It is a great pleasure to be invited here by the University’s Centre for Migration Studies, a department that is quickly gaining a world-wide reputation for excellence in migration research. I plan to talk today about recent changes to the UK’s migration policy - and what they mean for Ghanaians wanting to work, study, or join family there.
We have a proud history of Ghanaian migration to the UK - from the post-independence arrivals of the late 1950s and 1960s, to those coming to pursue work and study opportunities in the last decade. Last year, an estimated 53,400 journeys were made by Ghanaians to the UK, including 1,120 journeys to study, 850 for family reasons, and 595 for work.
Ghanaians represent one of the UK’s largest and longest standing communities. An estimated 84,000 people born in Ghana are resident there. Those born in Ghana or with a Ghanaian heritage have made an enormous contribution to the UK’s economic and cultural life. They include famous faces as diverse as fashion designer Oswald Boateng, TV presenter June Sarpong, and a chap called Essien - who I understand is quite popular back here in Ghana! In my own Conservative Party two new Members of Parliament with Ghanaian parents - Kwasi Kwarteng and Sam Gyimah - were elected in 2010, and are already making quite an impact in our national political life.
And of course, this prestigious institution - the oldest and largest of the 13 Ghanaian universities, with its historic links to the UK as an affiliate college of the University of London in the years between 1948 and 1961 - also enjoys the benefits of immigration, with around 1000 international students every year arriving to study at one of Africa’s very best institutions.
So managed well, we know that immigration brings great benefits. Industry, fashion, sport, music - all these thriving UK sectors, and many more, owe a great debt to those who have brought their talents to Britain.
Uncontrolled immigration put serious pressures on communities and public services across the country. In the last decade, net migration to Britain - that is the numbers coming to live in this country for a year or more, less those leaving to live abroad - stood at up to 200,000 a year. Between 1997 and 2009 it totalled more than 2.2 million people - nearly 10% of Ghana’s current population.
That is why, over the last year, the new UK Government has taken a series of measures to bring immigration down. Our approach has been to tighten the system, tackle abuse and support only the most beneficial migrants who can strengthen our economy and society - good immigration, not mass immigration. We are taking action across all the main routes of entry to Britain: work, family and study. I will talk in a moment about the fundamental reforms being made in each of these areas.
We will continue to welcome the brightest and best to our workplaces and universities. Britain remains open for business, study and visits. And we will ensure that those committed to working hard and contributing to their community can make a life in the UK with their families. But we will not tolerate those who sidestep our laws or try to play the system. Our new controls have set us on a road to sustainable immigration levels. We expect to see a significant fall in net migration to the UK from the hundreds of thousands we have seen in recent years, to tens of thousands, as we bring a sense of fairness back into the system.
In reforming the employment route into the UK we have ensured that we remain able to retain and attract the brightest and best, while reducing numbers overall.
We have imposed an annual limit on the number of economic migrants able to come to the UK from outside Europe, and closed down the route for those without a job offer. At the same time we have made it easier for investors and entrepreneurs to come, and last month we opened a new Exceptional Talent Route for recognised leaders in their field. So far, our work visa limit has been undersubscribed each month - proving wrong those who said restrictions would damage our economy. If applications do exceed our limit, we will prioritise those with job offers in shortage occupations, as well as the researchers and scientists destined for employment in the sectors where Britain excels. And the senior business roles covered by the Intra Company Transfer route, serving some of the biggest and most profitable firms in the UK, will not be affected by our limit.
Family and settlement
On the family route, we are also imposing tighter controls. All those applying for a marriage visa must now show a minimum standard of English, and we have focused enforcement resource on tackling sham marriage.
The Government is currently consulting on further measures, aimed at reducing abuse, promoting integration and social cohesion and reducing burdens on the taxpayer. Proposals include harsher penalties for those involved in bogus weddings, stricter checks that relationships are genuine and enduring, and extending the time migrants must spend in the UK before they can bring family members to join them. Family members may also need to wait longer before getting a permanent right to stay - five years, rather than the current two. We have also proposed wider and more stringent English language testing, a higher minimum income threshold for those sponsoring family to live in Britain, and restricting appeal rights for those refused a family visit visa.
Finally, we are seeking views on how we can be more selective about who is given a permanent right to make their home in the UK. It is currently too easy to move from a short-term stay to permanent settlement. Last year nearly 300,000 people did so, the highest number since the 1960s. Settling in Britain should be a privilege not a right, and the measures in our consultation are aimed at breaking the link between temporary and permanent migration.
hese are sensitive issues, but ones the UK Government is determined to tackle. Our changes are aimed at protecting the family route from abuse, and making sure family migrants play a full role in Britain’s economic and community life. As before, we will continue to extend a warm welcome to legitimate visitors and those committed to building a successful life in the UK with their loved ones.
Finally - and of particular interest to University members here today - the UK Government has embarked upon root and branch reform of student visa regime. Students represent the largest proportion of non-EU immigration to the UK. In 2010, the student route accounted for 59% of total non-EU immigration, with 178,000 arriving for a year or more. So we cannot bring down net migration without addressing the numbers arriving as students.
As well as the very real benefits international students bring - £2.2bn in 2008/9 in tuition fees alone; an immeasurable contribution to keeping our best universities at the top of the international league - the new Government uncovered widespread and sometimes shocking abuse of this route. From a sample of 231 dependants of students, only 25% genuine. Up to a quarter of those outside our publicly funded system of universities not complying with the terms of their visas. Bogus colleges bringing in migrants with no English, whose primary motivation was not to study but to work and settle in the UK. And poor quality colleges exploiting genuine students by taking their money and offering little in return in the way of teaching, campus life or student support.
As with the other areas of our reforms, the brightest and best have nothing to fear. The British Government will continue to support our world-class institutions in their efforts to attract the most promising students, and the top researchers and academics for whom there is intense global competition. We will continue to welcome those genuine students who want to further their prospects with a high quality course of study in the UK. But we are acting to minimise abuse of the route and focus on the quality rather than the quantity of provision.
So those studying in the UK must now have a good standard of English. We have trusted our university sector to assess their own students, but those studying at other institutions must pass a secure language test.
We have ended the right of those studying outside our university system to work. Only those studying at postgraduate level can now bring dependants with them. And all education providers must meet the highest standards of immigration compliance - those already met by most universities - or be struck off our register and prevented from sponsoring overseas students.
We are also introducing a new system of educational oversight for private institutions, so they face the same robust assurance of the quality of their education provision as our universities and public colleges. Those who fail these inspections will lose the right to bring in international students.
From next April we will limit the time students can spend at degree level to five years - with exceptions for those pursuing professional courses of study in areas like medicine and architecture. And we will close our post study work route which has allowed those with a degree from a British university two years’ free access to our labour market, at the same time as opening up new opportunities for students with a job offer and student entrepreneurs to stay in the country and contribute to economic growth.
I want to also touch on irregular migration, which I know is a subject that generates much debate here in Ghana.
The dangers of migrating outside the rules are starkly illustrated by the situation that 19,000 undocumented Ghanaians, stranded in Libya, found themselves in this year. It is only thanks to an enormous effort by the Government of Ghana that they were able to escape the horrors being perpetrated by the Ghaddafi regime.
I want to be very clear in my message to those who are thinking about coming to the UK without a visa: don’t do it. The journey itself, often taking weeks, travelling through the Sahara desert in the back of overheated trucks, claims the lives of nearly half of the people who attempt the journey. Those that do survive will almost certainly have been subject to an armed robbery along the way. They are left with nothing.
And make no mistake about it, despite what the Connection Men [visa facilitators] may tell you, the life of an undocumented migrant in the UK is not a happy one. You will be exploited by unscrupulous employers, who will pay you far below the amount you need to survive. You will live in squalid conditions, because you can’t afford rent. Many irregular migrants end up working in the sex industry or as domestic slaves. They have nobody to turn to, and no protection from the Police, because we don’t know that you’re in the country.
The Government takes a strong line on removing those people who do not comply with immigration laws. We will remove you. So my message is simple, don’t waste thousands of dollars on fees to visa facilitators, they are not telling you the truth. You are signing yourself up to a life of misery. Despite the changes we are making to the visa system it is not impossible to come to the UK. You might be surprised to know that 70% of visa applications here in Ghana are successful. If you are in any doubt, speak to the Ghana Immigration Service who can advise you on what you need to do to travel.
I also want to commend the inspiring work of Civil Society and the NGOs who are doing so much to stop irregular migration from happening, and in helping reintegrate those who have been exploited as irregular migrants. In particular I want to pay tribute to the Coalition of NGOs Against Irregular Migration. You, and the Government of Ghana - whose Migration Information Bureau I would also like to praise, will continue to have the support of the British Government to help you in this important work. It is in both countries interests that Ghanaians travel to the UK properly.
Across all the routes of entry into the UK our reforms are following the same principles - working to attract brightest and best while reducing numbers overall; a more selective approach focusing on quality not quantity; tackling abuse; and restoring a sense of fairness to the system. Let me be clear: those who go to the UK to work hard and grow our economy, study at our world-class institutions and strengthen our communities will continue to be welcome. But those who want to play the system, those unwilling or unable to make a contribution, will find it more difficult to get to Britain, and more difficult to stay.
I want to end on a positive note: the future looks bright for the UK-Ghana relationship. It is a relationship based on our long-standing historical, political and cultural connections, and on our shared values. But it is also built on the strong people-to-people links that bind us together, with a Ghanaian diaspora in the UK of over half a million, the relationship truly is one of family. As Ghana continues to develop we will work side-by-side with you in pursuit of our mutual aims of: good governance, respect for the rule of law, and the eradication of poverty. And we will manage migration in a way that facilitates this.
I want to thank you again for the opportunity to speak here to you all today.