Immigration poses a crucial challenge to Theresa May as she settles into No 10. David Cameron failed to reduce migration as he vowed, and it arguably cost him his job. Here are five things that May can do to ensure she does not suffer the same fate.
PM: We can still meet our targets on net migration
1. Set the right target
“Net migration” includes all persons leaving and entering the UK for a year or more. About one-third are foreign students and more than 80,000 are British citizens. The public has legitimate concerns about long-term migration, not students or British citizens. Omitting them from a new target will cut the official figure in half – and provide a more accurate picture.
2. Reopen the Migration Impacts Fund
David Cameron closed this 2010. Migrants paid into the fund through an additional charge on immigration applications: I know – I paid it as a migrant at that time.
No one denies that migration puts pressure on public services. Local councils, health trusts and charities facing particular pressure should be able to apply for financial support for education, housing and transport, to help them offer more nurses, teaching assistants and buses.
3. Make sure immigrants speak English
More can and should be done on this score. The Government currently demands that all those in public sector roles that are “public-facing” are fluent in English. The Prime Minister should go further and make most, if not all, public sector staff meet this standard over the next five to 10 years.
4. Reform the job shortage list
The biggest secret about Britain’s immigration regime is that we’ve actually had an Australian-style points-based system in place for more than a decade. It just applies only to non-EU citizens. There are, however, exceptions for jobs where there are shortages, but this loophole list gets longer each time it is reviewed. Mrs May should bring it up to date and make it fit for purpose.
5. Beef up the border force
Funding needs to be increased for immigration officers struggling so badly to tackle human trafficking that they are unable to tackle illegal working and sham marriages.
6. A national conversation
Finally, it has been 10 years since Sir Bernard Crick led an advisory group recommending reforms to improve integration and foster citizenship. Their report led to a citizenship test now sat more than 2 million times, as well as citizenship ceremonies.
Yet there has never been a review into how these reforms are working and no migrant or naturalised citizen has been consulted. A new, national conversation is long overdue, and must take place if we really want to heal social divisions.
Mrs May has an opportunity she can seize to reform immigration policies. How she does will shape her premiership.
Thom Brooks is Head of Durham Law School and author of ‘Becoming British: UK Citizenship Examined’ (Biteback) published last month