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By Keith Best


Tuesday, October 14, 2008.


The call by some British politicians to limit immigration to the UK is simplistic and unrealistic. Politicians should be open with the public about the nature and extent of migration - that the main influx is from people exercising their EU rights to come to the UK and that work permit holders have to face the same stringent test to gain a right of residence as those applying for citizenship - and their numbers have gone down


Recenty, Labour MP Frank Field launched a new all-party parliamentary group calling for significant cuts in immigration Mr Field, like many anti-immigration commentators said that they would bring emigration and immigration into balance by preventing those who come on work permits after four years from being able to apply for rights of residence.


Many of these commentators are newcomers to the debate on migration, so it is small wonder that they do not know that already a work permit holder has to have been in the UK for more than five years (this was changed in April 2006) to be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain (right of residence). In order to do so, they must pass tests in English language and also on life in the UK – the same test as if they were applying for British citizenship.


There is no doubt that the incidence of migration, mostly for temporary purposes, impacts more on some communities than others, but that means that local funding solutions need to be found for these short-term pressures. The greatest impact has been from eastern Europeans – some 700,000 or more – who have come to the UK after accession of their states to the EU on 1 May 2004.


Many of these are now going home with the danger that many low-skilled jobs in the UK will not be done – such as picking fruit and vegetables. The Government needs to relax and not tighten the rules for these people.


The greatest disservice such commentators make to the debate, whether through ignorance or inadvertence, is to conflate the numbers of EU citizens coming from eastern Europe - who in exercising their Treaty rights cannot be prevented from coming to the UK and settling here if they wish - with those coming from outside the EEA.  They also fail to put the figures into context. The number of persons granted settlement in the UK excluding EEA nationals actually fell by 7% from 2006 to 2007 to 124,855.


Employment-related grants of settlement at 37,210 in 2007 were 41% lower than in 2005. If these are the only people the new group wants to prevent gaining rights of residence it will not have any noticeable effect on the overall figures.


Trying to achieve a balance of emigration and immigration is superficially attractive but would require managing people’s movements in a way that harkens back to the command economies of the Iron Curtain countries. It would not be right to prevent doctors and nurses leaving the UK to follow better prospects abroad – yet that exodus has to be backfilled by others coming in.


Market forces and the needs of employers should be the main determinants. Despite the poor statistics on which assumptions and assertions are made we know from the statistics that more than 3,000 UK residents a week are leaving the UK to go to live abroad – will they also be the target of this new group?


Keith Best is the Chief Executive of Immigration Advisory Service.


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