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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 November 2006, 13:32 GMT
Migration impact advice planned
Migrant workers picking celery
Migrant workers: Expert body to advise
The wider social impact of immigration to the UK is set to be assessed by an independent body advising ministers, the government has said.

Home Secretary John Reid said the proposed body would help assess economic need and skills shortages.

But it will also be charged with advising on where immigration has a negative impact.

Mr Reid said at present there was no systematic weighing up of the benefits and costs of immigration.

The Home Office says it wants to hear the public's views on the proposed body before it is introduced by 2008.

Immigration to the UK is being radically overhauled with the introduction of a new "points-based system". Highly skilled migrants will have more chance of settling in the UK than those with fewer skills.

Mr Reid said he also expected the system to build confidence though a "migration advisory committee" (MAC).

The proposed body would advise ministers on:

  • Numbers of low-skilled workers needed from overseas
  • Gaps in the labour market
  • The qualifications expected of highly skilled migrants
  • The wider impact of migration on society

Launching the consultation, Mr Reid said the advisory body would be "pioneering" in how it offered independent advice. He anticipated its conclusions to be public.

Mr Reid said: "I would look to the MAC to give clear and authoritative advice and a degree of confidence to the public that would enhance the view that we are managing immigration in a fair way, [a perception] that has not always been there in the past."

'No weighing up'

Mr Reid said expert advice on the wider impact of immigration, even if it was difficult to make conclusions about this issue, was crucial to the role of the body.

Given the numbers we are experiencing, it is quite challenging to manage it - the problem is we have no idea how many are coming in, we are trying to react to what is coming without any prior warning of what to expect
Graham Edwards, Wrexham Council

"It is precisely these kinds of questions that we want to consult on," he said.

"There is no systematic weighing up of the wider costs and benefits.

"What the wider issues are that we take into account I subject to consultation [because] the wider impact is harder to quantify."

Earlier in November the Conservatives proposed an annual limit on economic migration based on consultations with business, local authorities and other groups.

Labour says fixed limits other than in low-skilled sectors are impractical because they do not provide the flexibility the economy may need.

But the Conservatives say their policy would better reflect the balance between economic need, pressure on public services, environmental impact and "community cohesion".

Conservative proposals also include separating asylum policy from economic migration policy and a border force to enforce policy and deal with over-stayers and illegal workers.

The Home Office consultation ends on 7 January 2007.


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