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  1. Wealth
June 19, 2013

Britain loves immigrants – as long as they can pay their way

By Spear's

There is a general recognition that there must be an economic dimension to border policy – the concern is therefore more over policy implementation than basis

Does UK plc only want the super-wealthy to come here? How finance-driven should a migration policy be? Is British border control too restrictive?

Getting the balance right at our borders between security, skills, cohesion, and prosperity is a huge challenge, one that leaves legislators endlessly fretting and produces new sets of immigration rules on an almost monthly basis. 

Such questions lay behind a report published this week by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Migration. The report criticised the effects of a new rule requiring evidence of a minimum income for UK citizens sponsoring the entry of their non-EU family members.

The policy is designed to deter new migrants who might depend on benefits and reputedly bars 18,000 potential new welfare claimants annually. A barrier of this nature easily lends itself to emotionally charged reports of mothers denied access to their infants and spouses separated by the cold reality of their monthly payslip figure. Less headline-grabbing are the savings to the public purse which, however remote, do ultimately represent a human cost.

Notably, the report did not criticise the policy itself. There is a general recognition that there must be an economic dimension to border policy – the concern is therefore more over policy implementation than basis. Whilst 47 per cent of the UK population may be prevented from sponsoring family members, none of the APPG would argue that the other 53 per cent are super-wealthy high-spenders. The intention is to favour self-supporting families and restrict access for those who are less likely to be active contributors to the UK economy.

Wealthy immigrants

One migrant category that certainly is benefiting the UK is the Investor visa holder: holding a minimum of £1 million in qualifying investments in the UK buys you the right to live here. Since their introduction in 2008, these visas have become increasingly popular – more were granted in 2012 than in the preceding two years combined.

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The government is (for obvious reasons) keen to entice as many wealthy foreigners as possible to set up home in Knightsbridge, Hampstead, and Kensington. Their presence brings business for all manner of high-end industries both in London and further afield, and reinforces the UK’s reputation as a prestige destination for wealthy families.

Even if economics is said to have too much weight in some areas of border policy, it is arguably undervalued in another – visitor visas. The president of the China International Travel Service, a nationwide travel agency in China, last week complained of the intense scrutiny placed on every applicant. She explained that most of their customers visit continental Europe for their long-haul foreign holidays, giving the UK a miss as the Schengen area is much less bureaucratic.

Come here!

Residents of UK tourist hotspots such as Oxford or Stratford-on-Avon may be so accustomed to seeing bus loads of Far Eastern sightseers that difficulties at passport control would not be suspected. But if many do get through each year, how many more, rebuffed by the UK system, are swelling the public coffers of our European neighbours by touring the chateaux of France and the castles of the Rhine instead?

The government has recently made some fresh attempts to attract Chinese tourist pounds back to the West End but it seems the rules are still seen as too heavily weighted towards worries about the potential for visitors to overstay their welcome.

So the balance may still not suit everyone, but broadly, the message seems to be that the UK’s borders are open to those who have a positive financial contribution to make. Money should never be the last word in immigration policy but for the sake of the tax-laden millions it must be prominent.

The world sees Britain as a highly desirable place to work, live, and play and a migration policy that does not capitalise on this commodity to serve the exchequer would be deeply irresponsible.

Edward Keene works at private wealth law firm, Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP

Read more from Wealth Wednesday

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