The Institute for Public Policy Research has a report out today responding to the UK government's consultation paper on economic migration. The report is unenthusiastic, and rightly so.
If you're going to have a social security system that's generous by world standards, you can't allow unrestricted immigration. We have to have restrictions, but we owe people who want to live here a system that is decent, and, if we wish to promote relative prosperity in the UK, we need a system that works to Britain's economic advantage.
If you want to enjoy living standards well above the world average, you need a big competitive advantage. Having sound infrastructure, little corruption, and a good supply of quite well educated labour is not going to be enough - the asian economies can supply that much cheaper than we can. One thing we can and should do is to have a lot of technically brilliant people. We can't grow them at a much faster rate than the rest of the world, we have to persuade them to come here. So a major aim of our immigration policy should be to welcome the brightest and the best from around the world.
What provision does the government's consultation paper make for that? Amost none. If you're a wealthy investor or entrepreneur then you'll be welcome. If you're an internationally recognized world leader in science, arts, or the humanities then you can come (there's a limit of 1000 places in the first year, to stop the country being swamped with internationally recognized world leaders). If you're needed to fill a graduate-level vacancy here that can't be filled by an EU citizen then you can have a visa (there's a limit of 20,700 places a year). And if you're a highly skilled migrant who wishes to work or become self-employed in the UK then you can bog off.
My policy would be to offer right of settlement in the UK to anyone in sound mind with a good degree in mathematics, science or engineering from a leading university (or equivalent) anywhere in the world (the BRIC countries all have institutions that would qualify). I'd have a committee of academics and employers to nail that down. How can this be a bad idea?