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Migrant workers face tougher test to work in the United Kingdom

Measures to raise the bar for foreign workers wishing to enter the United Kingdom, and to give domestic workers a greater chance of applying first for United Kingdom jobs, have been unveiled by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

Jacqui Smith pledged to use the flexibility built into the points-based system (PBS) to respond to changing economic circumstances – helping British workers through the hard times of the recession.

The Government has already suspended tier 3 of the PBS to ensure no foreign national from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) can come to the United Kingdom and work in a low-skilled job.

Jacqui Smith announced three significant changes to support British workers and to be more selective about the migrants coming to the United Kingdom from outside the EEA. From 1 April the Government will:

  • strengthen the resident labour market test for tier 2 skilled jobs so that employers must advertise jobs to resident workers through JobCentre Plus before they can bring in a worker from outside Europe;
  • use each shortage occupation list to trigger skills reviews that focus on up-skilling resident workers for these occupations, which will make the United Kingdom less dependent on migration for the future; and
  • tighten new criteria against which highly skilled migrants seeking entry to the United Kingdom are judged, by raising the qualifications and salary required for tier 1 of the PBS to a Master's degree and a minimum salary of £20,000.

The Home Secretary has also asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), chaired by Professor David Metcalf, to report on:

  • whether there is an economic case for restricting tier 2 (skilled workers) to shortage occupations only;
  • his assessment of the economic contribution made by the dependants of PBS migrants and their role in the labour market; and
  • what further changes there should be to the criteria for tier 1 in 2010/11, given the changing economic circumstances.

Jacqui Smith said:

"All workers now coming to the UK from outside Europe have to meet the requirements of the Australian-style points system, which allows us to raise or lower the bar on who can come here.

"We have always said it is important to be selective about who comes here to work, and we have already put a stop to low-skilled labour entering the UK from outside Europe.

"Just as in a growth period we needed migrants to support growth, it is right in a downturn to be more selective about the skill levels of those migrants, and to do more to put British workers first.

"These measures are not about narrow protectionism – a flexible immigration system, rather than an arbitrary cap, is better for British business and the British economy. We recognise that migration continues to play an important role in the UK, at the same time as we are giving greater support to domestic workers so that we can all come through the recession stronger.

"Given the economic circumstances and the action we are taking to be more selective, I expect the number of migrants coming to the UK from outside the EEA to fall during the next financial year. Today I am also asking the independent Migration Advisory Committee, led by David Metcalf, to consider further changes to the way in which foreign workers are currently able to enter the UK to work.

"By being more selective, as well as through tough enforcement measures to tackle illegal immigration, I have tasked the UK Border Agency with delivering this reduction. I have also set out 10 further immigration milestones for the UK Border Agency to meet this year."

The 10 milestones in the UK Border Agency delivery plan are:

  • March – open a new immigration removal centre to help remove immigration offenders;
  • April – use our points system to ensure migration matches the country's needs in hard times;
  • April – start charging migrants to create a multimillion pound fund to reduce the impacts of migration on local services;
  • April – introduce new technology to help detect drugs and other illegal goods;
  • May – be tougher on European criminals, removing European nationals who cause harm to our communities;
  • July – start tough new visa controls, which will cover five countries;
  • August – have completed delivery of new facial recognition technology in 10 terminals, giving British passengers a faster, secure route through the border;
  • November – issue 75,000 compulsory identity cards to foreign nationals;
  • December – hit target to screen 120 million passengers entering and leaving the UK against security watch-lists, and introduce a new high-tech security centre; and
  • December – deport a record number of foreign prisoners.

These 10 pledges will build on the work already undertaken by the UK Border Agency to strengthen the country's immigration controls.

These measures build on existing actions to deliver border security that protects Britain, including:

  • fingerprint visas that lock people to one identity – with 3.5 million sets of fingerprints taken since their rollout, identifying 5,200 case of identity swaps;
  • a high-tech electronic borders system which checks people against watch-lists and will cover even more passenger journeys by the end of this year;
  • customs checks which, since April 2008, saw technology at ports contribute to the seizure of over £260 million worth of illegal drugs; and
  • ID cards for foreign nationals. By November this year 75,000 ID cards will have been issued to foreign nationals, locking them to one identity.

For passengers legitimately travelling through United Kingdom ports, new facial recognition technology is being introduced which balances high security with quicker times at immigration control.

For illegal immigrants not playing by the rules, the UK Border Agency will open, in just a few weeks' time, a new immigration removal centre with capacity to hold more than 420 people near Gatwick in south-east England, helping deliver the Government's pledge to remove even more foreign national prisoners this year than ever before. In 2008 more than 5,000 foreign national prisoners were removed from the United Kingdom.

The Government also pledged to come down harder on criminals from Europe by reducing the threshold for consideration of their cases for deportation from 24 months in jail to just 12 when they have committed drugs, violent or sexual offences, putting them in line with non-EEA nationals.

Plans will also be introduced to target and deport low-level persistent foreign offenders who cause harm in the communities but who have not been given a prison sentence – for example, those on community service but who over a period have continued to re-offend.