Session 2010-11
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General Committee Debates
Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Order 2011


The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Katy Clark 

Binley, Mr Brian (Northampton South) (Con) 

Blunkett, Mr David (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab) 

Brake, Tom (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD) 

Donaldson, Mr Jeffrey M. (Lagan Valley) (DUP) 

Esterson, Bill (Sefton Central) (Lab) 

Evans, Graham (Weaver Vale) (Con) 

Field, Mr Frank (Birkenhead) (Lab) 

Godsiff, Mr Roger (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab) 

Green, Damian (Minister for Immigration)  

Hamilton, Mr David (Midlothian) (Lab) 

Lilley, Mr Peter (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con) 

Moon, Mrs Madeleine (Bridgend) (Lab) 

Murray, Sheryll (South East Cornwall) (Con) 

Rutley, David (Macclesfield) (Con) 

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry (Bradford South) (Lab) 

Vara, Mr Shailesh (North West Cambridgeshire) (Con) 

Weatherley, Mike (Hove) (Con) 

Wright, Simon (Norwich South) (LD) 

Marek Kubala, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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First Delegated Legislation Committee 

Tuesday 8 February 2011  

[Katy Clark in the Chair] 

Draft Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Order 2011 

10.30 am 

The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green):  I beg to move, 

That the Committee has considered the draft Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Order 2011. 

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Clark. 

The order concerns the charging for visa, immigration and nationality services. This debate comes in two halves. In the first, this morning, we are asking Parliament to approve the power to introduce new fees. In the second, which will take place in March, we will debate the specific fee levels. Let me explain the background to the order. 

In our budget for 2011-12, we plan to spend over £2 billion securing the UK border and controlling immigration. We have firmly established the principle that those who benefit most from the border and immigration system should bear a share of the cost of running the system, alongside the contribution made by UK taxpayers. That means that we will seek to recover approximately 36% of the costs from fees for applications and services we offer. 

In accordance with our legal powers, the order carries forward our existing powers from the Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Order 2007 and sets out the new provisions we intend to charge fees for in future. It also transfers powers currently set out in the Consular Fees Order 2010, from Foreign and Commonwealth Office legislation to Home Office legislation, so that all visa, immigration and nationality fees are handled in the same place. That will improve legibility for all customers, practitioners and corporate partners. The actual fee levels, as I said, will be specified in subsequent regulations. 

The order allows us to charge fees in support of new services. For nationality applications, that includes amendments to sections 1(3A) and 4D of the British Nationality Act 1981 enabling children born to foreign or Commonwealth parents who are serving as members of the armed forces to be registered as British citizens. The order also provides a power to charge for requests for endorsements to amend the personal details on a previously issued nationality certificate. In addition, some people are entitled to hold the status of British protected person through their connection with a former British protectorate, protected state, mandated territory or trust territory. Although that status can no longer be obtained automatically, a person can apply for this form of British nationality if they meet the appropriate criteria. 

Students who were granted leave under tier 4 of the points-based system between 31 March 2009 and 4 October 2009 are currently required to advise the UK Border

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Agency when they seek to change their educational institution. Other tier 4 migrants apply and pay a fee to make such a change to the terms of their leave. We think it is right that all students are treated equally in paying this fee. The instrument being debated today provides that consistency. 

Where we provide optional services for sponsors, such as highly trusted sponsor status, the order allows us to charge a fee at a level independent from that of the standard licence fee. Currently, we charge the relevant sponsorship licence fee for such services. As we continue to develop the service propositions for these sponsors, we believe it is sensible to separate these provisions to ensure we can set fees, subject to future parliamentary approval of the specific amounts, which better reflect the nature of the services provided. 

Our power to charge fees for visa, immigration and nationality applications and services currently derives from the Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Order 2007, which has been amended twice since it came into force. Moving forward, however, to ensure that that there is only one fees order in place under section 51 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, we are consolidating the 2007 order and its amendments into this order. That will improve the legibility of immigration and nationality charging for customers, practitioners and corporate partners. 

The processes described in the order are provided by the UK Border Agency at a cost and, as I have made clear, we believe that it is right that we recover costs from the people who directly benefit from the immigration system. This might be the migrants themselves, employers or educational institutions, and it will help reduce the burden on UK taxpayers. We welcome the economic, cultural and social contribution made by legal migrants to the UK. We will continue to ensure that fees for immigration and nationality demonstrate that the UK is open for business and retains its position as an attractive destination. 

I will return to Parliament in March to ask for approval for further regulations specifying the fee levels that rely on the powers in section 51 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 and additional powers in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, as amended. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee want to see an immigration system that is more sustainable and one that is paid for through the right mix of fees from those who use the system and of taxpayer funding. I believe that the order provides the basis for that, and I commend it to the Committee. 

10.35 am 

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab):  It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Clark. Members will be pleased to hear that I do not intend to detain the Committee long. I thank the Minister for outlining the proposals in the order. We agree with the broad thrust of many of them because, clearly, they make great sense. We welcome the improvement of provision for children born to foreign and Commonwealth parents serving in the armed forces, who now automatically become British citizens, rather than having to work to come to the UK to apply for citizenship. 

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The Government’s immigration policy, particularly in relation to the immigration cap, is in choppy waters at present, so I have a few questions that the Minister might want to consider. He said that we would argue about the size of the fees in March, and we look forward to that discussion, but there are concerns about the plans for students. While we all agree that bogus colleges and courses should be eradicated, we are worried about student issues and the consternation caused last week in respect of the numbers of student visas. Will the Minister elaborate further on how he feels the student fees will affect the UK’s attractiveness as a destination for the courses that are provided? 

The Minister mentioned highly trusted status, which is of obvious benefit to those organisations and bodies that take in foreign students. Will he elaborate further how the order will affect that status for those organisations? 

Another concern is the fact that the UK Border Agency is to be cut, with the loss of 5,200 staff. Is the Minister confident that the agency will be able to handle the new powers, given the budgetary cuts? 

We broadly support the principle of what is being done and think it makes sense. I am sure we will argue about the size of the fees when we discuss them in March, but if the Minister can answer my questions, we will be happy to support the order. 

10.37 am 

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD):  It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Clark. 

I thank the Minister for setting out clearly the purpose of the order, which is obviously needed. As he said, we will return in March to discuss the level at which fees will be set, but for the sake of clarity, will he confirm that, in relation to paragraph 7.3 of the explanatory memorandum on the new provisions as they apply to children born to British armed forces personnel serving overseas, the order would also allow fees to be waived if that is what the Government felt was the appropriate course of action? I make the same comment in respect of paragraph 7.6, which relates to stateless people who, one assumes, in many cases will have very low income: can the fees be waived or at least set at a low level that would be affordable? 

10.39 am 

Mr Brian Binley (Northampton South) (Con):  It is a pleasure to serve under your jurisdiction for the first time, Ms Clark. 

May I press the Minister on the item in the explanatory memorandum on regulating small businesses and the need to minimise the impact of the requirements on small firms? That is important for many small restaurants. Many import chefs, particularly from Bangladesh, who, I am told, are the best in the world in their art. We have trouble with that in Northampton, and I am sure other towns have trouble too. Can the Minister give us greater insight into that memorandum note? 

Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab):  I have similar queries from Bangladeshis in my constituency. When I ask restaurant owners whether their children should work in the kitchens, they express horror, partly because

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of the wages they pay. Might not that bear on the problem of not being able to find skilled workers? 

Mr Binley:  Of course it might, but all my restaurant owners want their children to be accountants, lawyers and doctors. Their aspirations are considerably higher and who can blame them for that? There is still a problem about getting chefs into this country. Given that the time that they are allowed to stay is more limited than they would want, if we add to the cost, that could create difficulties. 

Tom Brake:  Would the hon. Gentleman be interested to know that the Federation of Bangladeshi Caterers, whose president, Yawar Khan, runs a restaurant in my constituency, is keen to ensure that training is provided to young people in that community who are out of work rather than attracting chefs from abroad? 

Mr Binley:  I accept that point and my restaurateurs feel very much the same, but I repeat that many of their offspring are intent on making their way in the world at what may be a higher level of pay and esteem. Who can blame them? 

10.41 am 

Damian Green:  I thank hon. Members on both sides for what they have said. In particular, I thank the hon. Member for Bradford South for his broad support for the proposal. I was invited to comment on several matters with a tangential relationship to the order but such is the life of Statutory Instrument Committees. 

The hon. Gentleman asked about the effect on students of our consultation, rather than of the order. The fees remain internationally competitive. We are very conscious that our higher education system operates in an international market and that keeping a competitive fees regime is an important part of that. We will set out the details of the fees in March. As he knows, the basis of much of what we are saying about the student consultation is that we have already found very large-scale abuse in the system involving many tens of thousands of student visas. In fact, the conflation of the discussion about student visas and universities is in many ways a false one, because more than 40% of the student visas issued by this country are not to students to study at university. It is clear that there a wider issue than the one he talked about. 

The hon. Gentleman asked about general international competitiveness. We monitor fees at all levels in all areas of activity to ensure that we remain internationally competitive. He asked about highly trusted status. Nothing in the fees will affect that, but emphasise that the development of the idea of highly trusted status is very important in immigration control, both in the economic field and in the educational field, because it is such fine-grain distinction between the sponsors who bring people in that will give us greater control in the long run. 

Mr David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab):  Does that mean that there will be greater flexibility using the highly trusted status route, which will give a little more leeway and respond more

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positively to the concerns that have been expressed not just by higher education institutions but by the CBI and others? 

Damian Green:  The word “flexibility” is a wide one. We are not looking for flexibility in terms of extra numbers, as it were, particularly in terms of the economic route in tiers 1 and 2. We do not want to say, “If you are a highly trusted sponsor, you can do things outside the limit.” What I think will develop in the long term is that if a position is maintained over years as a highly trusted sponsor, the amount of bureaucracy, checks and red tape will be less. There has to be some gain from being a highly trusted sponsor, and going down that route will be the way to ensure that people value that status. I very much want to do that. 

The hon. Member for Bradford South asked about the UK Border Agency’s future and whether it will be possible to do all that we want to do in the terrible economic climate that we inherited, with public spending in such a terrible state. The answer is yes. In particular, and this directly relates to what we are discussing today, one reason why we need to keep fees at the level at which we can recover 36% of our costs is precisely to minimise pressure on the taxpayer while enabling the UK Border Agency to continue doing all the essential work that it does. 

I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington that there is discretion for the Secretary of State to waive visa fees when there are exceptional, compelling circumstances. I am sure that the whole Committee recognises that each individual case needs to be taken on its own merits. 

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South asked about chefs, in particular those in what are always incorrectly called Indian restaurants, since the vast majority of their chefs come from Bangladesh. I can only repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington eloquently said: the long-term future for that industry is training people in this country. This is a wider point and not just one for the restaurant industry. As a country, we cannot continue saying that an industry has got into the habit of importing huge numbers of people from around the world to fill jobs so we have to carry on doing it forever. We simply cannot, for all the reasons about which my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South will, I know, feel very strongly. Of course, that puts responsibilities on the Government and the educational sector to train better, but those responsibilities exist and are being met by my colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education. 

We know that unemployment, particularly among men but also among women, in the Bangladeshi community is markedly higher than in many other communities. It is absolutely the sort of community where, if there are jobs to which people particularly incline, we should move heaven and earth to ensure that they can fulfil them. 

Mr Binley:  I do not disagree with my hon. Friend’s general thrust that we should be training these people ourselves within the industry in this country, but there

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is a short-term problem because I am told that it takes quite a time to train a competent chef, so there is a time lag. My concern for small businesses does not relate only to that industry. I must be honest and say that I spoke about that industry because it is quite important in my town and so has some relevance, but there are other small industries, such as in the area of advanced technology, where there is such a need. Those industries are not overly flush with money, so I needed a greater understanding of the flexibility that my hon. Friend said he would bring to small businesses. 

Damian Green:  As I explained to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, the flexibility I am talking about is in respect of highly trusted sponsors who, over time, will earn the right to fewer checks and less bureaucracy, rather than flexibility in terms of the overall number. However, I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that the level of fees is not designed to be a deterrent or make it more difficult for small businesses of any kind. I share his concern for small businesses in his constituency, because that is where most of the new jobs will come from. There are discounted fees on offer for SMEs who are sponsors under the points-based system. We specifically take into account the needs of small businesses, on whose behalf he speaks passionately. 

Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con):  Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of highly trusted sponsors, can he explain the concept further? If these are businesses with a continuing practice of importing skilled labour––in fact, it is cheap labour but they call it skilled labour––why should we trust them? In the short term, I can understand someone having such a need, but what about the idea that they can establish a reputation for having a permanent need so that they are considered higher quality? Surely the reverse is the case. If they have a permanent need, they are low quality and should not be trusted. 

Damian Green:  I know that my right hon. Friend will welcome the fact that under our new arrangements for tier 2, the work-based route into this country, we have specifically said that the occupations will be allowed to bring people in only at graduate level entry, so they will be bringing in specific skills for which a need will have to have been demonstrated. He will have seen this week’s Migration Advisory Committee report, which recommended a significant cut in the number of occupations that will be allowed in under that. I am very alive to his concerns and we are acting on that. We are restricting, in practical terms, the number of occupations that can be brought in. 

Mr Blunkett:  I want to put on record the crucial difference between highly trusted status for entry for business and employment purposes and that for university and college places so that I avoid being at cross-purposes with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, who said “Hear, hear” earlier. The entry of properly accredited students to highly trusted status institutions for educational purposes is a terrific boon to this country, not just because of their study here and the earnings that result but because of the contribution that they make across the world to the well-being of our country and its economy. 

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Damian Green:  The right hon. Gentleman is of course correct that highly trusted status is not restricted to the business world but also covers educational institutions. As it happens, there are far more educational institutions, or in some cases so-called educational institutions––not, of course, universities––that have been bringing in large numbers of people that do not have highly trusted status and which, under the proposals on which we have just finished consulting, would not be allowed to bring in foreign students in future. That will create a much sharper demarcation between the highly trusted institutions and others. I hope I can reassure my right hon. Friend that highly trusted status is a technical matter. There are several criteria that universities, other educational institutions or business have to satisfy to qualify for highly trusted status. We are making increasingly robust checks to ensure that their needs continue to meet what is required to fulfil highly trusted status. 

Mr Field:  I want to put on record that I very much agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for

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Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough said. My “Hear, hear” related to another point, but clearly took slightly longer to reach him as he is four seats away. 

Damian Green:  To comment on that would be to enter into exegesis on the Labour party that I am not qualified to do nor desirous of doing. 

I will return in March to ask for approval for the further regulations that specify the fee levels. I assure the Committee that the brightest and the best will continue to be welcome to the UK as will those who seek to come here to visit or to invest. But it is right that the users of the immigration system make an appropriate contribution to the cost of ensuring that it remains secure and effective and to reducing the burden on the general UK taxpayer. I commend the order to the Committee. 

Question put and agreed to.  

10.54 am 

Committee rose.