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ROCHE CALLS FOR FRESH DEBATE ON IMMIGRATION POLICY

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The time is right for a debate on the future of immigration policy ...
The time is right for a debate on the future of immigration policy

and how it might better serve the interests of the United Kingdom,

the immigration minister, Barbara Roche, said. Speaking yesterday at an Institute of Public Policy Research conference, 'UK Migration in a

Global Economy, Mrs Roche said:

'Immigration policy must protect and promote our national interest,

both economically and socially. It cannot be static and must respond

to changes in the world around us. Our economy is part of a global

system that is becoming ever more tightly integrated. Increasingly,

the global economy is driven by knowledge, and our future within it

is determined by the skills of our people. Transport is cheap and

accessible. An increasingly global culture raises expectations and

ambitions. And international migration is a central feature of this

global system.

'As with other aspects of globalisation, there are potentially huge

economic benefits for Britain if it is able to adapt to the new

environment. We are in competition for the brightest and best

talents, the entrepreneurs, the scientists, the high technology

specialists who make the global economy tick. In order to seize the

opportunities of the knowledge economy, and to play a constructive

part in shaping these huge changes, we need to explore carefully

their implications for immigration policy.

'The evidence shows that economically driven migration can bring

substantial overall benefits both for growth and the economy. In the

United States, as Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan has

commented, the huge recent inflow of migrants, 11 million in the

1990s, has been key to sustaining America's longest-ever economic

boom.

'In the UK we are now seeing the emergence of labour shortages in key

areas of the economy.

'Many will be familiar with the shortage of skilled workers in the IT

sector, where there is an international scramble to attract experts

and wealth creators, and I am pleased that many choose to come to the

UK above other countries. But there are also major shortfalls

elsewhere, for example in parts of the health sector. Nearly a third

of doctors nationally are non-UK born, and nearly a third of all

nurses in inner London are non-UK trained.

'There were even reports this summer that fruit was being left in the

fields to rot because farmers could not find workers to pick it.

'We have already made some changes to ensure that our policies and

practices are meeting the needs of business. The recent work permit

review has led to some welcome improvements. And we have just begun a

pilot scheme to attract more business innovators to the UK. Under the

new scheme, people with business experience and ideas will be able to

apply to set up business in the UK. It will relax existing

arrangements - they will no longer be required to use personal funds

to start up their business.

'And last summer the prime minister announced a long-term strategy to

attract more international students to the UK. Overseas students make

a huge financial contribution - more than£700m a year - to

the British university system. And their presence creates a huge and

invaluable source of goodwill for Britain abroad, as well as

enriching our culture.

'But we need to be sure that our policies are in tune with the

realities of the 21st century. We must learn from experience from

around the world as well as looking at new ideas.

'We do not yet have the answers for Britain. What we need now is a

genuine debate on the benefits and challenges of managed migration.

We want to hear a wide range of views contributing to the debate. I

am particularly keen to hear from members of the business community

about how they think the government can help to attract those with

the skills and expertise they need.

'And to inform the debate, we need more research on migration - to

find out what brings people here, what their skills are, where in the

UK migrants settle, how they integrate with British society, and how

we can balance legal migration with social stability. Work is already

underway, but there is clearly much more to be done.

'We must have effective immigration controls. We must have a firm,

fair and credible asylum system which honours our international

obligations and which cannot be exploited by the racketeers. But our

immigration policy must also meet real expectations and emerging

needs. And if we ensure that it does, then I believe that we can face

a new century of migration with confidence.'

A text of Mrs Roche's speech is available.

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