MPs on the Commons’ Home Affairs Select Committee have urged the Home Office to reduce errors in the immigration system and speed up accurate decision-making.
In a cross-party report, MPs called on government to scrap its net immigration target set at “the tens of thousands” and for the Home Office to do more to engage the public on immigration policy to prevent misinformation and polarisation of views.
The committee said the target “undermines trust in the state’s ability to control migration”, and that at the very least students should be immediately removed from it.
It called for the net target to be replaced by an annual migration report, which would set out targets and controls on immigration and a three-year plan for migration-related policies based on public consultation.
Yvette Cooper, the Home Affairs Committee chair, said: "The government has a responsibility to build consensus and confidence on immigration rather than allowing this to be a divisive debate. But that requires a transformation in the way that immigration policy is made as too often the current approach has undermined trust in the system.”
She said the annual migration report would be like the Budget, and would include wide-ranging plans to improve integration, address skills shortages and develop measures to prevent exploitation of workers from overseas.
The committee envisages that the report would detail migration flows, the economic contribution of migrants and regional needs and cost pressures resulting from migration. It would be advised by “a stronger and more independent” Migration Advisory Committee, and would aim to build greater consensus around immigration policy.
“The net migration target isn’t working to build confidence and it treats all migration as the same,” Cooper added. “That’s why it should be replaced by a different framework of targets and controls. And frankly the system needs to work effectively. As long as there are so many errors and so many problems with enforcement, people won't have confidence that the system is either fair or robust.
The report criticised some of the measures enacted in 2014 as part of a ‘hostile environment policy’ to deter illegal immigrants or encourage those in the UK without permission to leave voluntarily by, for example, denying them access to rented accommodation and closing their bank accounts.
The committee said it was concerned that immigration policies were unclear, overly complex and that over-reliance on these “hostile” policies led to inadvertent errors that were “distressing to those involved” and undermine the credibility of the system.
The committee also called for a greater focus on early enforcement and clearer criminal and security checks; for immigration plans to be linked to training plans that aim to fill UK skills gaps; and an overhaul of data and evidence with better recording of entry and exit checks.
It plans to examine Home Office capacity to deliver effective immigration services, and the department’s proposal to use volunteers to cover staffing gaps at UK borders, in a separate report. It said it was “alarmed by suggestions that volunteers might take on roles that should be carried out by full-time, trained staff”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The British people sent a very clear message in the EU referendum: they want more control of immigration and our borders. That is why we are committed to reducing net migration to sustainable levels.”
They said net migration figures had fallen steadily over the past year – as of late November 2017 the figure had reduced by 106,000 – and that the department will put in place an immigration system that works “in the best interests of the whole of the UK” when it leaves the EU.
“In order to do this, we will engage with a wide range of stakeholders. As part of this work, we have asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to assess the economic and social impact of EU citizens in all parts of the UK,” the spokesperson added.
The MAC is due to report its findings in September.