Sajid Javid is losing no time establishing his personal authority as Home Secretary and making the case for change. I wrote in my Daily Telegraphcolumn two weeks ago that the test of his independence would be whether he’d pick a fight with Theresa May on Tier 2 visas: doctors, engineers and other skilled workers coming from outside the EU. That fight has now begun. Andrew Marr asked him why thousands of tier-2 skilled workers had been rejected recently, usually because they’re not earning £50k. Marr quoted one NHS manager saying it was “completely barmy”. It seems that the new Home Secretary agrees
“When that policy was put in place, there was a cap that was established: 20,700 a year of these highly-skilled immigrants. For years and years that cap wasn’t hit. It’s only in recent months that the cap has been hit. The doctor you refer to is probably referring to the fact that this includes a number of doctors who are qualified, that our NHS needs, who are being turned away.
I see the problem with that. It is something that I’m taking a fresh look at. I know a number of my colleagues certainly want me to take a look at this and that’s exactly what I’m doing. And I hope to think about this more carefully and see what can be done.”
His predecessor, Amber Rudd, tried to think “more carefully” about Tier 2 immigration – and, as Tony Blair might say, she still has scars on her back to prove it. The fights with No10 were vicious and she got nowhere. Theresa May is strongly against any relaxation of any immigration rules, remaining committed to her immigration target of 100,000 a year. Which shows no sign of being met.
Mrs May has long loathed what she regards as the whining of her colleagues about immigration – she even moved Jo Johnson from his role as Universities Minister due to his campaign to have foreign students excluded from the net figure.
But Javid is showing defiance on students, too. “There is a perception problem around this,” he said. He admitted that he has “long considered” whether students should be taken out of the target. And yes, he’ll review it. “It is something that I would like to look at again.” It’s not something the Prime Minister wants to look at again, but that doesn’t seem to concern him unduly.
So what about the “tens of thousands” target for net immigration, blurted out one day by Damian Green on a television sofa when the Tories were in opposition? “That’s a manifesto commitment of ours,” Javid said, glumly. When asked repeatedly if he is personally committed to that target, he would say only that he’s bound by the manifesto.
Marr asked him why Ruth Davidson is attacking the ‘tens of thousands’ target: the answer is that she has never stood as an MP and is, ergo, not bound by any Westminster manifesto. Javid is bound to the manifesto but evidently does not feel bound to Mrs May’s Home Office policies. As he said, his Cabinet colleagues are with him on this – and he’s listening to them, not to her. The question is whether she will, as a result, now listen to him and change the Tier-2 visa policy. Watch this space.