It would appear that this Labour Government is so sold on its rhetoric of 'do nothing Tories' that it is desperate to prove that it is 'do everything New Labour'. Yesterday's announcement of a £50 visa 'surcharge' for those wishing to work or study here is one of those examples where that mania for action is all about show rather than substance.
One must acknowledge the background to this decision. Local authorities have been concerned for some time about the burdens caused by inward migration, in terms of additional costs for housing, education and social services. Many have appealed to the Department for Communities and Local Government to make provision for those costs in order to prevent cuts in other services, and there can be no doubt that they have a case. They will doubtless be disappointed by the response.
They won't be alone. One of the key groups impacted by this will be American students coming to the United Kingdom on study abroad programmes. They have no real impact on local government, pump valuable money into the economy and, rather importantly, can go elsewhere. A number of our academics are employed to teach them, and any potential loss in student numbers will cause them to lose income which supplements rather poor salaries in the tertiary education sector. In this instance, the surcharge is a rip-off, plain and simple.
Indeed, our universities receive vital funds from overseas students coming here to further their education. £50 might not sound like much, but in addition to other fees, is likely to make them feel that they are, more than ever, a cash cow. They too can go elsewhere, and some might.
For those coming here to work, we are already establishing a points-based immigration system, which will presumably whittle out those most likely to become a burden on the public purse. So how will an additional £50 help here? Why not insist on minimal language proficiency levels and that any dependents be the responsibility of the foreign worker instead? Such a rule isn't uncommon elsewhere, and I can't see much objection to it.
No, I'm afraid that this is just a gesture which appears to respond to the local government family, whilst reassuring Labour voters toying with the likes of the BNP that they are being tough on economic migrants.
However, let's consider what the likely outcomes are. A few people are put off the idea of coming to the United Kingdom. They are people who would qualify for admission under a points-based immigration system, and thus fairly highly-skilled. We clearly still need their skills, but will have to make do with someone less highly-skilled. Not necessarily good.
Perhaps they are students. In not coming here, we need to provide greater levels of financial support to our universities to make up for the loss of income. Those academics earning extra income from teaching study abroad students will be worse off, and less likely to stay in the academic sector, potentially impoverishing our universities and colleges. Hmmm... still not good.
However, we've raised some money which, all being well, we can distribute to those local authorities which need it. Yes, there will be administrative costs - we need civil servants to collect it, account for it and distribute it. Oh yes, and we don't accurately know where these people have gone, so we'll need to create a formula to decide where the money goes.
And that's the point where my confidence fades altogether. I've already touched upon the issues of grants for the concessionary bus scheme, with the Government throwing its hands in the air as if to say, "we've dished out the money, stop whinging" whilst failing utterly to acknowledge that it might be in the wrong places. This is another grant which will be inaccurately distributed, failing to address genuine need effectively.
Foreign workers and students provide a welcome infusion of wealth for our battered economy. Exploiting them for the sake of an easy headline does them, and us, no favours.