Today I want to talk about what we are doing to get a grip on immigration into our country.
I know the sense out there is that mass migration is inevitable in a globalised society and a modern economy and as a result it’s all too difficult for one country to control its own borders.
And that with migration from the EU to worry about as well, we’re powerless to address half of the problem anyway.
But today I’m going to argue how I believe this Government can act in a way that will genuinely tackle the problem, avoiding the dangers that opponents of reform have put forward.
First we need to be clear about what the problem is.
I know this is an issue that people feel really passionate about.
And I know the debate around immigration is not always a healthy one.
It often swings between extremes, between those who argue strongly that migration is an unalloyed good, vital for our economic success and those who say it completely undermines our economy because immigrants take all our jobs.
Between those who attack caution about immigration as racist and xenophobic and those who plead that our communities just can’t cope with the demands of ever greater numbers flooding in.
I have a very clear view about this.
I have never shied away from talking about immigration.
I called for reform and clear limits in Opposition.
And I’m determined to deliver in government.
So let me tell you how I see it.
Yes, some immigration is a good thing.
It is right that we should attract the brightest and the best to Britain.
We genuinely need foreign investors and entrepreneurs to come here.
In the same way that many British people take advantage of opportunities to work, study and live overseas many of our communities have been enriched by the contribution of generations of migrants.
Our schools and universities have some of the best teachers, researchers and students from all over the world and we’re proud of that.
Our hospitals are full of talented doctors and nurses caring for the sick and vulnerable.
Our high streets are home to entrepreneurs who are not just adding to the local economy but playing a part in local life.
And yes, Britain will always be open to those seeking asylum from persecution. That says something very important about the kind of country we are.
And we should be proud of that too.
But excessive immigration also brings pressures real pressures on our communities up and down the country.
Pressures on schools, housing and healthcare.
And social pressures too.
When large numbers of people arrive in new neighbourhoods perhaps not able to speak the same language as those living there perhaps not always wanting to integrate, perhaps seeking simply to take advantage of our NHS, paid for by our taxpayers there is a discomfort and a tension in some of our communities.
Crucially, while it’s crude and wrong to say immigrants come to Britain and “take all our jobs” there’s no doubt that badly controlled immigration has compounded the failure of our welfare system and allowed governments and employers to carry on with the waste of people stuck on welfare when they should be working.
And there is also concern that relatively uncontrolled immigration can hurt the low paid and the low skilled, while the better off reap many of the benefits.
So it’s absolutely right to address all these concerns.
Because if people don’t feel that mainstream political parties understand these issues they will turn instead to those who seek to exploit these issues to create social unrest.
And there’s an even bigger reason for addressing immigration too.
It’s about fairness – real fairness.
Fairness for people already living here, working here, contributing here who worry about finding work, getting a good school for their children and affording a good house.
For too long, they have been overlooked in this debate.
And it’s time to do right by them.
So what does this all mean?
Put simply, yes, we need immigration, but it needs to be controlled.
We need to have control over how many people come here – and who.
But the reality is we inherited a system where we didn’t have real control over either.
The figures for people coming to Britain are huge.
575 thousand people came here last year intending to stay for a year or more.
Of course, it is right that when many people are choosing to live abroad and when some migrants stay for a period but then return home we should have a clear eye on net migration, the difference between people leaving and people coming.
But this keeps rising too.
In 2008 it was about 163,000.
In 2009, 198,000.
And in the data published earlier this summer, the 2010 figure is a staggering 239,000.
There are early signs in the most recent figures that the reforms this government has brought in are beginning to reduce the overall figure.
But these very high numbers for the end of the last government’s term of office are why under the last government, we saw a worrying collapse in public confidence in our ability to control inward migration.
They may have talked tough, but there was a fundamental mismatch between rhetoric and reality.
And at the heart of all of this I believe is the complete failure of the last government’s Points Based System to control migration.
It sounded great in principle.
But the very term “Points Based System” has proved to be misleading.
The rhetoric implies that each and every potential migrant is carefully and individually assessed with only those scoring the most points able to enter the country.
But the reality was very different.
Instead of a system of points for individuals there were a range of low minimum thresholds where anyone who met them was automatically entitled to come, almost on a self-selection basis, to work and study and in many cases bring dependants.
Take Tier 1, for example, for so-called highly skilled migrants.
This was sold as “bringing in the best of the best.”
People with extraordinary skills and qualifications who were going to drive economic growth.
They were so good that they didn’t have to have a job offer before they came here the door was permanently open to them.
That was the rhetoric.
But what was the reality?
The reality was that someone with a modest salary and a Bachelor’s degree in any subject from any college in the world could come over here and do any job they liked.
And of course the system was a magnet for fraudsters.
Plenty never found work at all.
One study showed that about a third of those sampled only found low skilled roles working as shop assistants, in takeaways and as security guards.
When this government came into office, we ignored the rhetoric, looked hard at the reality and simply closed down the whole of the Tier 1 General route.
Take the next tier – Tier 2, for migrants coming here who actually did have job offers.
Large numbers of this group were actually coming to do low- level work which many people have rightly felt those on welfare should be trained for but which instead went to migrants.
Tier 3 – albeit never opened – was explicitly for those with no skills.
The fact they even created this tier, I think tells you everything you need to know about the so-called selectivity of the system we inherited.
And Tier 4 allowed those with a place at college to come to the UK even if the college was extremely low level – or worse bogus, not really a college at all – and the student spoke no English.
People should never forget that this is the reality of the last government’s much vaunted rhetoric about their Points Based System.
The legacy of their talk about controls is the net migration figures which we have seen going through the roof.
It’s a system where migrants got the choice to come, rather than us having the choice of migrants.
And it’s a system which was totally unfair which people rightly feel added to the sense that “something for nothing” was the order of the day.
We simply could not carry on like this.
So today I want to set out the new approach this government is taking to control immigration into this country.
An approach that ensures a hard-headed selection of genuinely talented individuals based on our national interest, people who will really contribute to this country and drive the economic growth on which we all depend.
But an approach that imposes tough limits, not weak minimum thresholds real tests of skill and potential, not thousands of people box-ticking their way into the UK.
In short a system that actually controls migration for the good of this country that doesn’t just sound tough, but is tough.
There are four areas to focus on if we are really going to start controlling how many people come here and who they are.
Work visas, students, family migrants and illegal immigrants.
And we need to address all of them.
Now what I am saying today is not the final word.
I want to pay tribute to the Home Secretary and to Damian Green for the brilliant and dedicated work they have already done, working with others across government.
But much more hard work lies ahead.
And today I want to set out some of the areas where we now need to go further in tackling abuse and ensuring immigration is controlled.
Immigration needs to be controlled – and I’m absolutely focussed on this.
So let me start with those who come here to work.
As a Coalition government we agree about the importance of controlling immigration but our approach has rightly focused on how to do this without damaging business or discouraging inward investment in to the UK.
In April we introduced a limit on the number of economic migrants able to come to the UK from outside the European Economic Area.
Many predicted that this wouldn’t work and that it would stop British businesses getting the workers they need.
But the evidence shows this just hasn’t been the case.
That limit of 20,700 for the year – has been undersubscribed each and every month since it was introduced with businesses currently using less than half of their monthly quotas.
That provides the opportunity to consider with business what further tightening of the system may be possible without undermining growth and we will be asking the Migration Advisory Committee, in consultation with business, to look into this whole area again and to reconsider whether the limit is set at the right level.
But we’ve not just added a blanket limit.
We’ve begun to be much more selective not just about how many people come in – but who actually comes in.
Britain is one of the most open economies and societies in the world.
We want the brightest and best to come here.
The investors and the entrepreneurs who will create the businesses and jobs of tomorrow and the scientists who will help keep Britain at the heart of the greatest advances in medicine, biotechnology, advanced manufacturing and communications.
These people deserve the red carpet treatment.
And that’s what we will give them.
So we have increased the opportunities for foreign investors and entrepreneurs to come here issuing 196 visas to entrepreneurs in the first half of this year, on track to far exceed 2010.
We have opened a new pathway for those of Exceptional Talent, nominated by the likes of the Royal Society and the Arts Council.
And in future we will make it easier for angel investors to back foreign entrepreneurs – people who are starting small scale but may end up running the blue chip businesses of tomorrow.
We’ve also listened to business over intra-company transfers ensuring that multinational companies with a presence here can bring in their skilled managers and specialists.
Because attracting top business investment to Britain is a fundamental part of our strategy for economic growth.
But we also want to do more to encourage employers to take on British workers.
On the advice of the Migration Advisory Committee we have reduced the number of jobs that can be offered to migrants, including jobs like careworkers and chefs.
But I want us to go further.
Over the last decade, millions of new jobs have been created in the UK.
Large numbers of people have come to the UK and successfully found work.
In fact, some estimates suggest that around two-thirds of the increase in employment since 1997, was accounted for by foreign-born workers.
Even now people are managing to come to the UK and find a job.
Yet throughout all of those years we consistently had between 4 and 5 million people on out of work benefits.
You can understand it from the employer’s point of view.
Confronted by a failing welfare system, shortcomings in our education system and an open door immigration system they can choose between a disillusioned and demotivated person on benefits here in the UK or an Eastern European with the get up and go to come across a continent to find work.
Or they can choose between an inexperienced school leaver here or someone five years older coming to Britain with the experience they need.
But that situation is simply not good enough. We have to change things.
Going down the high street, we can’t fail to notice the pride that employers have in British products.
I want to see the day when they all have the same pride in the British workforce and where there’s a culture where companies feel positively encouraged to explain how many people they’ve helped off welfare and into work.
That is why we are addressing the shortcomings in the education system so there are plenty of people with the right skills entering the labour market.
It’s why we are getting a proper grip on immigration controls.
And it’s why we are reforming the welfare system with proper conditions for those on benefits and a Work Programme that offers real support to get people off benefits and into work.
Re-motivating the long-term unemployed, making them believe they can work again.
Matching individuals to employers and giving those young people real experience of work, or a proper preparation for the places where the jobs can be found.
Not discriminating against those from other countries but making sure that the British option, with the local knowledge that an employer also needs, is once again the best option.
Jobcentre Plus and Work Programme providers are already hard at work helping the unemployed into work.
We’re now putting in place the systems we will be using to track their success.
And we are looking at new ways to encourage employers to do even more, including through a national awards scheme to recognise the organisations that excel in getting people into work.
So we make sure that this time it is the long term British unemployed who reap the benefits of growth in the labour market.
Second, let me turn to students.
The concern in this area was that properly controlling migration would damage our prestigious universities, higher education institutions and colleges a vital part of a sector, further and higher education, which should be a key driver of growth and in which Britain is already a world leader.
Through carefully made coalition policy, we have managed to ensure there is nothing to stop genuine students applying to study here.
We are working with the sector to encourage the brightest and best students from around the world to come and study here.
And we intend over the next year to step up efforts to attract a greater share of the best globally mobile business school and other post-graduate talent to come to the UK.
We need to be absolutely clear in this whole debate.
We want these top students to come here.
We can’t have world-class education if our institutions are closed to the outside world.
Our education exports are worth more than £14 billion a year.
So international students, postgraduates and researchers bring tremendous economic benefits to this country.
And they make an enormous contribution to the intellectual vibrancy and diversity of our educational institutions.
But when it comes to bogus colleges and bogus students we have to be equally clear: they have no place in our country.
In June last year in New Delhi, for example, more than a third of student applications verified by the visa section were found to contain forged documents.
Private colleges now have to face far more rigorous checks on the quality of their education provision before they can sponsor international students.
Since May 2010 the UK Border Agency has revoked the licences of 97 education providers.
A further 36 currently have their licences suspended.
And 340 institutions will be prevented from bringing in new non-EU students after failing to apply to the relevant bodies who will oversee the quality and standards of education providers.
This represents just over 30 per cent of the privately funded institutions previously on the UK Border Agency’s register, including so-called colleges that have been undermining the good reputation of the whole sector by bringing in thousands of bogus students.
Not only have there been bogus and low quality students, coming to bogus and low quality colleges, there have been a huge number of people bringing dependants under the pretext of studying.
Some people in the past used the student visa route simply so that their spouses or families could come and work in the UK.
But there are now clear restrictions for all students on working and bringing dependents.
And we will continue to ensure that the foreign students coming in will be genuine high quality students who we really want and who can make a meaningful contribution to our economy.
The third area is around family migration.
Of course in the modern world where people travel and communicate more easily than ever before, and where families have connections all across the globe, people do want to move to different countries to be with loved ones.
We all understand this human instinct.
But we need to make sure – for their sake as well as ours – that those who come through this route are genuinely coming for family reasons that they can speak English nd that they have the resources they need to live here and make a contribution here – not just to scrape by, or worse, to subsist on benefit.
Last year family migration accounted for almost a fifth of total non-EU immigration to the UK with nearly 50,000 visas granted to family members of British citizens and those with permanent residence here in the UK.
We have been consulting on how to ensure those who come to the UK as family migrants are supported without becoming a burden on the taxpayer and we will be bringing forward firm proposals shortly.
A sample of more than 500 family migration cases found that over 70 per cent of UK-based sponsors had post-tax earnings of less than £20,000 a year.
When the income level of the sponsor is this low, there is an obvious risk that the migrants and their family will become a significant burden on the welfare system and the taxpayer.
So we have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to look at the case for increasing the minimum level for appropriate maintenance.
And we’re going to look at further measures to ensure financial independence: discounting promises of support from family and friends, and whether a financial bond would be appropriate in some cases.
We’re also consulting on how to tackle abuse of the system, to make sure that family migrants who come here are in a genuine relationship with their partner.
Time and again, visa officers receive applications from spouses or partners sponsoring another spouse or partner soon after being granted settlement in the UK suggesting that the original marriage or partnership was a sham simply designed to get them permanent residence here.
For example, there was a Pakistani national who applied for a spouse visa on the basis of his marriage to someone settled in the UK.
He obtained indefinite leave to remain and then immediately divorced his UK-based spouse. He returned to Pakistan and re-married and then applied for entry clearance for his new spouse.
We simply can not sit back and allow the system to be abused in this way.
So we will make migrants wait longer, to show they really are in a genuine relationship before they can get settlement.
And we’ll also impose stricter and clearer tests on the genuineness of a relationship including the ability to speak the same language and to know each other’s circumstances.
We will also end the ridiculous situation where a registrar who knows a marriage is a sham still has to perform the ceremony.
Of course, the most grotesque example of a relationship that isn’t genuine is a forced marriage which is of course completely different from an arranged marriage where both partners consent or a sham marriage where the aim is to circumvent immigration control or make a financial gain.
Forced marriage is little more than slavery.
To force someone into marriage is completely wrong.
And I strongly believe this is a problem we should not shy away from addressing.
But I know that there is a worry that criminalisation could make it less likely that those at risk will come forward.
So, as a first step, I am announcing today that we will criminalise the breach of Forced Marriage Prevention Orders.
It’s ridiculous that an Order made to stop a forced marriage isn’t enforced with the full rigour of the criminal law.
And I am also asking the Home Secretary to consult on making forcing someone to marry an offence in its own right working closely with those who provide support to women forced into marriage to make sure that such a step would not prevent or hinder them from reporting what has happened to them.
We are also going to rewrite the immigration rules to reinforce the public interest in seeing foreign criminals and immigration offenders removed from this country and help prevent Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights being misinterpreted.
Of course, immigration is not just about people coming to live here for a while.
Some will want to settle and then join us as fellow British citizens.
But it’s been too easy to come to work, and then stay on.
It was virtually an automatic progress. We are going to break the link between work and settlement.
Only those who contribute the most economically will be able to stay.
And we are consulting the Migration Advisory Committee on how best to do this.
Citizenship should be a big deal for them and for us.
I’ve been to the ceremonies. They are moving. They work. But here too changes are needed.
So let me say one more thing about the journey to becoming a British citizen.
We’re also going to change the Citizenship test.
There’s a whole chapter in the Citizenship handbook on British history but incredibly, there are no questions on British history in the actual test.
Instead you’ll find questions on the roles and powers of the main institutions of Europe and the benefits system within the UK.
So we are going to revise the whole test and put British history and culture at the heart of it.
The final group I want to talk about today are illegal immigrants.
People who have come here illegally, but also people who have come on a visa for a limited amount of time, and then not gone home.
We’ve got to be so much better at finding these people and getting them out of our country.
We’ve already made some big changes, telling credit reference agencies about illegal immigrants so they can’t get easy access to credit ensuring the UK Border Agency and HMRC work together more closely to come down hard on rogue businesses which use illegal labour to evade tax and minimum wage laws.
Creating biometric residence permits – which just like a biometric passport -gives employers much greater certainty over who they are employing and their right to be in the country.
A targeted campaign this summer has seen more than 600 operations and over 550 arrests.
And we are working to remove more people more quickly to more countries.
Since May 2010 we have completed a total of 68 specially chartered removal flights, sending home more than 2,500 people.
But I want us to go further and be even tougher.
For our part in government, we are creating a new National Crime Agency with a dedicated Border Policing Command which will have responsibility for safeguarding the security of our border.
But I want everyone in the country to help including by reporting suspected illegal immigrants to our Border Agency through the Crimestoppers phone line or through the Border Agency website.
Together we will reclaim our borders and send illegal immigrants home.
So that’s how we are going to get a grip of immigration in this country.
Real control over how many people come here and who.
If we take the steps set out today and deal with the all the different avenues of migration, legal and illegal then levels of immigration can return to where they were in the 1980s and 90s – a time when immigration was not a front rank political issue.
And I believe that will mean net migration to this country will be in the order of tens of thousands each year, not the hundreds of thousands every year that we have seen over the last decade.
How do we know when we are getting immigration right?
It’s when we are getting the right people we need for our economy and when all those who come here do so for genuine reasons and join with the rest of society in making our country stronger, richer and more secure.
That’s the kind of immigration I want. And that’s the kind of immigration this government will deliver.