New open door policy for 'skilled' immigrants

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The Independent Online

The Government is planning to end a 30-year "closed door" policy for migrants attempting to enter Britain in search of work.

The Government is planning to end a 30-year "closed door" policy for migrants attempting to enter Britain in search of work.

Following the deaths of 58 Chinese migrants in the Dover lorry tragedy, Barbara Roche, the Immigration minister, will call today on her counterparts from foreign governments to recognise the value of so-called economic migrants both in the workplace and in society.

Ms Roche will tell a conference in Paris: "Throughout the centuries immigrants have had a very positive impact on the societies they join. We need to find ways to meet legitimate desires to migrate and be ready to think imaginatively about how migration can meet economic and social needs."

Home Office sources said last night that Ms Roche was "putting down a marker that we need to be talking about this". The minister is expected to outline more detailed plans for allowing a limited degree of economic migration in September at a conference in London organised by the Institute of Public Policy Research.

A source said: "Economic migrants can actually create jobs, which can be good for the country. The age-old idea that they come over here and take all the jobs is just not true."

The speech, to ministers and officials from 30 countries, is a major development in the Government's approach to an issue that has been dominated by a political battle over the perceived threat posed by asylum-seekers.

Since the 1971 Immigration Act banned primary immigration, the only people allowed to stay in Britain have been those joining relatives or spouses, or people taking up jobs for which they have work permits.

Apart from a few exceptionally rich individuals who have been allowed to set up businesses, the only exceptions have been successful claimants for asylum.

The lack of opportunity for legitimate migration has helped create a multi-billion pound market in the trafficking of people by criminal gangs and has placed enormous strain on the asylum system from unfounded claims.

Ministers are also concerned by the growing shortages of specialist skills in some areas of the labour market, particularly in health and information technology (IT).

Research carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has shown that about a quarter of Britain's population will be over the age of 65 by 2050. By that time, there could be as few as two working-age people for every pensioner.

The Department for Education and Employment's overseas labour division recently started advertising a fast-track entry to Britain for people with IT and other specialist skills in short supply.

Ms Roche's remarks indicate that the Government may now be willing to consider changes to the immigration regulations, possibly on similar lines to the systems used in North America.

Both the United States and Canada acknowledge the benefits of economic migration and use a system based on points that enables limited numbers of people with specialist skills to settle. In the US, the winning applicants are chosen by a lottery system.

Habib Rahman, the chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), described the Government's new stance last night as "very welcome".

"We know that we can't let people in just willy-nilly if they are not going to contribute to the economy but people have to realise that economic migrants can help the country," said Mr Rahman.

Claude Moraes, a Labour MEP,o and a former director of the JCWI, said the deaths of the Chinese migrants in Dover last month had forced politicians to "step back and take a wider view" of global migration issues.

There was no question that Britain would be adopting an "open door" immigration policy "but we need to open some doors for skilled economic migrants," he said.

The conference today, entitled "The Fight Against Clandestine Entry Networks", has been organised by the French government. During her speech, Ms Roche will call for Europol to be given an intelligence role in tackling the criminal gangs which traffick in people.

Ms Roche will reiterate calls made by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, last month for the 1951 Convention on Refugees to be rewritten to allow asylum claims to be made from outside the destination state and for countries to agree to accept quotas of refugees from war zones and other high-risk regions.