Well, the new Home Secretary's announcement re the immigration 'cap' is tougher than had been flagged up, with the near elimination of the 'Tier-1' category of those coming here seeking work on spec. Although applicants in this category had to meet qualification and income critera, many ended up in menial jobs, showing that the whole category was misconceived. Now only those who are of 'exceptional talent' or are entrepreneurs/ investors will qualify. This new severe restriction is reflected in the 'cap' for this categpry of a mere one thousand.
The remaining migration route for those seeking to work in the UK, the 'Tier-2' old work permits category, is to be much more generously 'capped', and there is also a controversial exemption for firms to import individuals they already have working in overseas locations. This will not please IT professionals in particular who have long complained that they are unfairly undercut and made unemployable by firms importing Indian workers through inappropriately taking advantage of HMRC tax and allowance breaks.
Taking all together, the reduction in numbers does not represent the claimed cut of a quarter: it is instead in line with the bottom of the range of reduction recommended last week by the Immigration Advisory Committee (13-25%). Even so, the signs are that the Coalition Government is set to make huge cuts in numbers coming in under the studentship and family reunion streams, and could actually manage to achieve the stated target of reducing net migration to the tens from the hundreds of thousands.
A big problem, though, is the enormous problem of fraud. Cutting numbers certainly keeps out a corresponding proportion of bogus applicants, but preventing the mass admission of such individuals is even more important than controlling overall numbers. It is not just ostensible English language students coming in either on their own inititive or through the large number of bogus colleges, but many with visas in respect of university courses are also bogus. As David Cameron revealed in PMQs today, he and Teresa May were told by every front-line immigration officer they met at Heathrow Airport earlier this week, that many arrivals supposedly here to study degree courses could not speak English, but owing to their possession of a visa had to be let in. [How officers are denied the powers to prevent entry when the visa has so obviously been obtained fraudulently is another question that needs answering.]
Tackling fraud requires the will to do it and much more resources. Both have been seriously lacking if not entirely absent at the Home Office and its Borders & Immigration Agency, and it is this more than anything that has to change. The climate of cuts notwithstanding, few will argue with a decision to significanlty shift spending to immigration control.