The British government has announced plans to tighten immigration rules. The plans were revealed in Queen Elizabeth’s annual speech to mark the formal opening of Parliament.
In a ceremony packed with symbolism, the monarch delivered her 60th consecutive queen’s speech to a joint meeting of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
The eight-minute speech covered a broad range of issues, focusing on continuing efforts to stimulate economic growth and reform health care and welfare services.
But the lines that received the most attention promised an effort to make it more difficult for immigrants to come to Britain.
“My government will bring forward a bill that further reforms Britain’s immigration system,” Queen Elizabeth said. “The bill will ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute and deters those who will not.”
Immigration has been an increasingly prominent issue in Britain, focused particularly on people from new member nations of the European Union. A growing movement to force a British withdrawal from the union is based largely on such concerns.
But the co-director of the Immigration Research Unit at University College London says the concerns are mostly exaggerated.
“The overall effect of migration is broadly neutral,” said Professor John Salt. “It has increased the size of the UK economy. It has had various beneficial effects in terms of providing labor where there are shortages. There is no hard evidence that unemployment among the indigenous population has worsened.”
According to Salt, immigration can affect youth unemployment, and put pressure on housing and land use over time. But he says immigrants do not overburden the welfare system as some activists claim.
The queen’s speech also touched on foreign affairs, with the British government promising to fight terrorism and sexual violence in war, support countries in transition in the Middle East, and help advance the fledgling peace process in Afghanistan.
As president of the Group of Eight industrialized countries this year, the government says it will promote free trade, government accountability and efforts to fight climate change.
The government also pledged to protect residents of the Falkland Islands, which Argentina calls the Malvinas and claims as its own. The two countries fought a war over the islands 31 years ago.
In Wednesday’s speech, the British government pledged to allow residents of all British overseas territories to determine their own political future. In a referendum in March, Falkland Islanders voted almost unanimously to remain a British territory.