On non-EU immigration, the government is asleep at the controls
By Alp Mehmet
Vice Chairman of Migration Watch UK
The Conservative Woman, 7 September, 2018
The question is often asked as to why non-EU net migration has risen to 235,000 for the year to March 2018. That represents an increase of more than 50,000 on the previous year and is 36,000 higher than in the spring of 2010, when the Conservatives took office at the head of the coalition government.
All this despite a 2017 Conservative manifesto commitment to ‘bear down on immigration from outside the EU’ and repeated pledges to reduce overall net migration to the tens of thousands (from more than 270,000 currently).
A paper issued by Migration Watch UK, (How to deliver a significant reduction in non-EU net migration), argues that the Government has failed to make serious efforts to reduce non-EU immigration despite having powers to do so.
A number of factors have been in play:
- Despite strenuous efforts by Mrs May when Home Secretary, she faced firm opposition from the Treasury, which has long favoured continued immigration simply to boost the overall size of the economy regardless of the impact on wider society and despite the absence of evidence for the UK of any significant benefit to GDP per head.
- Other government departments also opposed restrictions, often as a result of special interests. For example, where the NHS had shortages of staff even when, as the government’s own Migration Advisory Committee has pointed out, this was partly due to a failure to invest sufficiently in training.
- During the coalition years the Liberal Democrats had no desire to restrict immigration control from anywhere in the world.
- Meanwhile those who were benefiting financially, such as business and universities, pressed for continued high levels of immigration to their own sectors.
- Since the election in 2017 Amber Rudd, as the Home Secretary, preferred to kick the can down the road, partly because she believed that immigration was good for the economy.
- The present Home Secretary Sajid Javid has so far not demonstrated any willingness to tighten immigration policy; in fact his decisions since taking office have had the effect of loosening controls.
Some allege that recent polling points to a ‘softening’ of public attitudes on immigration. However, more positive attitudes since the Referendum are mainly the result of a feeling that Brexit has either already led, or will lead, to reductions, according to Ipsos Mori.
Nearly two-thirds of voters still consider the level of immigration to have been too high over the past decade. That YouGov poll also showed that more 18-to-24-year-olds say immigration levels have been too high than the combined share who say the level has been ‘about right’ or ‘too low’. Other research by the London School of Economics has shown that voters are particularly concerned about reducing the level of immigration from outside the EU.
The Migration Watch UK paper indicates steps that could and should be taken to reduce the level of non-EU net migration. They are summarised (by category) as follows:
- Students – Interviews to obtain a student visa should be extended to all applicants and made more rigorous. Students who wish to transfer into work after their studies should be included in the Tier 2 quota (currently 20,700) and subjected to the Resident Labour Market Test.
- Family – The English language requirement should be raised and the income threshold to sponsor a partner should be increased. It should also be easier for victims of forced marriage to report on their circumstances in order to block visas. Such straightforward measures would help integration and reduce the burden on the British taxpayer.
- Work (general) – The English language requirement should be raised and applicants should be qualified in a relevant degree. The salary threshold should be increased and applied to students transferring into work from a student visa.
- Work (intra-company transfers) – This route needs to be thoroughly reviewed to prevent exploitation. It should be subject to the Resident Labour Market Test. Salary thresholds should be increased to better reflect the going rate in the UK.
- Illegal immigration – The government should devote a great deal more political will and energy towards toughening up border controls and ensuring the departure of those with no right to be here. Former senior officials in the Home Office have estimated that there may be more than a million illegal immigrants in the UK.
- Resources – An increase in resources for border control will also be essential, particularly given the need to divert resources to register about three million EU citizens under the Withdrawal Agreement.
It is clear that the government has taken its eye off the ball, indeed it has been asleep at the controls, when it comes to non-EU immigration. Implementing the above measures would help the Home Secretary make progress in delivering on a major Conservative manifesto commitment.