UK Mainstream Parties on Immigration

This page is dedicated to the Conservatives', New Labour's and the Liberal Democrat's respective positions on immigration. Note that the first two party's statements are quoted in full, whilst the Lib Dem's position appears in the form of excerpts taken from a larger text, available on their website.

Labour Party

Why Labour?

The protection of our borders is fundamental to the future of our country. We are committed to building on the progress we have made to create a system in which people can have confidence, which protects the security of the United Kingdom, prevents abuse of our laws, and is fair to both legal migrants and the British public. Labour is delivering the biggest shake-up to our border protection and immigration system in decades; the new Australian-style points based system; ID cards for foreign nationals; a new border force and high-tech system for counting people in and out of the country are part of a new system fit for the 21st century; built to benefit Britain.

Britain has a long tradition of providing a safe haven to those in need. We are proud of this history and we will continue to provide a place of refuge for the oppressed and those legitimately seeking asylum and the security of our care. We are steadfast in our determination to tackle the horrendous crime of people-trafficking and will continue to work both at home and with our European partners to end this horrific crime that trades on human misery.

Key Achievements:

* Asylum applications are at their lowest level for 15 years. The fall has been dramatic from over 80,000 asylum claims in 2000 to around 23,400 in 2007. Asylum intake is now less than a third of the level it was when it peaked in 2002.

* In 2007, we removed an immigration offender on average, every 8 minutes.

* A single border force to guard our ports and airports, with new powers and new technology.

* We have tripled the number of staff who work on border control, and enforcement of Britain’s border controls now starts overseas. Since January 2008, we check everyone’s fingerprint before we issue a visa. So far we have enrolled over 1,000,000 people and have matched over 10,000 fingerprints in connection with previous immigration matters.

* A new Australian-style points based system to ensure only those economic migrants who have the skills our economy needs can come to work in the UK.

* Since February 2008 rogue employers face civil penalties of up to £10,000 for each illegal worker they employ. Those found to have knowingly hired illegal workers can incur an unlimited fine and be sent to prison.

* Introduced compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals who come here to work or study.

* Ratified the Council of Europe Convention Against Trafficking, strengthening the UK’s ability to catch the criminals that exploit victims of trafficking and underlining our long-term commitment to tackle this horrific crime.

New Labour, your Britain:

Labour knows that we all want strong borders and a fair deal. That is why Labour is continuing to deliver the biggest changes to our immigration, citizenship and border security system for decades. Our changes include:

* New electronic border controls will be counting people in and out of the country by 2010

* In 2008 we activated powers to automatically deport foreign national rule-breakers, and we will expand our detention estate to lift the number of people we remove from Britain.

* We will introduce legislation to reform the immigration system and set out a new agenda of earned citizenship where the rights and responsibilities of becoming a British citizen have to be earned. This will ensure that only those who share our values can earn the right to stay by clearly spelling out the rights and obligations of legal immigrants to Britain, as well as the requirements for earning British citizenship - including learning English, paying tax and obeying the law.

* The new Migration Impacts Fund, that comes from an extra levy on new migrants as they enter the country, will support local services like health, police, and schools manage short-term pressures of migration.

* Enforcing strict penalties against immigrants or their employers if they break the rules, including the establishment of new partnerships between local authorities and enforcement agencies to gather intelligence, disrupt illegal activity and track down illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers.




Immigration can be of real benefit to the UK, but only if it is properly controlled with its impact on the economy, public services and social cohesion taken into account. Net migration to the UK, the difference between immigration and emigration, increased from an average of 51,000 a year between 1993 and 1997, to an average of 209,000 a year between 2004 and 2008. The scale of change has put pressure on public services, and in the recession they will find it even harder to cope.

Our approach will ensure that we admit both the right people for our economy and also the right number of people. For economic migrants from outside the EU, we propose a two-stage process:

* The first stage is making eligible for admission those who will benefit the economy;

* The second stage is an annual limit to control the numbers admitted with regard to the wider effects on society and the provision of public services.

A Conservative government would also apply transitional controls as a matter of course in the future for all new EU entrants.

To enforce such controls, and to prevent illegal immigration and combat criminals who compromise our security, we need a new approach to managing our borders.

So we will introduce a dedicated Border Police Force to protect the UK’s borders.

Unlike Labour’s Border Agency, which does not even include the police, our force will have the power to stop, search, detain and prosecute the terrorists, traffickers and illegal immigrants who currently slip through the net. Only then will we be able to start making Britain safer.


Liberal Democrats


One of the major characteristics of globalisation is migration, the movements of individuals and families, temporarily or permanently, across national boundaries. Migration has been an important factor in the development and prosperity of this country throughout its history and many of us would not be here if it were not for migration in the past. Migration is also a key factor in ensuring that the UK remains competitive within the European and world markets, attracting sources of labour needed for economic development. In 2007, net immigration to the UK was 237,000, up from 44,000 in 1996; these migrants were mostly from the new EU accession states. 3.0.2 Immigration is vital to the UK’s economy and public services, and immigrants make an outstanding contribution to national life. In a globalised world, skills and ingenuity are to be welcomed. In London, for example, 23 per cent of doctors and 47 per cent of nurses were born overseas and some 11,000 overseas teachers work in the UK. The heart surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub, the England cricket star Kevin Pietersen, and the playwright Sir Tom Stoppard were all immigrants. Liberal Democrats believe that the economic benefits and diversity resulting from migration have made Britain a better country.

Furthermore, many British citizens have taken advantage of the growing opportunities to migrate and have decided to live and work in other countries; nearly one in ten British nationals live part or all of the year abroad. This includes about 1 million pensioners, a number which is projected to grow to 3.3 million by 2050.

However, we recognise that challenges also come with the opportunities that migration brings. These include:

• Managing the effect of migration on local resources.

• Dealing with the real or perceived threats to the employment opportunities of UK citizens.

• Preventing immigration crime and people trafficking.

• Enforcing border controls.

The first two are covered in this section; the third and fourth are dealt with in

policy paper 86, Security and Liberty in a Globalised World (2008). Liberal Democrat policies related to asylum, which is often – incorrectly – conflated with immigration, are set out in conference motion ‘Asylum and Immigration’ (2004).


Liberal Democrats recognise that the benefits of immigration can only be reaped in full if migrants are moving to areas where there are jobs, together with resources and proper facilities to help new arrivals and long-term residents communicate with and understand one another. The economic benefits of migration need to be assessed alongside social outcomes and an assessment of resource availability.

In order to properly respond to the changes in resource availability which population movements can bring, Liberal Democrats would build on the current pointsbased system which awards points to economic migrants from Non-EU countries on the basis of the skills they possess. We would improve this system by allowing migrants from Non-EU countries to be awarded points on the basis of where they choose to work; more points would be awarded for working in areas of the country where resources are plentiful and population growth is needed.

The chief failing of the current system is that it does not take into account the different needs for immigration of different parts of the country. Scotland, for example, has more than a third of the UK’s land area but less than ten per cent of the population, and a desire to stem the process of depopulation; all the mainstream political parties in Scotland are agreed on the need for population growth. This situation is in marked contrast to that of the South-East of England, for example, where the density of the population now substantially exceeds that of the most densely populated country in Europe, the Netherlands, and resources such as water are becoming scarce – the South East has less water per head of population than Sudan.

Our proposals would allow the UK’s immigration system to attract migrants to the areas where they are most needed. They would be more beneficial to the UK economy than an overall cap on immigration, as proposed by the Conservatives, which would be disastrous for the UK economy. If the cap was reached, the Tories would block Japanese sushi chefs or American aviation engineers from creating jobs for British citizens. Market economies are flexible and their needs vary in unplanned ways. A centrally-set quota cannot be sensitive to the needs either of particular companies suffering from skills shortages or of regions and localities possessing the resources and desire to absorb migrants. A regional points-based system would address both these issues. It would better address the needs of the UK population and would help ensure that migrants move to areas where there are sufficient resources to help them settle in.

Under such a regional points-based system, migrants would be issued work visas (as they are in the current system) but they would be tied to a particular country or area of the UK. As they would be coming in under Tiers 2 or 3 of the current system, they would still require a sponsor of employment. The means of enforcement would be the same as the current means of enforcing any work visa for migrants – by undertaking checks on employers. The restrictions under this new system would be on where a person could work and would not restrict internal movement. Employers would be in breach of the law if they employed someone only entitled to work in another area or country of the UK, exactly as they are currently in breach of the law if they hire someone without permission to work here.

The decision to award additional points would be made by the devolved Parliament, Assembly or regional body, in consultation with the Migration Advisory Council, which currently decides the points value of skills. The Home Secretary could reject the proposals but would have to give a reasoned opinion. The system would initially be introduced on a pilot basis for Scotland. After seeing the results in practice, consideration would be given to how the system could be developed to create even more specific visas for local, rather than regional, areas.

The lesson from Australia, on which this system is based, is that migrants who move to areas that want population growth frequently put down roots in those communities. Even when allowed to apply for permanent residence after three years of living in a particular region, few migrants want to up sticks and move to more densely populated areas. A survey of ‘skilled independent regional’ visa holders (equivalent to our suggestion) showed that 89 per cent did not want to move from the region in which they had moved to work.

This system would also help to address the challenges which large unanticipated in-flows of migrants can cause for local authorities. Such movements can sometimes stretch the resources of a local authority as they try to deal with supporting families, providing language assistance and ensuring the health and well-being of the new members of the community. This can lead to a fear of losing out on social housing to a migrant family, the unjustified belief that migrants simply sap resources from public services such as health, and general hostility towards globalisation.

At present, the funding mechanisms designed to deal with this are slow and outdated. For example, in the London Borough of Hillingdon, there were at one stage 14,000 migrant children in care, with funding for support only given to the local authority retrospectively by central government. The changes to the points-based immigration system we propose, would help to deal with this issue by encouraging the movement of Non-EU migrants to areas of the country with the resources and the will to receive them.

In addition, we would commission an urgent review into how population is measured so that a more responsive and up to date indicator for population change (such as GP registrations) can be used. We would also review equalisation funding mechanisms to ensure that extra funding is provided rapidly to areas with greater population growth. In the longer-term, our commitment to build more social housing and invest in education would also help to deal with large population movements.

Wages and Employment

Over recent years the increasing mobility of labour has been connected to a fear of migrants amongst some sectors of the population, which has been added to by irresponsible remarks by the government and sections of the media. Liberal Democrats oppose xenophobia of any kind, but recognise the need to address how this climate connects with the fears some people have of losing out in job competition to workers from other countries.

A review of the best available evidence by IPPR shows that migration does not negatively affect either employment or wages on a national level. In fact, studies show that migration has boosted the economic performance of the UK overall. Nevertheless, some types of workers, particularly the lower-skilled, and some communities, may buck the overall positive trend, and we are committed to helping those who may currently lose out.

The data government produces does not allow an in-depth analysis of the effects of migration on local areas. In order to ensure that support can be targeted towards the most deprived areas and people, we would require government departments to collect data on the regional and sector-specific effects of migration on employment and wage levels.

We would introduce the following specific measures, to help protect those on modest incomes:

• Ensuring that both migrant and non-migrant workers are protected from exploitation by agency or other temporary employers through strengthening employment law in relation to agency and temporary workers.

• Ensuring that all employees are paid a fair wage by better enforcing minimum wage legislation to ensure that employees are paid the full amount, without any deductions for expenses and without taking into account any tips they have received.

*the above are extracts taken from ‘Thriving in a Globalised World – A Strategy for Britain, Domestic Responses to Globalisation’, Policy Paper 92, available at:


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