Too many migrants in my backyard, says minister, as foreign workers are forced to prove worth
Last updated at 23:57 29 February 2008
Employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants could be jailed for two years and face an unlimited fine.
And firms which are negligent about checking whether their employees have the right to work here could also be hit with a £10,000 on-the-spot fine for every illegal they hire.
The sanctions come into force today as part of what the Home Office claims to be the biggest immigration shake-up in a generation.
The reforms also involve the implementation of the first stage of the Government's points-based immigration rules.
This stage - Tier One - requires highly-skilled migrants to achieve 75 points, with amounts awarded for education, age and their level of previous earnings.
It will also apply to other elite workers already in the country who want to extend their visas.
The scheme will effectively bar low-skilled workers from outside the European Union.
A tier which would have applied to them will not be introduced "for the foreseeable future", immigration minister Liam Byrne has said.
Gordon Brown, speaking at the Fujitsu Telecommunications factory in Birmingham, said: "The whole country wants a system of managed migration but needs to feel confident that people coming into our country have the skills to offer."
But Home Office Minister Liam Byrne was accused of "immigration nimbyism" after complaining that too many newcomers had come to his constituency.
He said the "pace of change" had been too fast in some communities, putting pressure on public services such as schools, hospitals and housing.
But Mr Byrne, MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, was criticised for also arguing that immigration had been good for the economy even though a Government adviser had recently rubbished such claims.
Mr Byrne told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "In some communities, like my own constituency in Birmingham, I think the pace of change over the last 10 years has been too fast, but when you look at the national picture overall migration has obviously been good for our economy."
Unveiling a new points-based system aimed at controlling immigration, he said: "Overall, for the UK, migration is on balance good but the reason these changes are needed is the world is not slowing down, it is speeding up."
Shadow immigration minister Damian Green said Mr Byrne's views on immigration in his own constituency had more in common with Conservative policy.
He said: "When he looks at his own constituency, the minister makes the case for our policy of limiting the numbers. He can see the problems on his own doorstep but won't take action to solve them."
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Tom Brake also suggested that Mr Byrne sounded like a not-in-my-backyard hypocrite.
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Influx: The system launched by the Home Office today is aimed at blocking unskilled workers from outside the EU settling in the UK
He said: "This smacks of immigration nimbyism. The Government had no idea about the levels of migrants and has failed to put in place the measures needed to support local councils which have seen significant rises in migrants."
The new points-based system, hailed by ministers as the biggest change to the rules "for a generation", comes into force today and is aimed at barring low-skilled workers coming to Britain from outside the EU.
Under the first phase of the scheme, highly-skilled foreign workers who want to take jobs in the UK will need to show they have sufficient skills to fill gaps in the economy.
But the Conservatives say the scheme does not go far enough. They want an annual cap on the numbers allowed in.
The streamlined system, based on Australia's immigration rules, has been more than three years in the planning.
It throws out a rulebook that had more than 80 categories of immigration, attacked as confusing, complex and a policy failure.
The first tier to be implemented will apply only to highly-skilled workers who want to take jobs in the UK, and other elite workers already in the country who want to extend their visas.
The system will only become fully operational by the end of the summer.
New rules: Home Secretary Jacqui Smith heralded 'he biggest changes to British immigration policy in a generation'
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: "The introduction of our Australian-style points system will ensure that only those with skills the country needs can come to work and study.
"Today's proposals are part of the biggest changes to British immigration policy in a generation, which include a new deal for those migrants seeking citizenship here, a new UK Border Agency to strengthen controls at the border and the introduction of ID cards for foreign nationals."
Ministers also revealed that businesses which want to sponsor and employ migrants must be licensed by the Border and Immigration Agency (BIA).
A licence will be required from the autumn, when the second tier of the points-based system is due to come into effect.
Employers can begin applying for licences from today.
Sponsors will be rated "A" or "B" according to criteria set by the Home Office.
Their activities will be monitored, and poor performance could lead to them being downgraded or removed from the register, a Home Office spokesman said.
Tier One requires highly skilled workers to achieve a total of 75 points, with various amounts awarded for education, age and their level of previous earnings.
About 40,000 people applied under the previous scheme for highly-skilled migrants in 2006, with about 20,000 being successful.
Separately, about 14,500 highly-skilled migrants applied to renew their stay in 2006, of whom about 14,000 were successful.
The new points-based scheme will effectively bar low-skilled workers from outside the European Union.
Net migration to the UK was 191,000 in 2006, the lowest level for three years and more than 50,000 down on the 2004 record.
A record number of people came to live in the UK for at least a year - 591,000, up slightly on the previous record set in 2004.
But the number of people leaving Britain for 12 months or more also reached a record high of 400,000.
Just over half (207,000) of emigrants were UK citizens - the first time the annual number of British emigrants had exceeded 200,000.
Under the new measures, employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants could be jailed for two years.
Unscrupulous bosses could also be hit with an unlimited fine as part of the changes.
Firms which are negligent about checking whether their employees have the right to work in Britain could also be hit with a £10,000 on-the-spot fine for every illegal migrant they hire.
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