The end of settlement rights for workers?


The end of settlement rights for workers?

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Written by: Frances Webber


Theresa May’s 5 November announcement of proposed reforms of the settlement rules envisages a system of temporary, rightless and dispensable ‘guest-workers’, with only the highest earners deemed deserving of permanent stay.

The Home Secretary said that it is currently ‘too easy’ to move from temporary residence to permanent settlement. ‘If people enter this country saying they will only stay here temporarily, it is obvious that they should only stay here temporarily’, she added. This sounds like a reasonable sentiment. But no one coming to the UK to work – with the possible exception of working holiday-makers – comes in saying they will only stay temporarily. Work has been a route to settlement since modern immigration controls were introduced in 1962. The fact that work-related visas are in the first instance granted for a temporary period, and workers may apply for settlement (‘indefinite leave to remain’) only after five years – is down to the way the rules are drafted. The current settlement rules require workers to remain in the particular employment for which they were admitted and still to be required for that employment, to have had no recourse to public funds for themselves or their family members during the whole five years, and to pass the English language and ‘life in the UK’ tests. This is not ‘too easy’. Her comments are thus untrue on both counts.

Although there are currently no details on how the government proposes to end permanent settlement rights, the announcement is likely to act as a powerful deterrent to entry for the skilled workers it claims to need. It is another indication of the incoherence in immigration policy already seen in relation to the cap imposed on skilled migration in July,[1] which led to a declaration in October that Britain was closed to further work-related migration for the rest of the year. Following squeals of pain from the CBI, and a report from the Home Affairs Select Committee saying that the cap was already damaging the economy, prime minister David Cameron told Parliament on 3 November that 30,000 skilled migrants working for multinational companies would be exempted from the cap. In her statement, Theresa May said that criteria, which might include a minimum salary of £40,000 a year, would be imposed to ensure that the exemption applied only to senior staff.

Students targeted too

Her announcement also heralded yet another crackdown on international students, rarely out of the government’s firing line during the past couple of years despite the massive financial and moral benefits they bring to the UK. The number of admissions for courses below degree level – currently accounting for around half of the 320,000 admissions for study, according to the <ui>Guardian,[2] is to be slashed. The cuts will not affect university admissions, but are likely to cause serious damage to already struggling further and higher education colleges, many of which will not survive without the fees of international students.

Related links

Read the Home Office press release on settlement reform here


[1] See IRR News, 8 July 2010, 'Duplicity behind immigration cap'. [2] See Guardian, 5 November 2010, 'Theresa May promises new immigration crackdown'.


The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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