May: I will ‘bear down’ on immigration

By Peter Wozniak

Immigration can be brought down to ‘tens of thousands’ without damaging the economy, Theresa May has insisted.

The home secretary used a speech hosted by thinktank Policy Exchange to announce a series of stricter measures to deter non-vital immigration.

People applying for marriage visas from the end of this month will be forced to “demonstrate a minimum standard of English”.

“This is only right”, Ms May said. “People coming to this country must be able to interact with the rest of the population.”

The home secretary also tried to counter criticism from the Commons’ home affairs committee earlier in the week, which tore apart the government’s proposals as ineffective and harmful to business.

She said: “We can reduce net migration without damaging our economy. We can increase the number of high value migrants: the entrepreneurs, the investors, the research scientists – at the same time as we reduce the total number of people coming to Britain through the economic routes.”

The coalition immigration policy of bringing net immigration down from ‘hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands” has been the subject of intense criticism – not least from the Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable.

Given that the cap, which will come into force from next year, will only affect migrants from outside the EU, critics argue the overall effect on numbers will be minimal.

Ms May lambasted the Labour government’s record on the issue, arguing: “Controlling immigration using the points based system alone is rather like squeezing a balloon.

“Push down work visas and the number of student visas will shoot up. Clamp down on student visas and family visas will spring up. Bear down on family visas and work visas will explode.”

The home secretary pledged to “bear down” on all migration from family, economic and social routes, but echoed the prime minister’s sentiments yesterday making an exception to the Conservatives’ toughening stance on immigration for “high-value” migrants.

The commitment to end child detention for immigration purposes was also reiterated.

The full details of the ‘cap’ on immigration have yet to be revealed, but the issue is known to divide the coalition partners.