The Government has promised to cut net immigration from hundreds of thousands a year to just tens of thousands a year. This was a key plank of the Conservative manifesto and one which was very popular with many of my constituents and across the country as a whole.
We are fortunate to have the excellent Damian Green as Immigration Minister, a Kent MP who understands the impact which excessive immigration can have on our constituents. The fact that the Prime Minister appointed such a key figure in the party to sort out immigration also shows the importance which David Cameron places on our immigration commitment.
What is less clear is whether all my colleagues on the Home Affairs Select Committee really want to see immigration cut. We have already reported on work visas, but it was Damian Green who led the way to cutting these – by showing that many of the supposedly most highly skilled Tier 1 migrants actually worked in unskilled jobs.
Now we are dealing with student visas, almost 335,000 of which are issued every year, before moving on to family visas, where I am concerned that proper and appropriate restrictions may be struck down by the courts under European rules and the Human Rights Act.
Given the large number of overseas students and the ease with which many can stay on after graduating, it is essential that we take steps to reduce numbers. When the Home Office launched our policy on 7 December 2010 it said it was “seeking views on a range of measures to reduce the number of students that can come into the UK”. In particular, it very correctly proposed closing down the Post Study Work route, opened by Labour in 2006, which allows almost 40,000 foreign students to enter the UK labour force every year.
People expect Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee to engage constructively with government policy and our Chairman is known for his deft political footwork. Unfortunately, because my amendment was rejected by the Labour and LibDem majority on the committee, our report published overnight would leave a gaping hole in our immigration controls for foreign students to stay on and work after graduation. This is unacceptable and I strongly urge Damian Green to ignore the recommendations backed by the LibDem and Labour members at paragraphs 58 and 59 of the report. Our constituents in Kent and elsewhere expect the government to deliver on its promise to cut immigration, after over a decade of mass immigration under Labour, and Damian Green is the man to do it.