Q&A: Immigration Bill

UK Border controls sign at Heathrow Airport

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The government says it wants to make the immigration system tougher, so what is in the plans being considered by Parliament and why the current concern over the issue?

What does the government want to do about immigration?

Net migration - the difference between those coming in and leaving the UK each year - rose under Labour to more than 200,000 a year.

The coalition says that, by the next election in 2015, the total should be "tens of thousands", rather than hundreds of thousands.

The government is also promising to clamp down on illegal immigration - not included in the official figures - and benefit claims.

Why is immigration such a big political issue?

There have been concerns over pressure on services such as education and schools, while many workers say their wages are being driven down by foreign employees. Difficulties deporting foreign criminals have created unwelcome headlines too.

The rise of the UK Independence Party, which campaigns for cuts to immigration, has further heightened interest in the issue at Westminster.

What's in the Immigration Bill?

It compels landlords to check whether tenants are in the UK illegally, with those failing to do so facing large fines.

Banks will have to check immigrants' legal status before offering accounts.

Some temporary migrants - such as students - will pay a £200-a-year levy towards the cost of NHS services.

And registrars will have to inform the Home Office of planned weddings between and UK citizens those from outside Europe, to cut down on "sham" marriages.

What about deportations?

The bill says foreign criminals can be deported even before the outcome of their appeal is known, as long as they do not face "serious irreversible harm" at home.

The number of grounds for appeal against deportation is being reduced from 17 to four, which ministers say will simplify the system.

Does Labour back the plans?

Yes. At least the party says it will not oppose them in Parliament.

But it also criticises the bill, saying it does nothing to tackle exploitation of workers, and the undercutting of UK citizens' wages. Labour is promising to "amend and reform" the legislation.

Who opposes it then?

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes has raised concerns that it is being rushed through.

Housing groups are concerned about the onus on landlords to check tenants' status, and the British Medical Association warns that hospitals face a "bureaucratic nightmare" in levying the charges for NHS services.

Some business groups say the changes could appear hostile to outsiders and might deter investment in the UK.

Haven't there been immigration bills before?

Yes, several over the past century, including, in recent years, changes such as English language tests, restrictions on the types of workers entering the country and longer periods of "naturalisation" through marriage.

But critics insist the UK system is a "soft touch" and that more needs to be done to deter illegal immigrants and the exploitation of benefits and services.

So, will the Immigration Bill become law soon?

It looks set to get through the House of Commons with Labour's support, but could face more opposition in the Lords.

The government wants it to come into action as soon as possible.

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