Immigrant workers will face much tougher controls entering the UK as part of wide-ranging plans by a new Conservative government.
That was the message from Home Secretary Theresa May, who admitted immigration will be one of the key issues in next month’s General Election.
The Government has been criticised for failing to tackle immigration amid claims “British workers” are losing out to an influx of Eastern Europeans, particularly in rural communities.
In an exclusive interview with this newspaper, The Home Secretary defended the Government’s record on immigration but promised more controls would be brought in.
She said the Government had already tightened regulations on foreign students because the system had effectively been a ‘back door’ into work.
She added new rules regarding the ability to speak English would make it more difficult to gain a visa.
And, she said the Conservatives were committed to re-negotiating the UK’s relationship with the European Union.
She said: “We have changed every route leading from outside the EU into the UK.
“We have rooted out - and continue to root out - abuses in students.
“860 colleges can’t take foreign students because effectively it was a back door into work.
“We have raised the level of English language that is required for visa arrangements to enter the UK.
“We have made changes across the board to control immigration.
“Of course, we do need to do more but it is the Conservative party that has pledged to re-negotiate our relationship with the European Union.
“We have said that free movement is one of the key issues that will be on the agenda.
“We have also highlighted a number of ways we can change the system.
“For example, to claim certain benefits, people will have to live here for four years. They will have to put something in before they take something out.
“We know there is work to be done but it is work that will only be done by a Conservative government.”
The Home Secretary went on to take a sideswipe at Labour who are level with the Conservatives in the latest opinion polls.
She added: “If you look at Labour’s record - uncontrolled immigration for 13 years - it is the Conservatives who recognise the issue and recognise people’s concerns.
“We have started to make inroads but we know more needs to be done.
“I recognise people have concerns about immigration because it can put pressure on public services and it can lead to a holding down in the level of wages at the lower end of the income scale.
“When I came into Government, the thought was that immigration did not have an impact on jobs.
“I didn’t believe that. I had some independent work done which showed it does have restraints on jobs for people already living in the UK.
“I recognise why people are concerned. That’s why we want to bring in more controls.”
The Home Secretary also pledged a new Tory Government would tackle crime in rural areas but appeared to rule out additional funding for more officers on the beat.
She praised the Lincolnshire force for a county-wide 20 per cent reduction in crime.
She added: “What we have seen is police forces, including Lincolnshire, making savings in their budget and also through the hard work of officers and staff, we have seen crime levels falling.
“I know rural crime is a concern in many area and it brings different challenges to the police. But they are adapting. They are changing the way they do things and that process must continue.”