One more time, into the fray, the immigration issue has emerged – you knew it was only a matter of time. This phase however, ignites a triple threat as Nigel Farage has thrown his hat into the ring, re-iterating that UKIP would cut the numbers allowed into the UK to work, but he could not be pressed to set an annual target; believing that the public is tired of hearing about caps. The party wants to return to ‘normal levels’, suggested as 20,000 to 50,000 migrants given work permits per annum.
Farage wishes to set up an independent Migration Control Commission, which would control the number of highly skilled migrants to be admitted through an Australian-style points system. This fuels his motivation for an exit from the EU, claiming that the UK’s membership results in “zero control” over immigration due to the established principle of free movement of persons. Following this exit, EU citizens would be treated the same as workers from around the world and would have to apply for the highly skilled migrant visa.
Upon qualifying, highly skilled workers would be issued with a visa valid for up to 5 years. Migrant workers would need a job paying more than £27,000 a year before being admitted, but exceptions would be made for some professions, such as nurses.
Unskilled migrants would be banned from entering the UK for an initial five year period, subject to regular reviews by government. Foreign students and asylum seekers would not be included in the restrictions but they would be unable to claim benefits for the five year period. The party also says it would recruit an extra 2,500 border staff.
Lastly, there are proposals to reinstate the “primary purpose rule” – foreign nationals married to British citizens would have to prove to immigration officers that the primary purpose of their marriage was not to obtain British residency. Farage seems serious about this, not just an idea that was forged whilst he was necking pints down the pub with his mates and enjoying a round of cigars.
The rigid scheme has forced the other parties to come out from under the rocks on the matter, with Chancellor George Osborne accusing Mr Farage of “making it up as he goes along”, but the Chancellor might be inclined to reserve his objections when analysing the Tories track record on the matter.
The difference between the numbers settling in the UK for at least a year and those leaving for at least a year was 298,000 in the year to September of 2014, that’s a substantial increase of people coming into the country. That was three times what the Conservatives wanted at this stage; but they have no abandoned reducing migration to the tens of thousands but regulating students and family members.
Labour leader Ed Miliband saw this as an opportunity to weaponise his argument just as much as he wants to weaponise the NHS and jumped on this immigration pledge at Prime Minister’s Questions. Mr Cameron however, hair preciously quiffed and looking polished as always was unmoved by the attack and resorted to a series of promises that the Conservatives had kept in government; and added another on the issue of immigration:
“I have been very clear; we have cut migration from outside the EU. We have seen it rise inside the EU, we have a plan to deal with that.”
Cameron has said he would put the issue at the heart of negotiations over Britain’s relationship with the EU ahead of an in/out referendum. Promises, promises, promises.
Labour has promised to “control immigration fairly”, including plans to stop cheap foreign workers replacing British staff. However criticism has emerged that like many other policies put forward by Labour, it is tough talk without an idea about how to implement such measures.
UKIP’s proposals are clear and direct – having forced the other parties into the arena, it has highlighted how indecisive they are on the matter and the extent to which they have distanced themselves from the concern. Whether agreeing with UKIP’s ideas, the party may have scored a knockout on the issue of immigration, simply because the other parties haven’t even entered the ring.
By Dre Efthymiou