Immigration policy: basis for building consensus Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.We recommend that the Government makes it a clear and stated objective of public policy to build greater consensus and trust on immigration. The work of British Future shows that there exists considerable appetite for greater public engagement and for this to be the basis for a constructive and open debate. Our findings chime with this view. Our inquiry has concluded that immigration does not have to be a polarising issue. There will of course always be disagreements over the detail of immigration policy, just as there are in other policy areas. However, we believe that broader consensus can and should be found around the underlying principles of the immigration system, but the debate requires care, honesty and the opportunity for the public to be involved. We also believe there must be clearer explanation of the different types of immigration and the policy frameworks that govern them. (Paragraph 9)

Immigration policy should be informed by honest and open debate and supported by evidence

2.The Government’s existing net migration target set at “the tens of thousands” is not working to build confidence or consent. The continued discrepancy between the target and reality has damaged the public’s view of the immigration system because it undermines trust in the state’s ability to control migration in the way it intends or to deliver on its plans. Setting a long-term target or aspiration does not solve the challenge of achieving credibility, as people want to see practical steps that can be taken in the short-term. As we set out later in this report, the target should be replaced with a new framework of targets and controls based on evidence. (Paragraph 17)

3.Accurate analysis of who is entering and leaving the country is vital for effective policy-making and confidence-building. The International Passenger Survey (IPS) has proved to be inadequate for this purpose. We therefore welcome the reintroduction of exit checks and the publication of data on the exit rates in the study, visit and work visa categories. The exit checks programme has been shown to be an important source of data to use alongside the IPS survey and may help to improve public confidence in the immigration system. We recommend that the analysis of exit check data for visa holders be published quarterly alongside IPS immigration statistics. We also recommend that the Home Office examine how all entries and exits from major ports in the UK, including for non-visa travellers, can be recorded and that all entry and exit information is then used to aid the analysis of migration flow and to better inform policy decisions. (Paragraph 22)

4.The data captured by the decennial census is produced too infrequently to be valuable for measuring the impact of immigration on local areas. Beyond the extension of analysis based on entry and exit data, the Office for National Statistics should work with the Migration Advisory Committee, devolved governments and local authorities to develop regular and granular analyses of migration flows by local areas. (Paragraph 23)

5.The longstanding paucity of data of who may be in the country illegally is a serious concern. It has allowed anxiety to grow unchecked and has been perceived as the Government showing indifference toward an issue of high public interest. We recognise the Government’s concern that to create an official estimate of overall illegal immigration without any reliable evidence would not add value to the debate. However, we also believe that more analysis of the scale and nature of the problem of illegal immigration is needed in order to develop appropriate policy responses and reassure the public that the issue is being addressed seriously. The Government should use exit data, and other relevant sources of information, to produce an annual estimate of the number of people who have breached the rules in that year to remain in the UK. (Paragraph 26)

6.The data and advice that the Migration Advisory Committee has been asked to provide on the role of EU nationals in the UK economy and society is vital to the development of a successful immigration system and to building confidence in that system. We welcome the commissioning of the MAC to provide this vital evidence, but we do not understand why it took the Government more than 12 months from the referendum to commission this work or why such data is not collected by the Government as a matter of routine. The delay means that the White Paper on immigration, expected early this year, will have been drafted in an acknowledged evidence vacuum. It also means that when the Government begins negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, it will do so without knowing what it wants the UK’s future immigration arrangements with the EU to be or what the economy needs. We recommend that the MAC have a rolling commission to regularly collect and publish data on the relationship between the labour market and immigration. (Paragraph 29)

7.We call on the Government to be more proactive in challenging myths and inaccuracies about immigration and the asylum system, including by publishing more factual information about the costs and benefits of immigration at local and national levels. As we set out below, this could be achieved by an Annual Migration Report and debate. (Paragraph 31)

8.Members of the public, organisations and businesses need access to better information about migration flows and the Government’s policy approach to managing them. We believe that the Government should table an Annual Migration Report and set aside parliamentary time for debate on that report. The report would detail the previous year’s migration flows, the economic contribution from migration to the Exchequer and the measures taken by the Government to manage impacts and pressures. Like the Comprehensive Spending Review, it could set out a three-year plan which would then be reviewed annually. It would be informed by independent advice from the Migration Advisory Committee just as the Budget is informed by the Office for Budget Responsibility; and it would include public consultation at local and regional level. As we set out later in this report, it should cover targets or controls for different kinds of migration, an assessment of migration levels and consideration of policy requirements for different regions and nations, plans for integration and support for local communities, and parallel labour market plans to deal with skills shortages which are increasing demand for overseas workers or measures to deal with exploitation of low skilled migration. (Paragraph 36)

9.The Annual Migration Report would have an explicit objective towards consensus building, to which all parties should commit. It should become the focal point for a sustained and ongoing commitment to public engagement across the nations and regions of the UK. Migration plans should include measures to challenge misinformation and build trust, support and credibility. The Government should therefore actively seek submissions about its migration targets. Parliamentary committee hearings and public debates in town halls and other settings could scrutinise proposals and recommendations from civil society. The Government should be frank and open in recognising that policy-making involves compromise and that balancing competing interests means that no one can get everything they want. Adopting this approach would have the benefit of normalising a sustained, ongoing commitment to public engagement as part of the annual process of the oversight and review of immigration choices in the UK. (Paragraph 37)

Fair and clear rules need to be properly enforced

10.We welcome the Home Secretary’s commitment to simplifying immigration law and look forward to seeing tangible improvements. People are less likely to have confidence in a system which they cannot understand or access easily. These clearer rules should be underpinned by clear principles and values—reflecting for example the importance of contributing to the country and the economy, supporting family life, safeguarding security, meeting international humanitarian obligations, and the rights and responsibilities of those who come. Information needs to be provided in a clear, consistent and easily accessible format, especially online. We recommend that these principles are debated and set out clearly in the Annual Migration Reports. The procedures for making and scrutinising immigration rules and amendments to them require significant change to enhance consultation and parliamentary accountability. (Paragraph 41)

11.Our predecessors warned repeatedly about the need to improve the performance of the immigration system. The sheer number of people within the immigration system means that mistakes, particularly those based on inaccurate data, are highly unlikely ever to be eradicated completely. However, the impact of errors can be deeply damaging and traumatic for individuals and delays can leave families in limbo for long periods. The huge increase in delays in processing asylum applications are particularly worrying. The Home Office needs to do much more to reduce errors and to speed up accurate decision-making. We will examine the Home Office’s capacity to deliver effective immigration services in more detail in a separate report to be issued shortly. In the meantime, we urge the Home Office to do more to respond to the recommendations of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, and to improve quality assurance and the recruitment, training and retention of immigration officials. (Paragraph 44)

12.Immigration rules need to be enforced effectively if the unacceptable failures of the past, which have led to public anxiety over whether the system is fair, are to be avoided. There must be a much greater focus on early enforcement. Exit checks will assist in the detection of overstayers but more resources must be made available to support enforcement and action against those who knowingly employ people with no legal right to be in the country. (Paragraph 50)

13.We are concerned, in the context of budget cuts and evidence we have received about staffing gaps, to see reports that the Home Office is considering using volunteers to staff the border. We are alarmed by suggestions that volunteers might take on roles that should be carried out by full-time, trained staff, particularly when this involves protecting the integrity and security of the UK border. We will examine this issue in our forthcoming separate report on the capacity of the Home Office to deliver immigration services, which will include our assessment of the capacity of Border Force to fulfil its functions effectively. (Paragraph 51)

14.The Government should not rely on its “hostile environment” policy as a panacea for enforcement and building confidence, especially given the current concerns about accuracy and error. We are concerned that the policy is unclear and, in some instances, too open to interpretation and inadvertent error. Not only can these errors be deeply damaging and distressing to those involved—as with letters being sent to EU nationals about their right to live in the UK—they also undermine the credibility of the system. Recent high-profile reports of the Home office threatening to deport individuals based on inaccurate and untested information, and before an independent appeal process, risk undermining the credibility of the whole system. This is particularly worrying in advance of the need to register EU nationals in preparation for Brexit. (Paragraph 57)

15.It is clear there are serious deficiencies in the effectiveness and operation of detention at present. We are looking further at the use of immigration detention following the revelations of abuse at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre. We welcome the Government asking Stephen Shaw to follow up his 2016 report on the welfare of vulnerable people in detention and expect to consider this issue in more detail once he concludes his important work. (Paragraph 60)

16.The public need reassurance that criminal and security checks are properly embedded in the immigration system. The Government should set out the current criminal and security vetting procedures that people are subject to before their arrival in the UK. We recommend the Home Office reviews cross-agency practices for removing foreign national offenders, including where recent arrivals have received custodial sentences and are eligible for removal. (Paragraph 62)

There should be different approaches for different types of immigration

17.Evidence to our inquiry and from the National Conversation suggests that any approach that treats all migration as the same encourages polarisation of the debate. Treating different kinds of migration differently would reflect most people’s views of immigration, and allow for much greater consensus to be built into the debate, as well as for greater transparency over immigration policy in general. The Government should replace its net migration target with an evidence-based framework for different types of immigration that takes into account the UK’s needs and its international obligations to accept people, arising from both trade and humanitarian agreements. Different targets or controls for different kinds of migration should be set out in the Annual Migration Report, as part of a three-year migration plan. Doing so would allow for more specific consideration of the costs and benefits of immigration and might help to build greater consensus behind different approaches to different kinds of migration. (Paragraph 65)

18.International statistical rules require students to be included in the way migration is calculated but we do not believe that it is logical or in the best interests of the UK to include international students in a target based on restricting migration flow, given that they represent a large group of migrants who are in most part temporary and whom the Government is keen to encourage to come to the UK. There should be no national target to restrict the numbers of students coming to the UK. As a minimum, the Government should remove immediately student migration from the net migration target. (Paragraph 70)

19.In calling for more international students to come and study in the UK, universities must be mindful of local impacts of large numbers of students and work with local authorities to help manage pressures on housing and public services. Universities should be expected to consult local authorities on future student numbers in their area. (Paragraph 72)

20.There should be no diminution in the UK’s approach towards its international humanitarian obligations as it leaves the European Union. The UK has a proud tradition in providing support to those fleeing persecution and the principle has widespread public support. The principle of asylum—with the internationally recognised degree of evidence required—must be upheld. The Government should make every effort to honour its existing commitments to bring unaccompanied children from Europe and elsewhere, both as part of the Dubs scheme and the Dublin III Regulation but also through family reunion routes within and outside the Immigration Rules. (Paragraph 77)

21.We recommend that the Government does more to challenge public misconceptions about people seeking asylum. In particular, a much clearer differentiation must be made between asylum and migration for other reasons. Clear public information should be provided on the entitlements, rights and number of asylum-seekers compared with other migrants to combat myths. A failure to do so risks harming support for asylum and refugee policy. As a minimum, people who enter the UK for humanitarian purposes should not be included in headline figures of net migration including, while it remains in use, the net migration target. (Paragraph 78)

22.The success of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme shows that a well-managed and well-funded refugee resettlement scheme attracts strong support. A resettlement scheme along similar lines to the Syrian VPRS should be established on a permanent basis, in collaboration with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which would apply to refugees from other countries. (Paragraph 79)

23.Much of the evidence we received for this inquiry called for immigration policy and those responsible for its administration to be more sensitive to the rights of families and children, particularly where there was evidence—beyond the salary of the key sponsor—that they would be able to support themselves. Fees, requirements for regular visa extensions and salary thresholds and qualifying periods are just some of the barriers that we were told prevented people from being able to live a settled life in the UK. We believe that striving to meet the best interests of families and children should be at the heart of immigration policy. We urge the Home Office to take note of these concerns and review the impact of its policies on families and children. (Paragraph 82)

Immigration should work for the economic and social interests of the UK and its citizens

24.The public need reassurance that the contributory principle is embedded in the immigration system to address concerns that some people might be attracted to the UK because of our system of welfare. As part of the Annual Migration Report which we have recommended, the Government should set out the details of the expected contributions and entitlements of new arrivals in the UK in the different immigration categories. (Paragraph 86)

25.We note that there are a range of views on the potential trade-offs between immigration and global trade policy. We have not yet considered the options for a specific migration policy towards EEA citizens post-Brexit, but expect to do so when the Government publishes its forthcoming immigration White Paper. (Paragraph 87)

26.We support the idea that the immigration system should treat different skills differently. There is also clear public support for the continued supply of high-skilled (not just highly-paid) workers to provide skills that are needed in the economy. Immigration rules should allow UK businesses and organisations easily to attract top talent in internationally competitive fields, and restrictions and controls should focus more on low-skilled migration. (Paragraph 90)

27.We recommend that policy on immigration for work purposes be linked to strategies for improving investment in domestic skills and training with the target of reducing dependency on migrant labour. For skilled jobs where there are shortages or high levels of recruitment from abroad, there should be a joint plan on skills and migration set out in the Annual Migration Report. Government should draw up a three-year rolling plan with businesses, trade unions, training sectors, devolved governments and local councils which identifies the level of immigration needed to fill skills gaps in the short term, but only alongside a clear vision of and commitment to investment to increase domestic training and skills in sectors and regions where this is needed. For example, nurses are currently categorised as a ‘shortage occupation’ for the purposes of non-EU immigration policy. In the case of nursing, easier access to labour in the short-term should be accompanied by a plan to increase nurse training places and domestic recruitment over the next three years. In the cases of, for example, computing skills and construction, the awarding of work permits should be linked to sectoral agreements setting out commitments to training. (Paragraph 92)

28.The Government should consider a new Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme as there is already evidence that access to UK and EEA labour markets is insufficient to meet current demand. The objective of any such scheme would be to meet labour and skills shortages in the sector. (Paragraph 97)

29.For low skilled jobs where recruitment is heavily reliant on workers from abroad, the MAC should assess how far this is because of poor pay, terms and conditions, agency working or location, and therefore what kinds of new restrictions and controls are needed to prevent undercutting and exploitation. (Paragraph 99)

30.We welcome the provision of further powers and resources to the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) (formerly the Gangmasters Licensing Authority). However, we recommend the Government considers further reforms to strengthen the GLAA and expand its remit, including considering an increase in regulated sectors where GLAA licences are required. We also recommend that enforcement of labour market standards is included in the Annual Migration Report, so that Parliament can consider the efficacy of the GLAA reforms and monitor its activities. (Paragraph 102)

Action is needed to address the impact of immigration on local communities

31.It is imperative that the work of the Controlling Migration Fund (CMF) is visible and locally accountable if it is to overcome the perceived weaknesses of its predecessor scheme, the Migration Impacts Fund (MIF). We are unconvinced, however, that the scope of the CMF is sufficient to address the additional pressures that rapid increases in population as a result of immigration can place on local public services or that conventional channels of public spending are sufficiently responsive to such increased demands. We recommend that proper assessment is made of both the positive benefits and negative pressures of immigration on public services. This assessment should form part of the Annual Migration Report, and lead to recommendations for additional funding to be made explicitly available to local authorities where immigration has demonstrably led to an increased demand for public services. The Government should also guard against allowing immigration to be blamed for wider funding pressures on public services—including by challenging misinformation and ensuring appropriate funding for public services is in place. (Paragraph 110)

32.Initial applications to the CMF show that the problem of rogue landlords letting overcrowded accommodation blights communities across the country. We do not believe the Controlling Migration Fund alone will be sufficient to tackle this problem. The Government should put in place, and actively enforce, much stronger regulation of houses of multiple occupation. (Paragraph 111)

33.We recommend that funding for English language courses should be separate from the Controlling Migration Fund and should be restored to previous levels. The ability to speak English has been identified in opinion surveys as a key factor in effective integration of migrants and we agree that it makes an essential contribution in this respect. We are concerned that the Controlling Migration Fund is currently being used to mitigate the impact of cuts in public funding for English-language training elsewhere in the system. Changing the source of funding for English language courses would allow more CMF funding to be used on projects of tangible benefit to resident populations, which may feel their concerns have so far been largely ignored at a national level. (Paragraph 116)

34.Efforts by proactive local authorities are essential to tackling at source the problems caused by a lack of integration. We support the recommendation of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration that local authorities should develop local integration strategies. On an annual basis, local authorities should report the economic, civic and social barriers to integration in their areas and make recommendations for action, including measures to tackle anti-social behaviour and hate crime. They should also be more proactive in tackling immigration myths in their areas to prevent prejudices from taking hold. (Paragraph 119)

35.The findings and recommendations of local integration strategies should feed directly into the Annual Migration Report. The Government should develop a national integration strategy as part of its three-year migration plans, with the explicit goal of supporting local councils, to address the concerns they raise and following up the recommendations of the Casey Review. (Paragraph 120)

36.People are more likely to integrate if they are staying for longer. Greater churn of people is harder for community relations. The Government should ensure that immigration rules do not simply encourage higher levels of temporary migration at the expense of long term settlement and commitment to this country. It should review pathways to settlement and citizenship to encourage greater certainty for applicants and promote integration. (Paragraph 123)

37.We note that much of the British public want a say over the volume and type of immigration in their own area, while recognising that different priorities exist in different parts of the country. However, it is also clear that any regionally-specific migration policy raises concerns about enforcement and public scepticism about whether it is workable and, as we set out earlier in this report, credibility on enforcement is a crucial part of building broader consensus on immigration. However, we note that the changes to entry and exit checks alongside the ‘hostile environment’ might make that enforcement easier for certain kinds of visas, for example making it harder for someone with a study visa for a university in Scotland to live or work in Wales. (Paragraph 131)

38.A future immigration system needs to work effectively for all parts of the UK. It is helpful that the Government has included regional distribution in the work it has commissioned from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to examine the role EU nationals play in the UK economy and society. The MAC’s intention to engage with stakeholders across the UK as part of this work is welcome, and we look forward to reviewing its findings when they are published later this year. An assessment should also be made of what kinds of enforcement are possible on a regional basis. Until the MAC concludes its work and that assessment has been done, the Government should be open-minded to a future immigration system that allows for different regional approaches to immigration. (Paragraph 132)

12 January 2018