The Conservative - Liberal Democrats coalition unveiled its plans for immigration yesterday. In a document titled 'The Coalition: our programme for government', it promised to:
1. Implement an annual limit on the number of non-EU immigrants entering the UK "to live and work". A much-publicised Conservative manifesto pledge. The coalition has yet to agree a "mechanism" for implementing the limit, however.
2. Apply "transitional controls" for all new EU Member States. Hardly a groundbreaking announcement since these arrangements already apply to citizens of recent entrants Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
3. Reintroduce "exit checks". This idea originated with the Liberal Democrats. Quite how thorough these checks will be remains unclear.
4. End the detention of children for immigration purposes. Both parties promised to do this during the election campaign.
5. Create a "Border Police Force", as part of a refocused "Serious Organised Crime Agency". Another shared election pledge. The Force will focus on "enhancing national security, improving immigration controls and cracking down on the trafficking of people, weapons and drugs" - but how it will differ from the UK Border Agency's current strategy and the crime team already in existence is unclear.
6. Minimise abuse of the immigration system, particularly in relation to "student routes" and "human trafficking". Again, the coalition is fuzzy on the detail here. The UK Border Agency has already announced a number of reforms to "close the door" on bogus student applicants in recent years. Unless the coalition increases funding for the UKBA (which seems unlikely in the current cost-cutting climate) it's hard to see what more can be done without endangering the £2.5 billion earned by UK education providers each year from international student tuition fees.
7. Explore new ways to improve the current asylum system to speed up the processing of applications. As above, this will require additional investment in staff and infrastructure - it's hard to see George Osborne and David Laws agreeing to this at the moment given their priority is to cut the deficit.
While the Liberal Democrats get to implement their manifesto pledge on exit checks, they otherwise had to make big compromises on immigration.
For example, they had to ditch their promises to introduce a new regional points-based immigration system and 'earned citizenship' for illegal immigrants.