UK immigration to divide coalition?

12 Jan 2011 | Posted by Carl Thomas

UK immigration rules could prove to be a point of contention between the coalition government.

Writing for the Yorkshire Post, Dr Alexander Smith, sociology lecturer at the University of Huddersfield, said that immigration is one issue on which the manifestos of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties differ significantly.

Before the election in May 2010, the Tories promised tight restrictions on UK visas. Conversely, some people described the Lib Dems' policy as an "amnesty" for illegal immigrants in the UK.

The Conservatives appear to have won out on the issue and from April this year UK visas for overseas skilled workers will be limited.

A cap of 20,700 will be imposed on the Tier 2 work permits, reducing the number of graduates who can enter the country with job offers and sponsorship.

Dr Smith noted the business world's disapproval of this limitation on UK work permits, remarking that many fear it will send "a counterproductive message to the world that Britain is closing its borders to skilled migrants".

However, he conceded that international laws mean that there are very few areas of UK immigration over which the government can exert control.

The last remaining section of significance is student migration. The Home Office is currently running a consultation on proposals for tougher entrance criteria and limits on work for people who enter the UK through the student route.

Migration Watch has published a paper on the topic recently, suggesting that a proportion of people acquiring UK student visas are abusing the system, with many gaining paid employment illegally.

Immigration minister Damian Green said that the government hopes to reduce net migration to "sustainable levels" through the use of a more selective system for students.