The Labour government has announced new plans to tackle abuse of the asylum and immigration system.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke told MPs migrants were vital for the UK economy and society but it needed controls.
The plans include a points system for people seeking work permits according to their skills, fines for employing illegal workers, and electronic embarkation controls.
Labour has attacked the Conservative Party's plans for an annual limit on the number of asylum seekers allowed into the UK, saying it lacks "credibility".
What do you think of Labour's immigration plans? Will it be possible to implement the system? Is it more or less realistic than the Tory's plans?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
Neither the Tories nor Labour will succeed in tackling immigration until someone has the balls to stand up to the liberal elite minority and proceed to implement the wishes of the majority. Until then they will continue to dream up measures to limit the number of economic migrants only to have them stopped by the self interested parties that make huge political and financial gain out of the asylum seeker/economic migrant industry.
Shaun Harrison, Nottingham
If Michael Howard is so concerned about current levels of economic immigration, how come he's imported an Australian spin doctor to run his odious election campaign? My wife is a nurse on a high dependency ward, and two-thirds of the beds would have to be closed if the foreign nurses were not there. Under the Tories' quota, we'd have to make do with one less nurse to make room for Howard's spin doctor.
Stuart Mitchell, Manchester
I wouldn't care about how many people come to the UK. As long as they pay their taxes, like you and me. That's the bit that needs looking at.
On BBC2 at 1130 am someone said that immigration was a cheap way of getting in to the UK¿ let me tell you, I married a Kenyan and did it the proper legal way and to date it has cost me over £1,000 and still have another £500 to pay for them to be a British citizen. Meanwhile the illegal immigrants get in for free and others use visitors visas then apply for work permits and get it all for nothing.
The system does need overhauling but it is normally the innocent that suffer by doing it by the book, Labour have done nothing and only now in the election year do they decide to announce measures and I suppose it will be the innocent who suffer again because we are an easy target.
Christine Musili, Mansfield, UK
The government is keen to get immigrants to do skilled jobs like doctors, nurses and technicians and boasts about what a contribution they make to our society. In the next breath they are saying we need to improve the conditions in developing countries by increasing aid and cutting their debt. They continually decry the living and working conditions of the poor in these countries - lack of doctors, nurses and technicians. If we didn't take in these people, there would be fewer shortages of skilled workers in poor countries. Where's the joined up thinking in this??
Labour have had 8 years to get this sorted. I don't think they will make a success of this.
Tony Bathurst, Rushden, England
The government say they are reacting to public opinion, but politicians and the media are guilty of creating this hostile climate in the first place by endlessly putting out negative stories about immigration, few of which have any basis in fact. There should be more sympathy for immigrants and a greater understanding of why they are here.
Mark F, London
People forget that the main language taught throughout the world is English so it makes sense to head for the nearest English speaking country. Other European countries take their share of immigrants (economic or asylum). It's a non starter to talk about everyone heading for these shores. As a white, British citizen living in London, I'd rather travel on a bus surrounded by polite, hard working, courteous, non littering and non foul mouthed migrants than many of the indigenous population who have become lazy and boorish. This country should look at itself very carefully before judging others.
When Michael Howard revealed plans to curb immigration he was called "a shameless opportunist" by Tony Blair. When Howard's plans resonated with the public Labour panicked and brought in draconian anti-immigration plans. Who's the 'shameless opportunist' now?
John, East Yorkshire, UK
Allowing immigrants into the UK to fulfil "skill shortages" has nothing to do with a shortage of UK people to do these jobs and everything to do with businesses wanting to save costs by paying lower wages than UK workers would accept. UK workers then struggle to find a job paying enough to support their mortgage, etc. By allowing this to happen, the government is creating an unemployment time bomb.
Harold Lee, London, England
I have a better idea. When an immigrant wants to come into the country we can kick out a lazy unemployed Brit to make room for them. Within a few years this country would be a Utopia!
Scott, Leeds, UK
It is nothing new. People and government always need scapegoats! Why don't the government, media and the so-called experts publish breakdown (from which countries) of people who are coming to the UK? It will solve many people's fear, as it is likely to show that the vast majority of the people who come here are from the EU and Australasia.
Ravi, London, UK
To me they are all missing the point. We live on a small island which is already heavily populated. Just how many more people can we accommodate before our quality of life becomes unbearable?
Malcolm Roberts, Stotfold, England
We need a proper asylum plan globally. I have every sympathy with genuine seekers. What I do object to is other countries letting asylum seekers pass through to get to the UK. Surely the idea is to get asylum in the first safe country you come to, not be passed on and on and on. We need migrants but we do need to control asylum.
Tracey C, Norwich, England
More empty talk. We can only have a sensible asylum system when we leave the 1951 UN convention. Michael Howard at least seems to recognise this.
Derek S, UK
Why do we have to import skilled labourers when there are people in this country that can do it? What happened to apprenticeships? All these people do is make lots of money then send it back to their country of origin when the money should be staying in the UK. I've had enough of talk, let's see some real action taken over this or this country will swing to the far right.
There are some 44,000 doctors and 70,000 nurses working in UK from other countries. If Charles Clarke wants to send all of them home denying the automatic right to settle, what will happen to the health sector, similarly think about IT, engineering, banking, teaching, etc. There will be an economic melt down. These are the people paying their taxes and helping for the economic growth of the country.
A lot of nice, middle-class people posting on here wonder what problems are caused by illegal immigration. If you go onto the average building site in London, perhaps the majority of workers are just such illegal immigrants, working for less than the minimum wage and ignoring safety standards (not least because they do not understand enough English to understand them). They are a danger to themselves and others on the site, and drive skilled workers out of decent paying jobs. And those nice middle-class people wonder why working class English people are so hostile. If illegal immigrants were taking the jobs of lawyers and doctors, perhaps they would be cooler on the idea. Oh, and by the way, most of the illegal immigrants on building sites are white Eastern European. So skin colour doesn't come into it.
Alastair, London, UK
I am an economic migrant, having arrived here over 15 years ago from the Netherlands. This debate mostly amuses me. Pure asylum does not exist, you have to travel through a lot of safe countries to get here. Migration to a particular country is always part economic. Just abolish all benefits for migrants - save us from a government agency that is going to decide in its eternal wisdom who should and should not be admitted. Most migrants will still come and that is excellent news for Britain.
I believe the main reason for Britain's progress in the last two decades is the tens of thousands of economic migrants who contribute taxes, work harder for less money, are better educated, by and large take very little in benefits and basically dilute the percentage of bone idle Brits who have to be supported through the benefits system.
Tim Temmink, London
Let's get the facts straight: Many 'immigrants' are here temporarily on work or student visas and have to pay their own course fees; they are not entitled to any benefits! Asylum seekers are not officially allowed to work initially. There are some among them that are criminals, just as there is in the host community. The vast majority 'give' more then they 'take'. Again, no one seems to complain about US/Australian/white South Africans but complain about black/Asian and eastern. At worst it is racist; at best ignorant and misguided.
Why are all the political parties pussyfooting around here? Curbing immigration is not racist it's sensible. There are far too many people in this country. We cannot afford to keep paying for these people (regardless of colour or creed), nor can we take millions more in to take jobs and lower our wages. Like it or not immigration is an election issue. The majority of British people want it stopped.
Kathy Anderson, Bradford, West Yorkshire
I sometimes wonder if any of these people have ever met a 'failed' asylum seeker. I have. Many I consider to be my friends and I have seen their scars of torture with my own eyes. Many did not have access to legal representation in Britain because the funding is so poor and dodgy solicitors take the money and run (in my friends case they failed to turn up for her hearing do she was forced to represent herself, without any legal knowledge of the system). So many genuine asylum seekers in this country are not listened to and live in day to day fear of their removal. Please - these people have suffered persecution and are rejected not because they are bogus but because the government has to get the figures down somehow. I am ashamed to be British at the moment if this is our 'compassion'.
The key point that most people miss on this topic is whether our infrastructure can actually cope with a large in-flux of additional people. Our schools, hospitals, public transport and road systems are barely coping with the existing population. More people means more pressure including more house building. So if we want to avoid this island becoming a concrete jungle then we have to control numbers in an honest way. By providing the capability of setting a limit the Tory plans are more honest.
Keith Baker, Reading, UK
I welcome the fact of introducing a points system for the immigration system. This would try to eliminate the abuse of the immigration system. On the other hand, how much is it going to help foreign students who seek employment in UK, after investing millions from their parents hard earned money in UK higher education. I hope the points system is fair considering for students who genuinely seek work in UK after the obtaining a UK degree.
Thiyagarajah Somasundaram, Coventry, United Kingdom
This is a policy and debate driven by the alleged attitudes of voters in the south of the country. Scotland for instance is not overcrowded, and needs more immigration to counter the falling population, but as usual Scotland's needs are placed second to the demands of the south-east.
Fergus Soucek-Smith, Edinburgh, UK
I think we should have a fixed number of 'places' in the UK, and if an immigrant is better educated and more likely to be a benefit than some native criminal, we accept the immigrant and kick out the criminal. That way we could solve the crime problem and immigration at the same time.
It is true when people say that the British view of immigration needs to be changed. Immigration is a positive way to deal with skills shortages in Britain - especially given that we are faced with chronic personnel shortages in the medical and teaching professions. Here in Canada, immigration is welcomed as a vital means of boosting the economy, and immigrants are well received. As a result, their integration into society is generally easier and, more importantly, there is hardly any racism.
Simon, Montreal, Canada (ex. UK)
We've got enough "five year plans" from Labour to last us a millennium!
Asif Givashi, London
Does the 'average Brit' realise that these new policies will prevent Kiwis and Aussies from working for more than one year out of the two they are allowed to spend in the UK? It's not easy to earn enough in one year of work to be able to holiday for the other 12 months and I think you will see fewer young antipodeans 'doing their OE' as a result. Was that what you wanted?
Stephen, Christchurch, New Zealand
At one time the only people who could get work permits were highly-skilled workers, and only then after the employer had tried and failed to recruit someone in the UK. The system was relaxed over the past few years to the point where work permits are now issued to allow people to wash dishes in restaurant kitchens. Now the system is being tightened up again - aren't we just going around in circles?
Elaine Palmer, Chelmsford
A Pakistani woman was interviewed on TV this evening. She had been granted asylum in Britain on the grounds of domestic violence by her husband - in Pakistan. How many of the world's hundreds of millions of domestic violence victims should UK accept? I support equality for all people already here, but the door cannot remain open to everyone.
Too little too late we should be taking lessons for the likes of USA, Australia Canada. This issue has been swept under the carpet - time for us to get tough and hard we are after all only a small island as opposed to those countries mentioned above. Feeling in this country is running high to boiling point in fact, with MPs choosing not to notice or are afraid too. This issues fought properly in the election could well see the end of a Labour government.
Foulsham, Billericay, Essex, England
This is too important to leave to politicians. We must have a referendum. We are a small country and we already have more than enough.
Kevin Robinson, Bridport, UK
It makes me sorry to be British when I see our two main parties and the right wing media colluding to instil xenophobia in the population. All we ever hear about is how there are too many people coming into the country and how we can't cope with them yet there's never anything other than anecdotal evidence offered in support of this. It's perfect election fodder - all attacks aimed at people who can't vote so you don't risk alienating anyone.
As an immigrant (and newly British), I worry about the negativity in the media about immigrants as a whole. Economic migrants contribute taxes etc. with no benefit to themselves and refugees are not allowed to work, but these facts are regularly ignored. This feels like it is part of electioneering rather than a fair review of what works in the system and what doesn't! Points systems are common in many Western countries but can be used to unfairly exclude people who could economically contribute a lot.
This country is too small to hold the amount of people who would like to live in this country. I have nothing against asylum seekers on a personal level but this country is to small. Just look at the property shortage we have, letting more people in will make things worse.
Paul, Birmingham UK
So here we go again. The latest political band wagon in what looks increasingly like an election year. I don't believe any of the proposals, whether Labour, Conservative or others when they arrive, will be any better than the current system. There would also be total chaos while a new system was implemented, which would then have to go again when the Brussels/EU system was imposed. Let's just tidy up the current system, wait the EU one, and move onto something else.
Taking people with skills required by a developed country from a developing country? Sounds like another unfair thing to do. The same skills will be required and critical in the country of origin.
Avinash P, Mumbai, India
The only problem I have with asylum seekers is the (often very violent) crime that a minority are causing in my area of north London. Would it really be that difficult to deport all those who are convicted of a crime, allowing all the honest, decent asylum seekers to remain in the country whilst their case is being considered?
Sarah D, North London
I think the first thing we need to do is quantify the problem we already have. Personally, I would seal the borders for a 12 month period. In this time we give citizenship to all immigrants - illegal or otherwise. This will allow all to enjoy proper rights and employment. Once we've worked out these numbers then we can start to bring in a quota or points system. Alternatively, the current situation is such a shambles we might as well have an open door policy.
John Lenihan, Swindon, England
They can't make the current system work, so why should we believe the new one will work? Asylum seekers should be welcomed, but false ones should be deported the same day, and immigration should be on a skills basis just like most of the rest of the world.
This is grab-a-vote politics rather than the real thing. The only people who will suffer are genuine asylum seekers, who surely have suffered enough.
Dave Godfrey, Swindon, UK
Call me cynical but this is just another electioneering wheeze. A piece of policy stolen from the Tories to win votes but after an election it'll be back to the status quo.
James, South West, UK
I feel the whole debate is electioneering at its most unpleasant. The immigration debate has centred around reducing or controlling the number of economic migrants coming to this country for a "free lunch" - ignoring the fact that the economic migrants arriving in this country are looking to work and to make a positive contribution to British society! Politicians spouting this rubbish for political gain (a few extra middle-England votes) is a little disturbing. Focus on real issues - crime, education, health, housing, social inequalities, etc.
Graham Darby, Durham, England
This is all irrelevant. In response to Michael Howard's recent proposals, Brussels pointed out that we have irrevocably signed away our asylum and immigration controls. We have no ability to legislate in this area any more, so any debate between the parties is pointless.
As someone who has already moved to one country and is in the process of emigrating to another I was quite surprised to learn the UK didn't already have a points system in place for work permits. The Canadian system works very well to ensure a good balance of language skills, age and work experience for its immigrants. The New Zealand system works on a similar basis but makes a selection every few months based on the needs of that time.
Jennifer, Netherlands, ex-UK
I wish the government would stop trying to mask the real problems this country faces by whipping up issues such as immigration. It would be nice if they spent as much effort tackling real issues like increased violent crime, our failing education system and the erosion of our civil liberties.
Chris Morley, Oxford
I am very concerned that Tony Blair keeps going on about the need to allow immigrant workers into the UK to tackle skills shortages. This is a short-term solution - he needs to introduce policies to encourage apprenticeships and similar schemes then we might not be in this position now. Also how can the government remove failed asylum seekers when they haven't got a clue who they are?
"Play it again Sam". Ineffective government policy, growing sense of panic that the political debate might be policies and results rather than 'Grand Plans'. Answer come up with 'New Initiative' and plans which either steals the Opposition's ideas or spin what has been failing.
Chris Parker, Buckingham
No, it won't work because as soon as the Government tries to implement this policy, all the usual supporters of asylum seekers will instantly condemn the policy as illegal, racists, and against these people's human rights. Then we'll have months of legal challenges in the courts which the government will inevitably lose because whenever it tries to get tough on whatever issue, the courts always block the move and I can't see this situation being any different in this case.
Adrian Mugridge, Chester, UK
The founding fathers of the Labour Party will be turning in their graves. The party which was meant to protect the weak and vulnerable is now using immigration curbs to buy votes. The asylum system is already stacked against the applicant and this will just make things more draconian and cause greater social division.
Paul, Brighton UK
The government talk as if the problem is new and they are taking the initiative. Another tactic is that they use hype and the talk as if they are the opposition and this is what they would do if they came to office and that it is the Opposition's fault that we are in the mess that we are in. Not putting a limit on the number of immigrants means that nothing will change. As for deporting failed asylum speakers - aren't they supposed to be doing that anyway. It's 8 years too late.
The targeting of some of the most vulnerable and oppressed people on the face of the planet should shame us all. Furthermore, this escalating campaign against refugees is laying the foundation for a racist backlash against the entire British ethnic minority population. The unholy alliance of the Tories, New Labour and the tabloid media is playing with fire.
Owen Jones, Oxford, UK
All of a sudden it's the Election Year Syndrome when the party in power decides it does want to listen after all, despite no intention of acting on public opinion. If they do win a third term, expect to see this piece of legislation watered down heavily in a year or so. Yawn.
It would be wise for the government to look at an amnesty for all illegal immigrants who have been in the UK for more than 4 years. Many of these people have been in the country for years, live under assumed identities, and even pay tax and national insurance. We must not pretend that these people will disappear, they are here to stay and we should give their existence some dignity or they will remain an underclass, without liberty or democratic freedoms, yet they are contributing to our society. The USA has had amnesties for illegal immigrants, which have been very successful
Brendan Rayment, United Kingdom
Brendan Rayment's claim that the American amnesty scheme was successful is the exact opposite of the truth. It was a disaster that simply encouraged further unchecked immigration of the uneducated poor from Mexico. Bush's new disguised amnesty plan is causing a new surge, straining some states public welfare system to the limits.
Simon Turner, Irvine, California, USA
For years there has been no sensible debate or government action on this issue thanks to the constraints of political correctness. This has not prevented the issue becoming a major concern to many in this country. Now, mainly thanks to the Conservative Party this topic is on the agenda. Labour immediately follow on with their own copy-cat version. The reality is that this government should have done something years ago. It is now too late and there can be no real trust placed on any "policies" that they hurriedly push out before a possible election.
Andy D, Oxford, UK
I don't know if these proposals will work or not. In fact, if previous experience is anything to go by, the Government will drop the proposals after a few days when all the furore has died down. We have seen this happen with many issues in the recent past.
Dave, Sheffield, UK
The question shouldn't be will it work but will it be implemented if Labour manages to stay in? It's just a way of trying to get people to vote for them.
Jo, Manchester, UK
The British Labour Party would be wise to study just how immigration is being carefully managed in Australia. Here we have defined our needs as a country for skills and professions, set a quota for those who are in dire need of a new life due to their own country's problems, and try to assist those who seek to have relatives join them in their new home. All this must be done fairly and within a budgetary limit so that new Australians can be helped to settle in and be happy and successful. Whilst the number of immigrants has been formally increased, a tough stance has been taken to deter those who seek to jump the queue.
Keith Horner, Mount Eliza, Australia
I agree with Martin Bell. I am an "immigrant", having moved here from New Zealand. Funnily enough the Brits I speak to never have a problem with "my kind" of immigrant, i.e. white, educated, in fact some have said as much. However, I agree a points system is a good idea. As for the comment from Louise, Canterbury; from my experience it isn't immigrants that are the problem in the UK - as a whole, people come here to work hard and contribute to society. It is the indigenous population festering on the dole and incapacity benefit, littering the streets and causing all the anti-social behaviour.
Craig, London/ ex New Zealand
I agree to a certain degree with Craig. I am an immigrant having moved to this country some years back. I have a master's degree, speak English better than most Brits and have the skills and the confidence that I will never ever be a burden on any society I live in. But I am NOT white. Why is it that at times like these I feel vulnerable and targeted? I can vouch for the fact that a lot of the economic migrants bring unique skills (doctors, teachers, IT professionals) that you can't impart just by retraining people. It's a reflection of the world we live in today that a large proportion of such immigrants in any part of the world will not be white.
DK, Cheshire, UK
Another "5 year plan" more spin and hot air which will again achieve nothing. The silent majority in this country (yes - just look at the opinion polls on this issue) are sick of the lies being spouted on this by this bunch of clowns who call themselves a government. Something needs to be done now.
Alan Baker, Chelmsford, Essex
Are we supposed to feel gratitude at this pledge to increase the number of removals of failed asylum seekers? Labour spin has reached ridiculous proportions when we are meant to applaud the announcement that the government will finally do what it's meant to.
A panic reaction to the opinion polls and 8 years too late.
Graham Shelton, Oxford, England
Why do we need migrant workers anyway? We have over 1 million people unemployed in this country (plus the ones hidden in the incapacity benefit numbers). Why not re-train them?
Louise UK, London
To answer Louise, the reason why we have migrant workers is that our society pays such low wages that no British person will for this amount, especially as many of these jobs are seen as menial and demeaning including cleaning, catering and farming. The country would grind to a halt without these people doing the jobs, yet no Brits are prepared to do them.
It would be nice of someone could explain exactly what 'problems' asylum-seekers are actually causing. All of the recent immigrants I know are eager to work - or already doing so and are thus paying taxes. The media have created this 'crisis' and the sheep have believed the absurd scare stories.
Martin Bell, London, UK
I think Martin Bell is possibly living in a world of his own. He has met a few honest hard working immigrants, as most are, but I he would not of course met the thousands who are working in the black economy, those involved in drug, vice and violent crime and of course those who are failed (92%?)asylum seekers who have not yet gone home.
Michael, Plymouth, UK