The government will ensure that the UK maximises the benefits of immigration, Immigration Minister Damian Green has said.
Speaking to the Royal Commonwealth Society last night, the minister commented that the UK has always benefited from immigration, but 'will only continue to do so if it is properly controlled'. He added:
'This means that the unsustainable levels of net migration seen in recent years must be brought down.'
He said the government is determined to make decisions based on evidence, which is why it has just released new a research report called 'The migrant journey'.
The report analyses the behaviour of immigrants who came to the UK in 2004 through all managed routes except visitor routes. It reveals that the largest group of migrants were students, with around 186,000 granted visas. More than 20 per cent of them were still in the UK 5 years later.
The minister said:
'We need to understand more clearly why a significant proportion of students are still here more than 5 years after their arrival. And we also need a system which can scrutinise effectively, and if necessary take action against, those whose long-term presence would be of little or no economic benefit.'
He also pointed to evidence that some migrants coming in under the Tier 1 highly skilled work route are not doing specialised jobs. And he added:
'I was also struck by some of the individual applications I saw under the [Tier 2] skilled worker category: people running takeaway restaurants and production-line workers on salaries in the low £20,000s. These are not the sort of jobs we talk about when we think of bringing in skilled immigrants who have talents not available among our own workforce or the unemployed…
'We will not make Britain prosperous in the long term by telling our own workers "don't bother to learn new skills, we can bring them all in from overseas".'
The minister described planned changes to the immigration system (including an annual limit on workers from outside the European Union) may be 'controversial' but necessary:
'We absolutely need sustainable immigration levels. This will relieve pressure on public services, and stop immigration being such a delicate political issue.
'At the same time, we must be confident enough to say Britain is open for business and study to those who will make this a better country, and a more open society.'