LONDON (Reuters) - The government said on Thursday it would charge overseas workers and students from outside Europe a levy on their visas to raise 70 million pounds over two years to help pay for public services.
Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said the money would go to a fund to ease financial strains in areas where there had been high levels of immigration.
“This fund is designed to try and ease that impact so that the settled community are not disrupted as a result of these big changes,” she told BBC television.
She said projects using the money could include encouraging migrants to register with family doctors so they did not pressure hospitals by going to accident and emergency departments when they were ill.
The fund could also go towards centralising translation of official documents currently done separately by bodies such as police, councils and health authorities, she said.
Applicants for work visas and their dependents will pay 50 pounds each, with students charged 20 pounds, a Home Office spokeswoman said.
Pressure group MigrationWatch, which campaigns for tighter limits on migration, said the tax would have little impact, with Britain’s population forecast to rise by around 10 million to 70 million over the next 20 years.
“It is a drop in the ocean compared with the huge sums spent each year by the government as it tries to help society cope with the impact of immigration both nationally and at the local level,” said MigrationWatch’s Andrew Green.
“A rough estimate shows that, for every pound the government spends on schemes specifically to help migrants, its new tax will only raise about 7p.”
The Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank said most migrants were young and fit and not heavy users of public services.
“Government and local public services must be careful not to fuel anti-migrant sentiments by suggesting that migrants place strains on schools, the police and the NHS,” said IPPR researcher Jill Rutter.
“In reality, migrants contribute to public service provision through taxation and as public service workers.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission said in a report that immigration had been largely beneficial to the British economy.
“Although immigrants have been the target of hostility, many of us have been taking advantage of economic growth and a higher standard of living that has been made possible only by the availability of cheaper migrant labour,” said the commission’s chairman, Trevor Phillips.
Around 350,000 students and 125,000 economic migrants and their dependents from outside the 30-nation European Economic Area came to Britain in 2007.
Editing by Steve Addison