be raised from UK taxpayers to pay for those extra demands on the public services, and whether that extra demand is in any way reflected in the extra charges that the Government now propose? The Minister will be aware that thoughtful people across the political spectrum have been looking around the world to see how other countries manage their immigration systems—in many cases, rather better than we have been doing. What struck me as lacking in the extensive research that the Department has produced is a range of modern international comparisons. I am aware that the Home Office commissioned some research in 2004 on that subject, but I am not conscious that it has done any since. I cannot imagine that it has not, but that does not appear to be included in the research. It is particularly important that if the Minister is taking some fairly risky decisions about the costs that he is trying to impose on certain classes of people who come to this country to work or study, he should know—and we should be reassured—that that does not leave us wildly out of kilter with other countries, particularly in a world where, as he will be aware, those with the most marketable skills are increasingly playing in a global market and Britain needs to be getting at least its fair share of those people.
I also hope that the Minister can address the point made by the Home Affairs Committee in its report on immigration control, published in July 2006, which recommended greater alignment between the level of fees paid abroad to UKvisas and paid in the UK to his own Department. At paragraph 487 of that report, the Committee says:
“It is not at all clear why the fees are so much higher for the IND than for UKvisas. When we asked for an analysis and comparison of overseas and in-country fees, we were told that this was not possible ‘on a like for like basis’ because the two organisations are ‘discrete businesses, each governed by its own regulatory regime and functioning on an independent cost base.’ ”
That may well be true, but for those coming to this country, to find what appears to be an increasing disparity between those who are paying in this country and those paying overseas will, at best, puzzle those making those applications. It may indeed put some of them off.
There are two other individual areas that I hope the Minister can address. The first is tourism. He said that that was not an area that he was particularly trying to raise prices for, but he has done that. I would be grateful if he could share with the Committee details about the consultations with and representations from VisitBritain and other bodies responsible for promoting tourism that happened before these changes were made.
The second area is that of families who come to live in this country with someone who is working here. I am sure that the Minister has received complaints—because I know that I have received complaints—from groups representing immigrant communities regarding the families of those who come here. Essentially, the arguments boil down to two points that I think he should address.
The first point is that the expense of these new visas will obviously be much greater for those who wish to stay here with their families and therefore this is an attempt to skew the system in favour of those people coming from other developed countries, who will be much more likely to afford the visas. Is it explicitly the Minister’s intention that a greater degree of immigration to Britain should come from other developed countries?
The second point is that the increase in the costs of indefinite leave to remain and of naturalisation will lead to a much larger group of non-resident aliens staying here long term. That seems to fly in the face of what the Minister is hoping to achieve in the area of community cohesion. There seems to be a disparity, which I hope he can address.
These are serious changes in the way that the country treats those who want to come here and stay here, and they deserve a thoughtful approach. As the Minister knows, one of the key policy issues that divides us is that the Conservatives want an explicit annual limit on economic migration and the Government do not. It is possible that the effect of these price increases will be a big drop in the numbers of people coming here to work, visit or settle. The Committee deserves to be told whether that is one of the purposes of these changes. If the Minister is trying to reduce the level of economic migration to Britain we should be told, because that would be a reversal of the Government’s stated policy. Therefore, without wishing to oppose these changes, I think that the Committee deserves a good deal of further clarification about what lies behind them.
4.47 pm
Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): It is a pleasure, Mr. Conway, to serve under your chairmanship.
As the Minister said in his introduction, what we are discussing today follows on from the debate that we have had about the UK Borders Bill. However, there are some important differences. I also agree with what the hon. Member for Ashford said with regard to the proposed difference in fees between those charged by UKvisas and those charged by the IND for in-country fees. The hon. Gentleman posed a reason as to why that might be. I believe that the Minister has made it quite obvious; what we are doing is using these increases in in-country fees to pay for the additional resources that are required by the IND and the UK Borders Bill. If we are going to do that, it is incumbent upon us to examine what the Government’s intentions are, as laid out in the strategy that the Minister released at the beginning of the month, and ask whether the £100 million outlined in the strategy is being well spent and correctly raised from the right areas.
If one looks at that report, it says that the Home Office has five areas in which the Government intend to use the additional funds. The first area is to provide additional enforcement to ferret out illegal workers and employers who exploit them. Those of us who have been involved in discussing the UK Borders Bill understand some of the powers that that Bill will give enforcement officers. At this stage, however, we need to ask how the Government intend to ferret out illegal workers, given their current inability to do anything of the kind.
The second reason given is about the building of new detention centres for those who are awaiting decisions on their asylum claims, or for those who are awaiting deportation. My view is that that is an issue of asylum, not immigration. We should not seek to charge individuals, many of whom are here for a legitimate reason, to raise money that will be used for another purpose. Legitimate fees might be charged, for example, because the criminal casework team’s budget is being raised from £2.5 million to £10.5 million.
The third reason given is to help employers check their employees’ nationality status. I assume that that is to pay for the cost of the new biometric visas. Again, we need to understand what that money will do. There are already sufficient means by which an individual’s right to work can be checked by an employer. I accept that biometrics are easier and provide more reliable data, but I am not sure that we should make some of the increases that are talked about.
The fourth reason is to run campaigns to explain the UK immigration rules. That is a legitimate reason. The final one is about increasing the rate and number of illegal immigrants who are sent back to their home countries. Again, that is a charge on many legitimate people who are here, rather than a cost that is being sought only against those who are causing the problem. We do not oppose the charging of fees, or even charging fees where they are at cost recovery, when it can be demonstrated that the fees income is being used for a legitimate purpose.
Mr. Redwood: Do the Liberal Democrats wish to increase, reduce or keep about the same the current level of immigration? We need to know that to assess whether putting the price up is a good idea.
Paul Rowen: In the context of today’s debate that is a very difficult question to answer. We are not in favour of artificial limits in the context of the highly skilled migration programme. It should be what the demand is.
Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): Does my hon. Friend share my anxiety about the position of the Conservative party as outlined by the hon. Member for Ashford, which is that an annual limit should be set on economic migration? Does he believe as I do, and the Conservative party evidently does not, that anyone who supports free market economics—
The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting a little far from the order. We are not going to let this deteriorate into a mini manifesto debate.
Paul Rowen: Thank you, Mr. Conway. No one wants to get into manifesto debates. The key point is that an artificial limit, which the hon. Member for Ashford described, does not address the reason why some of the people on the highly skilled migrant programmes are here. That needs to be looked at. The other issue is about the fees for settlement of nationality. We can have a very legitimate debate about the numbers of people coming into this country although I do not believe that that is what we are here to discuss today.
The Liberal Democrats are not opposed to the fees but we have to recognise that the cost of a work permit has already risen from £85 to £153 and is now set to rise to £190.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I know that Liberal Democrats love sitting on fences, but could he answer the question posed by the right hon. Member for Wokingham? Are they in favour of or against these increases?
Paul Rowen: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. If I can be allowed to make some progress then I might be able to answer the question.
The research that the Minister kindly gave us provides some indication of the public’s reaction to the increase in those charges. However, I believe that cost elasticity was one of the issues dealt with in the consultation. That ignores the fact that the figures increased dramatically in some other areas, such as indefinite leave to remain, which the Minister mentioned. Although we might accept that the cost increase for students coming into the country is reasonable, as is the increase in the cost of a work permit given that the current cost is £153, I find it difficult to accept that an increase from £335 to £750 can be justified.
The discussion does not deal with the actual cost to a person who comes here under the highly skilled migrant programme, stays for a number of years, then applies for indefinite leave to remain and to become naturalised. According to figures that I have been given, such a person who stays for a four-year period, then applies for indefinite leave to remain and then for naturalisation, faces a cost of £2,950. That is not an inconsiderable figure.
Mr. Jones: Is it therefore Liberal Democrat policy that the taxpayer should subsidise certain countries as opposed to others?
Paul Rowen: No, it is not. We do not wish to see a subsidy; we wish to see the overall sums paying for the system. Within that system, the fee can be varied according to what people can afford. That is a market-led approach.
Mr. Redwood: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would give us an idea of how much somebody from India should pay, compared with somebody from America, and tell us why that would not be an example of hybrid regulation.
Paul Rowen: We are here to discuss the Government’s increases in fees, not what we might do. I am sticking clearly to what is in front of us and what we have been asked to do.
Our final concern relates to how the consultation has been conducted. Perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I can see, the consultation does not consider how individual families might be affected by the changes, nor does it listen to the views of groups such as Voice of Britain’s Skilled Immigrants, the Immigration Law Practitioners Association or the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. I would be grateful if the Minister could explain why those particular bodies were not consulted. In the consultation, the Government asked a specific question about cost and value, yet when the response did not give the answer that the Government were searching for, they ignored it. They have gone for value rather than cost.
We have to agree to these fees as a whole. I would have been much happier to agree to them or not individually, as some of them go way beyond cost and into cost recovery. I have mentioned the settlement nationality figures; the Minister has given his reasons for them, but they do not take account of the ongoing cost.
Damian Green : I am still not clear. Is the hon. Gentleman in favour only of increases that lead to cost recovery, or is he prepared to accept more than cost recovery on some charges? If he is not, would he solve the gap by cutting the amount spent on enforcement, or would he increase taxes in some other way to fill that gap?
However, for someone who comes here under the highly skilled migrant programme, stays, gets indefinite leave, converts and becomes naturalised, the cost is £2,950, well beyond what might be classed as cost recovery. We have a difficulty with these charges because they do not take account of the fact that people are being asked to pay not one fee, but several. The total amount of the fees, taken together, is considerable.
Mr. Browne: Will my hon. Friend reassure me that he does not intend to argue for an artificial, state-determined cap on migration, set by bureaucrats in Government who know more about the economic needs and future prosperity of the country than the people who are driving that prosperity, namely, entrepreneurs and capitalists in the free-market sector of the economy?
Paul Rowen: Those hon. Members who were on the Committee considering the UK Borders Bill will have heard evidence from a representative of the universities that showed just how important to the economy are the students who come into this country to study for degrees and for post-doctoral research. The same applies to people coming here on the highly skilled migrant programme, who also make a very important contribution. I do not want people to be driven away from this country or to choose another country in preference to the UK as a result of a set of artificial fees.
Damian Green: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Paul Rowen: No. I have already given way and I am about to wind up my speech. We will oppose these increases.
5.3 pm
Mr. Redwood: When I first saw these increases they struck me as being very high. The fee for indefinite leave to remain is up from £335 to £750, which has more than doubled; the indefinite leave to remain premium has almost doubled, from £500 to £950; the fee for naturalisation is up from £200 to £575, which has almost trebled, and for nationality adult registration it has more than trebled from £120 to £400.
I then heard the Minister’s explanation of his proposals, which was slightly different from the one I have just given, but one that I could almost buy into myself, the Committee might be pleased to know. If the Minister seriously intends to try to get control of our borders, it would be exceptionally good news. If he cannot do it with the hundreds of millions that are already being taken from general taxpayers, and the Government need to take many more millions from the people seeking to enter this country legitimately, so be it. I would rather they take it from those seeking entry than from the people who are already here and paying far too much tax to have their borders badly administered.
I should be grateful if the Minister would use some of the money to keep terrorists out; I understand that not only have we welcomed a lot of terrorists in, but we managed to give them quite a lot of passports while they were here, with various identities supplied by the state. It would be good to keep out more of the criminals we have welcomed in; this country seems to be a very good centre for quite a lot of criminal activity. All our anti-money laundering efforts seem to be targeted on grannies putting £100 in the building society rather than the really big hitters who come in across our borders and get nodded through the immigration system controlled by the Home Office.
I hope that the Minister will take seriously my point that we are now the trafficking centre of western Europe. Far too many women and children are brought here and sold into serfdom, often in the sex trade. That is outrageous; America has got on top of that problem to a greater extent than we have by having a separate interview system at the borders to ensure that people are not being brought in under duress by others in their party.
It would also be good to keep out those who are not genuine asylum seekers; all of us feel warm-hearted towards those—
The Chairman: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman’s flow, but he is a very experienced Member of this House, and I am sure that he is about to return to his remarks on the fees regulations rather than the UK Borders Control Bill, which we are not considering.
Mr. Redwood: I am grateful for your deflection of my remarks into the correct order, Mr. Conway. The only good, conceivable reason I could have for not opposing the order, with its very large fee increases, would be if the money were to be spent in the ways I am suggesting. The Minister referred in his opening remarks to how he was thinking of spending some of this money. The hon. Member for Rochdale had a different view of what should be spent; he seemed to want to raise less and have weak border controls, which is his party’s position.
Mr. Browne: Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the migration needs of this country are best determined by free market business people or by an artificial cap set by the state?
Mr. Redwood: We need not an artificial cap but a sensible judgment on how many people we can admit for various purposes because of the obvious stresses and strains on infrastructure, housing and public services generally. Although I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, think that a sensible amount of immigration can be extremely beneficial to the society receiving the migrants, as well as to the migrants, if too big a number are allowed to come in it can be extremely difficult to accommodate them all to the standard one would like.
The proposal is another part of rip-off Government, with swingeing increases on a huge scale by a monopolist supplying a service very badly. However, on this occasion I will not vote against it, on the grounds that the fees are not being imposed on my constituents and that I live in hope that some of the money might be better used to control our borders more sensibly.
5.8 pm
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful for the support expressed in different measures on the Opposition Benches for different aspects of the proposal.
I shall try to deal in turn with a few of the points raised by hon. Members, starting with the matter of consultation. We have gone through one of the most extensive processes of consultation that the Home Office has ever conducted on this question. About 3,000 documents were sent out to a different range of stakeholders—I am not sure whether the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association got its copy and forgot to submit it, or did not receive it. About 340 responses were submitted and a number of additional consultation events, attended by about 400 people, were undertaken. Again, I am not sure whether the ILPA was represented, but it certainly would not have been barred at the door if it had asked to come in.
Something like 87 per cent. of the responses that we received agreed with the principle to which the Committee agreed, and in which hon. Members on the Committee have acquiesced during debates over the last week or two, about the ability of the immigration service to price things flexibly. Some 79 per cent. said that fees should reflect a range of different factors, not only those relating to the direct value of the migrant; so they would also take into account wider policy objectives.
VisitBritain was one of the bodies that responded, and it was very supportive. So, too, was the CBI, which said that the current system clearly needs reform—something that was at the centre of the comments made by the right hon. Member for Wokingham—and if rises in visa fees are necessary to fund those improvements, employers will see it as a price worth paying.
The hon. Member for Ashford asked what my expectation was of a decline in the rates of application around the world. The reason for looking so carefully for people’s tolerance level of different prices was in order to answer that question. My expectation is not of a calamitous decline in the number of applications that we will receive, because we have carefully priced, product by product, our proposals a little below where people said is the real point at which they are not prepared to pay more.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): When the Minister opened the debate on costing, he referred to the number of benefits to which people become entitled, and listed them during the course of his remarks. As an example, eight of those benefits that can be claimed by parents of disabled children run to 273 pages, consisting of about 1,150 questions that do not have simple yes or no answers. They sometimes require over a paragraph that people have to complete in order to claim the benefit. Concern has been expressed in my constituency about the difficulty for vulnerable people to be able to complete those forms. What percentage of foreigners does the Minister believe will be able successfully to complete the forms in order to claim the amounts owing to them? How much should that be factored into his calculations?
Mr. Byrne: It is the responsibility of the Benefits Agency and DWP to ensure that there is proper access to benefits, but I will be happy to consult my colleagues on that question if there is a specific answer that I can give to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.
The point about visitors’ fees was raised in particular. Visitors’ fees are price-sensitive, and that is why in the top 10 visitor intake countries, the average price is some 4 per cent. We have been careful to keep visitors’ fees protected. The question of international comparisons, raised by the hon. Member for Ashford, is also important. If we look at some of the prices for settlement, for example, we can see that the proposed fee for the UK of about £750 is not a million miles away from the price charged in New Zealand, which is about £665, or the quite substantial range of prices in Australia, from £536 to £4,118. The argument that I would advance to the hon. Member for Rochdale, who prayed in aid the example of a highly skilled migrant, is that in order to become a highly skilled migrant in this country, people need to be earning something like £40,000 a year, and because people do not apply for settlement until they have completed something like five years’ residence, that highly skilled migrant, in the hon. Gentleman’s example, would probably have put into the bank something like £200,000 gross, so to ask that individual to contribute some £2,950 is not unreasonable.
The question of alignment of fees in-country and out-of-country has been raised by the Home Affairs Committee. In the debate that we had on the UK Borders Bill, we touched on the matter, because we are asking for powers to bring a greater degree of alignment between in-country and out-of-country fees.
I will not be tempted to follow the hon. Gentleman and others into a debate about whether it is right to set limits. We have suggested that the Government would benefit from independent advice as to where in our economy migration makes sense and where it does not. I shall say more on that in the House very shortly.
My final two points concern enforcement and fairness. If we are to strengthen our borders, it is vital that we close down the causes of illegal immigration. I think that we agreed in Committee that, up to a point, illegal working is one of those. That is why the measures that we propose in the enforcement strategy are so important. Those measures do not relate to biometric immigration documents. Unlike Opposition Members, I do think that ID cards for foreign nationals are an important part of our policy to shut down illegal working. It is too easy to construct fraudulently the up to 60 different documents that employers currently have to process. We should phase those out and phase in a single biometric immigration document. The cost for that is not touched on in these proposals.
It is not fair to ask British taxpayers to fund the entire cost of the immigration system. Benefits accrue to the migrant, so we need a balance; and the charges that we propose would provide that balance.
Paul Rowen: Notwithstanding the Minister’s remarks, does he not accept that he is asking the vast majority of people who come here for legitimate reasons to pay for his Department’s failure to deal with illegal immigration?
Mr. Byrne: No, I do not accept that for a moment. Both British citizens and newcomers alike would like our enforcement to be stronger than it is today. Such enforcement cannot be funded by thin air; it does not come cost free. If we are to increase the number of immigration officers and our ability to share intelligence and information with others, we have to pay for it.
Mr. Jones: Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Liberal Democrats vote against the measure, they will be asking the UK taxpayer to subsidise people who come to this country?
Mr. Byrne: As is customary, my hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. A vote against these proposals is a vote for a weaker immigration system and a less robust attack on illegal immigration and the organised criminals and business barons who exploit illegal migrants to this country, often in dangerous conditions.
Damian Green: For completeness, the Minister should also make the point that the Liberal Democrats seem to support not only unlimited immigration in all circumstances but also weaker controls than many people would want and higher taxation. Those are the three things for which they would be voting.
The Chairman: Minister, with caution.
Mr. Byrne: I accept your guidance, Mr. Conway.
The charges deliver a fairer balance between foreign nationals and British taxpayers in financing the immigration system. It would probably be cheaper to replace our border with a barricade, but that would be bad for Britain and the measures that we propose make a lot more sense.
Question put:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 2.
Division No. 1 ]
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Jones, Mr. Kevan
McCafferty, Chris
McKechin, Ann
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Rowen, Paul
Question accordingly agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Regulations 2007.
Committee rose at twenty minutes past Five o’clock.

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