The full text of the speech (yet to be delivered at the time of writing, which seems rather odd) is available on The Guardian website and elsewhere.
I want to concentrate on what future changes are being signalled in the speech. Before getting started, though, I count six uses of ‘bogus’ and note that Cameron puts the blame for immigration firmly on the immigrants:
For years, people have been playing the system, exploiting the easiest routes of entry to the UK.
Alternatively, they have been making legitimate applications under rules put in place by the government, rules which those in question satisfied. This kind of talk is hardly constructive, intelligent or helpful, creating a false and unfair impression of abuse and dishonesty by immigrants.
Reducing permanent settlement
The Government is clearly looking at making work permits genuinely temporary:
Last year, 84,000 people who initially came on a work visa got the right to settle here. I want Britain to continue to attract the best workers. But it cannot be right that people coming to fill short-term skills gaps can stay long-term.
As the Cross-Party Balanced Migration Group has argued, it is essential we break that link between temporary visas and permanent settlement.
They are right – that’s what this Government is determined to do … and we will consult on how best to proceed on this in the coming months.
At the moment work visas lead to settlement after five years, presumably on the policy grounds that an employer will not want to sack valued, trained, experienced workers after five years and that it is unreasonable to expect a person to come and go from the UK purely on the basis of the UK’s perceived economic interests. If the right to settle after five years is removed, this will certainly discourage employers from recruiting foreign workers in the first place and it will probably make any foreign worker think at least twice about whether to leave their existing work in their home country. It would basically make it unviable to recruit skilled foreign workers from abroad, which is something employers are very keen on.
If the Government wants to reduce the numbers settling in the UK it would be surprising if the 10 and 14 year long residence routes were not also under review, although I suspect the numbers gaining settlement by this means must be very small.
The changes to the student visas have already been announced. The Government hopes this will reduce numbers by 80,000 per year. The rules on who can sponsor students are being tightened up further, with private colleges being basically eliminated, students will no longer be able to bring dependents, closing off the post study work visa.
In a classic example of setting up a straw man, Cameron says of forced marriages that he has ‘no time for those who say this is a culturally relative issue’. He implies that those who oppose the increase in the spouse visa age believe forced marriages are acceptable.
There is nothing in the speech to really suggest what might be next on family immigration, only that existing restrictive measures will be defended, including the spouse visa age and the English language requirement.
Rather ominously, though, Damien Green said this morning on Radio 4’s Today programme that the Government were turning their attention next to the family route having now dealt with students. Further measures might therefore be expected. The idea of lengthening the probationary period to four years has been floated elsewhere, I think, so that may well be on the cards now. Switching from other visas could potentially be even further restricted, but this seems unlikely to have any real effect.
We’ll just have to wait and see – expect further consultation papers in the near future, it is at least clear the Government has not finished with introducing changes to the immigration system.