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I echo the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh. Further problems relate to the 21,700 annual limit-1,000 for tier 1 exceptional talent visas and 20,700 for tier 2 visas-as it applies only to 2011-12. Draconian as this 20 per cent reduction is, I understand that the limit is likely to be reduced further for 2012-13 to facilitate reductions in net migration, so the future availability of visas will definitely be an ongoing issue. I believe that the creation of the tier 1 exceptional talent route for people in the sciences, academia and arts is a welcome recognition of the arguments put forward by Universities UK and other organisations about the importance of international mobility to higher education and research. However, the arbitrary cap of 1,000 visas a year for this route is very peculiar as talent is rather difficult to quantify and discriminate between on a numerical basis. It is also unclear exactly how exceptional talent will be judged and what steps will be taken to ensure that emerging as well as established talent is recognised. Who will judge? I hope it is not UK Border Agency staff. Their record on understanding even the basics of our higher education system has, as we have heard today, caused real problems in recent years.
There are also practical problems with the UK Border Agency's belief that visa demands nationally remain relatively steady month by month and that high demands in certain sectors at given times will be balanced out by lower demand in others. This is absolutely not true of the higher education sector, which is inevitably highly cyclical, with the vast majority of posts starting at the beginning of the academic year in the autumn. I cannot see this being balanced out elsewhere.
In addition, the quota now given to universities and research institutes under the points-based system is damagingly tight. For example, under the new quota system the University of Bedfordshire, which has over 1,000 staff, makes a contribution to its local economy of £270 million a year, and is perhaps not the top of most people's thoughts about an intensive research university, was allocated a quota of two. This was used up in employing two outstanding professors in the first month of the year.
My own employer, the University of East Anglia, and across the Norwich Research Park, is experiencing the negative impact that this is having on key appointments whereby first-rate brains from outside the EU are
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As a result of this ill thought through visa system, the best academics are likely to have job offers and opportunities available to them in other parts of the world. Will they go elsewhere due to delays in obtaining a visa to come to the UK to take up a post? We rightly worry about the brain drain from the UK, but these proposals will discourage the best academics from coming here and might turn our higher education sector into a backwater instead of being globally competitive.
The proposed structure of the new system might mean that employers suffer delays and uncertainties in the issuing of certificates of sponsorship for visas. I end by quoting from correspondence that I have had with Dr Oren Scherman, the Harrison-Meldola Prize winner for 2009 and an inorganic chemist working in supramolecular polymers, a highly specialised area of research excellence. He highlights how the nuts and bolts of the visa system seem to be designed to fail applicants at every turn, even when their finance is provided by EU funding specifically because they are exceptional overseas researchers. He says:
"The first application for a Certificate of Sponsorship by the University to the UK Border Agency at the Home Office appeared to take longer than usual and then the visa application by the post-doc was denied because apparently the wording on the letter confirming maintenance from the university was incorrect at that time although it had been acceptable for another candidate a few months earlier. We were told that the rules for visas had changed between the University application to the Home Office and the completion of the post-doc's visa application in India. We then had to go through the process of rewriting the support letter and applying to the Home Office and the candidate applying for his visa, a second time. This points-based system seems very complex and the delays we incurred caused the Post-Doc to wait in India, unpaid, for at least four months, during which time he almost took up the offer of another position in India. I had to persuade him then that we were really keen on employing him in Cambridge although the delays must have suggested otherwise".
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for instigating this debate. I hope that the Government can review the whole system as a matter of urgency, because it is clearly ludicrous, and for it to be easier to recruit professional footballers from overseas than the professors and researchers that our country so badly needs makes this country a laughing stock.
Baroness Bakewell: I offer my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for instigating this pressing debate. I rise to join my voice to those of others in expressing my most extreme concern as to how the points-based system of issuing visas to visiting
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I speak with the experience of the National Campaign for the Arts behind me. I was its chair when this problem first loomed on the horizon, and when I ceased to be chair last year the problem was still with us, and getting worse. From the very first moment when the points-based system was mooted, the NCA brought to the attention of the immigration authorities what it would mean for the arts. They were genuinely surprised, as it simply had not occurred to them the scale of ongoing problems that the PBS would cause.
International performers and artists are a vital part of our internationally renowned UK arts scene. In a recent survey of the NCA's 550 members, including everyone from the Royal Shakespeare Company, the leading orchestras, the Sage, the Tate, the Lowry, and so on, 76 per cent had hosted artists from outside the EEA in the past two years, and 55 per cent considered it essential to their business. No other activity is so instantly global in its reach: music, painting, dance, sculpture, mime and even circus all transcend language, and performances and performers are interchangeable across sovereign frontiers. Indeed, it is one of the glories of the arts that they transcend frontiers and reach immediately into the hearts of all people.
These visa problems are not occasional, but the daily nightmares of concert planners and managers across the country. It does not have to be so but, in fact, it is threatening to get worse. More and more UK consular posts overseas are withdrawing their visa services. Los Angeles is closing its visa section and all applications now have to be processed via New York. The length of time it takes, when time is of the essence, is getting longer. Dusseldorf closed its office on 1 March, and now all applicants in Germany have their passports and support documents shipped to the UK and back for visa processing. Some artists enter the UK to take up the offer of long-term employment. The listing of ballet, contemporary dancers and orchestral musicians on the shortage occupation lists has been very encouraging. However, the recent imposition of an immigration cap with those now seeking to enter under tier 2 needing to demonstrate degree-level qualifications is quite inappropriate. The arts are not like that: they do not operate on conventional and business models. Innate ability and naturally blossoming talent is often the most precious thing an artist can have, which others wish to enjoy; academic qualifications do not necessarily come into it at all. Records of sustained employment do not fit either. Even the most outstanding performers rarely have careers of non-stop working; artists are freelances. Their earning patterns may be wayward and erratic and are certainly no guide to their talent. So the new criteria are squeezing artists doubly hard.
The world of art is international: its practitioners speak to each other, exchange gossip and advice, career hints and touring tips. The reputation of Britain is high in their estimation for our venues, our audiences and our enthusiasm. It is damaged around the world
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Lord Rosser: My Lords, I add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on securing this debate on an issue which has provoked and continues to provoke much interest and concern, as all the contributions to this debate have highlighted.
The Motion we are considering asks the Government what assessment they have made of the points-based visa system introduced in November 2008 as it affects non-EU artists, performers, academics and others intending to work in the UK. I am sure we all wait to see whether the Minister has anything new to say on that score on behalf of the Government. There have already been assessments made, one of which, by Alasdair Murray, a senior adviser at Quiller Consultants, was helpfully provided in the briefing pack made available prior to this debate, as the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, said. I mention that since some of my comments reflect that assessment which, I hasten to add, was not exactly uncritical of the previous Government and the 2008 points-based system.
Three years ago, the previous Government created a new points-based migration system for selecting non-EU economic migrants, under which potential immigrants can gain a work or student visa only if they meet a points test which considers a number of laid-down factors such as income, education level and language skills. The intended purpose of the points-based system was to provide an objective and transparent measure of a migrant's potential contribution to meeting the needs of this country's economy. A points-based system was not an untried approach since Australia, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Singapore, Hong Kong, Denmark and now the United Kingdom have all introduced one in the past 20 or so years.
The assessment by Mr Murray was that the new system had been, in some ways, a success with non-EU economic migrants having high labour market participation rates and making a net positive contribution to public spending. However, he also said that the new tier system was superficially simple, with both the previous and the present Government being,
In the case of the present Government, the tinkering he refers to is the commitment to a cap on non-EU economic migrants-an example of top-down state intervention in the economy and society, which the Government have claimed to be against.
A points-based system has to have rules. That, in the eyes of some, leads to inflexibility not least in respect of non-standard qualifications or expertise in the academic field and the world of the arts-areas specifically referred to in the Motion we are discussing. The present Government's interim cap and intended permanent cap will certainly reduce the flexibility of the system since, subject to what the Minister may say, the cap is a fixed figure rather than, for example, a target range with a minimum and a maximum. Businesses and universities, as my noble friend Lord Parekh
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With their cap on non-EU economic migrants and their objective of reducing overall migration levels to "tens of thousands", the Government clearly want to be seen as actively discouraging migration and reducing the overall number of migrants. On the other hand, they want to maintain high-skilled migration as part of the open British economy. There appears at present to be a conflict between the two objectives, with even Ministers on record as expressing concern about the economic dangers of an inflexible cap.
Reducing overall migration levels to tens of thousands means halving net migration from its 2009 level. The Government will be dependent on a cut in non-EU economic migration to achieve this goal, even though non-EU economic migration represents just a third of all migration to the UK. Achieving the Government's objective of reducing overall migration levels to tens of thousands is going to be dependent not on the cap on non-EU migration but on the net emigration of British citizens, which has fallen in the past few years, and the movement in and out of EU citizens, as well as the impact of the Government's exemption from the cap of intra-company transfers, which could lead to a rise in numbers that would affect the Government's objective of reducing overall migration levels.
The main issue with the Government's cap is that it appears arbitrary rather than based on hard evidence that it is the figure that is in the best interests of the country economically and socially. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what the evidence is that led the Government to believe that the cap they are implementing is the right figure. Will he also say what will happen if the cap is reached before the month or year concerned has ended? If it means that people who would have qualified for entry will not do so as a result, does that not create potential uncertainty and problems for employers wanting to take on non-EU staff?
The curb on tier 1 has led to complaints from science and research-based firms and institutions that Britain's international pre-eminence in many fields and long-term competitiveness will be damaged. Do the Government share that view? If not, what is it that they consider such firms and institutions have misunderstood? An investigation by the Migration Advisory Committee showed that 90 per cent of entrants via the tier 1 general route were in employment, and 90 per cent of these were in highly skilled work.
The Government have indicated that they want to tighten the rules for the student visa system, though it appears from press reports that the Minister responsible is still "fuzzy" about how to do it. It is questionable that even a drastic cut in student numbers would lead to anything other than a short-term decline in net migration figures, since evidence suggests that the vast majority leave the country at the end of their courses; thus, over a period of five years, those leaving will closely match those coming in. However, a reduction
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Concern has also been expressed by writers and other artists-as has been said, a petition was presented to the previous Government shortly before the election-about the operation of the points-based system. Discussions have continued to take place with UK Border Agency officials under the new Administration. Writers and other artists enter the United Kingdom under tier 4 for students or tier 5 for temporary workers. The argument being made by non-EU writers and other artists is that they are normally only visiting the UK for a few days or weeks, have no right to government benefits during their visit and have no impact on net migration into the UK. Yet the time taken to process an application discourages such cultural visitors from coming to this country, and examples have been quoted today of internationally acclaimed artists being denied a visa under the points-based system or simply failing to receive one in time. The UKBA has a certificate of sponsorship scheme but it is apparently regarded as bureaucratic and expensive particularly for smaller organisations.
No doubt the Minister will be commenting on that issue, and on any government plans for addressing the concerns of writers and other artists, when he responds. Perhaps he could tell the House what the figures are on the numbers of writers and other artists entering the UK before and after the introduction of the points-based system. This situation, if the Government accept that what we are told is happening is not an inaccurate picture, will do nothing to enhance the cultural life of this country, nor will it do anything for our international reputation in the creative and cultural industries that form an important sector for us, both in terms of jobs and financially. However, the fixed cap that the Government have introduced on non-EU migrants will only exacerbate the position for non-EU writers and other artists. Perhaps the Minister could comment on that aspect too.
I assume that the Government will be reflecting on the concerns expressed in this debate. They are clearly wedded to reducing net migration to "tens of thousands". Their efforts to achieve that goal, however, with the introduction of this rigid, inflexible and damaging cap for which there is no hard evidence to justify the figure chosen, risk causing considerable harm to the British economy, not least in the areas that have been highlighted today.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for asking his QSD. However, I would have found a three-hour debate much better for me, as it would have given me longer to answer your Lordships' questions.
Let me begin by making it clear that this Government recognise and value highly the contribution made to our society, culture and economy by non-EU artists, performers and academics. I will set my response in
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This debate focuses on the points-based system under which foreign nationals come here to work, study or train. There are distinct tiers to the PBS, designed for different skill levels and entry purposes. Tier 1 is for exceptionally talented individuals. Tier 2 is for skilled workers with a job offer, usually longer term. Artists, performers and academics would be able to qualify under both tiers, provided that the requirements and criteria are met.
We have started reforming these tiers. We are creating an exceptional talent route in tier 1. This will allow competent bodies to nominate the most exceptionally talented migrants and allow promising young talent to come to the UK for at least three years without the need of a job offer, although many will have one. This will be limited to 1,000 places, with half for the scientific community, led by the Royal Society. The main route for academic and research staff will be under tier 2, subject to the limit that we announced last November. If this is oversubscribed, applications will be ranked, with applications weighted for those coming to fill PhD-level research jobs. In addition, we are raising the minimum skills level, which will reduce numbers at the lower end, creating more room for the most economically valuable. Through these changes we shall attract the brightest and best, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Brinton. It is not about closing our doors; it is about a more selective approach in the interests of Britain.
Then there is tier 5, which provides for temporary workers. This tier has a category specifically for artists and performers coming here for shorter periods of up to a year: the creative and sporting category. Most foreign creative artists and performers are likely to be entering through tier 5 if their purpose here is short-term, paid work. For academic activities, the tier 5 government-authorised exchange category provides for a rich variety of schemes involving academic exchange. These include the Chevening programme for scholars and researchers; the Commonwealth exchange programme for teachers; the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience scheme, enabling foreign science, engineering and applied arts graduates to gain experience through work placements; and the UK-India education and research initiative. There are several other such schemes that support and nourish academic endeavour.
Some believe that the PBS prevents the entry of legitimate overseas artists or academics. We do not accept that view, nor are we aware of evidence to
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Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. We are somewhat flabbergasted by his statement that there is no evidence, as he has heard evidence from all round the Chamber today. Has the task force's report been published?
I was talking about the entertainer visitor route, which allows entertainers to come here for up to six months without doing so under the PBS. This route is principally used to facilitate those performing at cultural festivals. An academic visitor route enables foreign academics to conduct personal research or participate in formal academic exchange. Exceptionally, in comparison to all other visitor routes, such academics may come for 12 months.
An important indicator that the system does not obstruct is the simple fact that significant numbers of visas are applied for and issued every month to those coming here under these routes. For example, in 2009 an average of around 500 visas a month were issued to creative and sporting applicants and in 2010 that increased by 30 per cent to an average of 650 a month.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and other noble Lords referred to several individual cases, on which I am not in a position to comment. Noble Lords should write to me to enable the cases to be reviewed by Ministers as part of the machinery of government, which I am sure all noble Lords understand. However, I do not object to noble Lords quoting cases to illustrate the problem as they perceive it.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in his good Front-Bench contribution, asked what would happen if the cap were breached after nine months. It will not be, as our limit will be split on a monthly basis and we will have about 1,500 places per month. It will not run out early. Many noble Lords said that the cap was arbitrary. However, we were advised by the independent Migration Advisory Committee, which is the right body to advise on this. The MAC is an independent committee comprising some of the UK's top labour market economists. It advises the Government on economic migration matters, including the level of the Government's limit on tiers 1 and 2, shortage occupations-jobs for which there is an endemic national shortage-and other matters put forward by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, suggested that sponsors are unhappy with reporting on their migrants and having a surveillance role, as I think he put it. The points-based system is based on the principle that those who benefit from migration to the UK should
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Earl Attlee: Absolutely, that is why we have the highly trusted sponsor system, which most universities will be signed up to. The real abuse occurs in the fake language schools and accountancy schools.
I was talking about the festival visa routes. Specific proposals can always be considered, but the present visa is intentionally narrow and is not intended to provide an alternative route for entertainers who are coming here to do paid work. The noble Earl asked about modifying the certificate of sponsorship scheme to help smaller organisations to invite artists to the UK. It is not accepted that the system of PBS sponsorship represents a bureaucracy that is particularly acute for small organisations. The online process for a sponsor licence should take approximately 30 minutes to complete.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said that there ought to be an urgent review of the system. I suggest that she considers the praise that the Home Office received when our tier 2 policy was announced. The CBI and British Chambers of Commerce praised the Government for listening. The Campaign for Science and Engineering, a good adviser to the Home Office, expressed its delight.
The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, suggested that many in the social sciences, philosophy and so on do not earn £40,000. I fear that there might be a misunderstanding. The £40,000 requirement will apply to intracompany transfers for periods of more than 12 months. A scientist or philosopher will enter generally through tier 2. Here they must be paid at least £20,000 per annum, and if they are not earning £20,000 per annum it is not clear to me how they will support themselves.
I am running out of time. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, described how some customers must travel long distances to submit their visa applications. The UKBA keeps this matter under constant review and is looking at ways to provide a facility to make it easier in some areas for customers to provide their biometric details.
The noble Lord asked about a survey of PBS applicants. The results of the survey he mentioned were published and I will write to him with the details. In brief, the majority of applicants found the applications easy to complete and that the decisions were received in a timely manner.
The noble Lord suggested that the points-based system is designed to manage long-term migration and that applying the same system to short-term cultural visits was inappropriate. The assertion that the points-based system is designed to manage only long-term migration is not correct. While economic migration was the focus, the clear intention when the system was introduced was that it should cover all routes by which foreign nationals enter the UK to work, train or study.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, suggested that additional pressure was put on tier 2 when we closed tier 1 general. I disagree. Tier 2 will become a graduate occupation route from 6 April. Tightening the route in this way will release pressure.
My noble friend Lord Bridgeman asked whether the position of nurses had changed as a result of the Migration Advisory Committee's announcement of 3 March. There is no change. The Government have neither accepted nor rejected the MAC's shortage occupation list. He mentioned the cost of registration with the NMC, of the ONP course and of the international English language test, and suggested that the overall cost would be about £2,000. The UK Border Agency has no control over the cost of registering with the NMC, or over the ONP cost. My noble friend spoke about the cost of the English language test in relation to Australia, New Zealand and Canada. This is not an issue because these countries are English-speaking and we do not expect English nationals to pass this exam.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, made a very strong contribution on the university sector. In particular, she suggested that our system of immigration is making it less attractive to study here. The Government have been clear that high-quality students will continue to be welcome in the UK. I recognise the particular issues around foundation courses. These were considered in detail when we consulted on student policy, and we will announce that policy in due course.
I have completely run out of time. I have left many points unanswered. I will of course write to all noble Lords who have taken part. I will also draw to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State the strength of feeling in your Lordships' House. However, the Government will regain control of our immigration system.
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