Immigration plans linked to economic requirements

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Indy Politics

A fresh crackdown on immigration is being planned by the Government to outflank Tory proposals for a strict quota system on migrants.

A fresh crackdown on immigration is being planned by the Government to outflank Tory proposals for a strict quota system on migrants.

The strategy was revealed yesterday by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, at his monthly press conference in Downing Street, but Home Office sources revealed that Alan Milburn, Labour's election strategist in Downing Street, is taking the lead over the plans.

Mr Blair said the Government was preparing a plan to restrict the numbers coming to Britain for work to those needed in the economy. The number of work permits granted has more than doubled since 1998.

"We need to get to a situation where you are absolutely clear that those people coming in on a work permit route are absolutely necessary for our economy to come in," Mr Blair said.

Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, announced his party's plans for a strict quota system for immigration in September. Under the Tory scheme the quota would be agreed annually by Parliament.

Mr Howard, himself the son of an immigrant, said that the limit on immigration should be determined by "Britain's economic needs, demands of family reunion and our moral obligation to give refuge to those fleeing persecution".

Home Office figures for 2003 reveal that 139,675 people were granted the right to stay in the UK that year.

However, Mr Blair appeared to reject the Tory quota system, which is based on an Australian scheme to allow only key workers into the country. The Government scheme would put the emphasis on making sure the current rules were adhered to "rather than plucking some arbitrary figure", he said.

"You might want it to be lower, you might want it to be higher at any particular time. That depends on a job for someone to go to that someone here in Britain can't do. That is what we will be addressing shortly."

The scheme will be seen as an attempt to outflank the Conservatives in an area where Labour's polling is showing the Government is vulnerable to criticism from many voters.

There was controversy earlier this year when the Government was forced into a U-turn over its open borders policy for Eastern European countries admitted to the EU in May. Ministers came under fire over fears of a "flood" of immigrants within the EU, taking advantage of British welfare benefits. The rules were tightened to require immigrants from the Eastern European countries to register and restricting benefits they can obtain.

Mr Blair admitted frustration overpublic criticism of the Government's failure to send more failed asylum-seekers back to their places of origin. "It is a very frustrating situation because often people don't understand why, on asylum, once you have failed the claim you can't just remove the person out of the country," he said.

Mr Blair said this government had trebled the number of removals, "but it still falls short of the claims coming in".

"What we are doing there is making it an offence to destroy documents and we have a lot of work going on saying to particular countries, 'We demand from you the ability to send people back if we can satisfy you within a quick period of time that these people originated with you'. I think that is the only way we are going to get this dealt with," he said.