Everyone seems to have an opinion on immigration. From conversations in pubs to high-level political debates, immigration levels in the UK have become one of the hottest topics around.
The UK is rightly proud of the rich, cultural mix of citizens who make it successful, and this coalition government recognises just how important migration is. However, as with all good things, too much of anything can start to erode away at the benefits. For this reason, the government believes there needs to be controls on immigration into the UK.
Of course, we still want to continue to attract the brightest and the best people to the UK, but unlimited migration places unacceptable pressure on public services, school places, and the provision of housing, all of which can cause problems for local communities.
Our plan is to reduce net migration, which is the number of people who enter the UK minus the number who leave, and take it back to the levels of the 1990s – tens of thousands, not the hundreds of thousands it has been recently.
This is not an easy task, but one of the ways we plan to achieve it is by introducing a limit on the number of non-EU economic migrants given permission to live and work here each year.
Before a system is introduced, the government is committed to consulting with businesses to find the best way of achieving this.
Your businesses are the ones that could be affected by this plan, as many of you employ migrant workers. We launched a 12-week consultation on 28 June, and want to hear from anyone who believes they have something to say on how a limit should work in practice.
We understand that annual limits will only work in reducing net migration if employers are supported to employ workers living in the UK in place of those from outside the EU. This means the government will be investing in training and empowering British workers to bring them into jobs and sectors that have been too reliant on migrant labour.
High levels of net migration are a relatively recent phenomenon. From the late 1990s, immigration grew significantly, peaking at 245,000 in 2004. A careful balance is needed to reverse this current trend and this consultation asks crucial questions.
How could limits be implemented and what additional government action is needed to support employers find alternatives to migrant labour?
The government has called on the Migration Advisory Committee to consult further or what the limit should be, taking into account social and economic concerns. Any limit set must allow the government to make sure the UK is getting the brightest and best people.
This government has made a pledge to cut migration into the UK, but as business leaders, it is crucial we hear your voices. If you have something to say and want to help us shape this policy, take part in the Home Office’s consultation.
There is also a parallel consultation by the Migration Advisory Committee on the final limit.
Damian Green is the immigration minister