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The rules cover several areas. Taken together, they have the effect of tightening our immigration control and clarifying key provisions, and they will come into effect on 27 November. I shall briefly describe the most important provisions before going on to answer the points made by noble Lords during the debate.
The rules will enable us to implement two of the most important parts of the points-based system for managed migration from outside the European economic area. We are introducing the points-based system to ensure that only migrants that the UK needs will be able to work and study here.
This new system will create a more efficient, transparent and objective application process. It will improve compliance and reduce scope for abuse. The process of overhauling the UK immigration system began earlier this year with the launch of the points system for highly skilled migrants. The points-based system is about getting the right people the country needs and no more. It is a flexible system in which the Government can raise or lower the bar depending on the needs of the labour market, as advised by the independent Migration Advisory Committee, and the country as a whole, taking account of views and evidence from the Migration Impacts Forum.
Secondly, the rules clarify the route for business visitors to come to this country. They do so by creating a new business and special visitor category making it clear exactly what people who come to the UK on business, and for the other purposes covered, can do. These changes have developed following public consultation and in partnership with key stakeholders.
Thirdly, we are raising the minimum age of a spouse and their sponsor for a marriage visa from 18 to 21. Notwithstanding what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds said, we believe it to be important to protect young people from being forced into relationships that they do not want at a time in their lives when they could be establishing a degree of independence as an adult through further education or work. It is interesting that information from the Forced Marriage Unit shows that the highest number of forced marriage cases dealt with in the period 2005-08 involved those aged 18, of which there were 72 cases, followed by those aged 17 and 19, of which there were 68 cases each. This is an important measure. We believe that raising the age will provide an opportunity for individuals to develop maturity and life skills and to complete their education. It may also allow them to resist the pressure of being forced into marriage. It will delay sponsorship for marriage until the age of 21 and allow vulnerable young people an opportunity to seek help and advice.
I shall now respond to the points made. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, spoke of the burden on smaller businesses. We are moving towards a more transparent and objective system, which will enable employers to recruit the migrants they need. To recruit workers from outside the EU, employers must be registered as sponsors with the UK Border Agency. With sponsorship
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The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned that maintenance requirements act as a barrier to non-OECD countries. Maintenance is set at £800, which is the sum required for the UK. The value of that sum outside the UK is not quite so important. We have listened to concerns from stakeholders, including employers and lawyers, and now allow A-rated sponsors to provide a written undertaking for migrants on maintenance. We have also listened to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and have extended that provision to migrants dependants. It is now possible for migrants to meet the maintenance requirements to come to the UK without showing that they have savings.
I am aware that the issue of sponsored researchers is a difficult one. It was raised by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Norton and Lord Bew, and noble Baronesses, Lady Williams and Lady Sharp. I have genuine sympathy as I understand the difficulties. There has been no intention directly to replace every route within the current system, but we felt that the five-tier framework broadly provides routes of entry to allow a continuation of activities benefit for the UK. In that context, I have already had discussions with the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. I know that she will have another discussion with my honourable friend Phil Woolas. I understand that she had a meeting with No. 10, the outcome of which I do not know as yet. Whether there will be any change as a result, I am not sure, but we are sympathetic to the concerns that have been put forward.
Until yesterday, we were not persuaded that amending the policy for the framework of tier 5temporary workers and those whom the Government authorised in the same subcategory to cater for that groupwould be conducive to maintaining our robust immigration controls more generally. The safeguards put in place for Government-authorised exchange are particularly important as many participants will be coming to the UK essentially to work, but unlike in other parts of the system, they will not need to meet stringent tests on expected earnings or a minimum standard of the English language before entry to the UK.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, as I understand it, the problem is that that would open up this issue to a raft of other areas. We would burst into masses of independent people being sponsors rather than an organisation doing it. For example, footballers coming to this country are sponsored by the Football Association, not by Leeds United, Birmingham City, or some other club. It would open up that problem. Having said that,
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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, is it not fairly clear that a university has the best awareness of its needs for the research that it and universities in other countries are conducting? A quango cannot, by the nature of things, understand the kind, depth and leading edge of research, particularly in fields such as medicine, biology and other sciences that require foreign researchers to complement what is being done in this country. A quango will not have the sensitivity that is needed for leading-edge research. The Minister has always shown an enlightened and independent attitude towards some of the things that he is given to read out. Can he reconsider whether this area should be looked at again by the Government? The UK Border Agency cannot be the right place to decide where research is advanced and with whom it is best advanced.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, whatever is picked as the central bodywhen I first got involved in this, I hoped that it might be UUKjust co-ordinates. The detail of the requirement would come from the universities. I realise that this is a sensitive issue. I do not know what came out of the debate at No. 10. I will have a look at this and see whether any move can be made in this area. I shall write to noble Lords who were involved in the debate on this point. That is the best I can do at the moment. As for the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, I shall get back to him in writing.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the fast-track guidance on the website. We have recently updated our website with information about our premium service as well as with further guidance for business visitors, including about permissible activities. The noble Lord probably went on to the website some time ago when it was not really
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I understand that it has now been updated and that the information on the premium service is there. The noble Lord said that it was not there this morning, so either I will shoot my Box or it is it right. I shall check and come back to the noble Lord.
The business visitor guidance on permissible activities is now available on the website. It sets out a list of what are to be regarded as permissible activities to help visitors understand what they can and cannot do. We accept that the provision for business visitors/secondees needs clarification. We made clear in the guidance the circumstances in which that applies. The provision is very specific and is for a situation that is not covered by the points-based system; namely, where a UK company wins a contract to provide an overseas company with goods or a service abroad and there is no corporate relationship between the two companies.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, just to make sure there is no misunderstanding, I was trying to find the definition of permissible activities on the website this morning. I can assure the Minister that that has still not appeared.
On the soft launch, which the noble Lord raised, UKBA will be pragmatic and understanding on the arrangements. We will offer support and advice on what needs to be done, rather than immediately punishing minor breaches. We want the system to work for sponsors. We are not looking to make an example of employers who make honest mistakes. We want the new system to work properly and achieve what we hope for.
The issue of domestic workers is sensitive, and I understand the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury and my noble friend Lady Turner. With regard to private servants, we have been in close contact with missions, which are aware of how the arrangements will work. To cut a very long briefing note down, we are committed to ensuring that future arrangements concerning those workers minimise any risk of abuse or exploitation. The current route for domestic workers in private households is being preserved, and then reviewed, as appropriate, after the first two years of operation of the new system, when we have properly road-tested our anti-trafficking strategy to try to get round the problem. If I have not said enough on that, I can get back in writing with more detail.
Moving on to ministers of religion and the Buddhist monks, there are provisions for religious workers in the new points-based system. They can enter either in tier 2 or in tier 5. I understand that officials have discussed the matter with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the chair of the Theravada Buddhist Sangha in the UK and will continue to engage with them on the issue. Buddhist monks will be able to use tier 2 if they meet the English language requirement, or tier 5 if they cannot. I was not aware that if they are in tier 5, they are not allowed to do chanting or pastoral work. I will follow that up with the UKBA and see what the issue is there. I know that it is in dialogue with the noble Lord and we will see where that goes.
On the points raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, we have worked very closely with the churches on the PBS and will continue to engage with them to ensure that we have found the right route. My noble friend Lady Turner talked about good employees. PBS sponsorship is a much stronger control than we have today. There is no formal licence or vetting of employers under the present work permit arrangements, but all who are PBS-sponsored are
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The new youth mobility scheme will be fairer than the schemes that it replaces because, unlike the WHM scheme, the au pair scheme, and so on, it will be open to the nationals of any country that satisfies the criteria. The criteria for the scheme are clear. They will always be applied transparently. Countries participating in the scheme will therefore understand what they have to do. We will be happy to talk with any country at any time about the criteria and what needs to be done to meet them.
I know that abolishing the retired persons route is a difficult and thorny issue. We consider that the retired persons route, if retained, would allow migrants to enter the UK and remain here without necessarily having earned that right. That would give them a distinct advantage over other migrants. We will, however, continue to allow a parent or grandparent aged 65 or over to come to the UK if they are financially dependent on the relative who is present and settled in the UK and have no close relatives in their country. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord on ICTs.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, raised the issue of sponsor licences, on which I said that I would write back. I am sorry that that letter has not yet reached her; sometimes these things take longer than I would like them to, and the facts change. So far, 6,300 applications have been made and 3,500-plus licences have been issued to more than 2,200 employers. One can see that it is on a rather larger scale than the noble Baroness was led to believe by whoever gave her that figure.
We have promoted this through a TV campaign, radio advertisements, newspaper advertisements, trade journals, and hundreds of events, which the UK Border Agency has organised or contributed to. We have extra website content and a mailshot to 60,000 employees who have to work that system.
I hope that I have answered all the questions asked. If not, I ask noble Lords to get back to me and I will write to them separately. I hope that, in the light of the arguments made today, the noble Lord will withdraw his Motion.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am afraid that I am not going to withdraw the Motion, for the reasons that have been thoroughly ventilated. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, says that she is not coming with us into the Division Lobby. Nevertheless, she said that she believes that the Government should scrutinise these rules more thoroughly in the Home Office. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said that the changes should be further discussed. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds said that he hoped we would disapprove the changes.
We are not against the points-based system as such but against the botched way in which these changes have been introduced. The Minister did not clear this up in his reply. We are grateful to him for the one concession that he made on dependants. This will be very useful, but it is a drop in the bucket compared with the criticisms that have been expressed by your
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The centre of the discussion has been the muddle over the universities, which the Minister has not cleared up. Although he told us that there were discussions between the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and the Prime Minister at No. 10we are pleased to hear thatwe must decide on the rules this evening. If we pass them, I do not know how the Minister will make provision for the universities to license research workers, for example, or find some other way of allowing them to enter in the large gap that must inevitably occur between now and the establishment of the umbrella organisation. He says that that organisation might be Universities UK. However, we have been told that it definitely does not want to do this, and there are very good reasons why it should not do so. We are therefore left with the problem that if we allow the rules to go through in their present form, the whole structure through which research workers come in from overseas will grind to a halt. We also find, as I explained, that the same is true of medical graduates coming in to work in PCTs who have hitherto been authorised by the work permits issued to the PCTs.
In view of the fact that the Government have not thought through the scheme and need an opportunity to amend it in the light of the criticisms expressed this evening, I wish to press the Motion to a Division.
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