On non-EU immigration, the government are asleep at the switch

August 31, 2018

It is increasingly clear that immigration was a major factor in the Referendum result. Net EU migration has now fallen from about 200,000 to just under 90,000 (although it could well increase again).

Meanwhile, the question is often asked as to why non-EU net migration has risen to a record 235,000 for the year to March and now accounts for nearly three-quarters (73%) of total non-British net migration.

Some allege that recent polling points to a ‘softening’ of public attitudes on immigration. Yet more positive attitudes since the Referendum are mainly the result of a feeling that Brexit has either already led, or will lead, to reductions.

Nearly two-thirds of voters still consider the level of immigration to have been too high over the past decade. Other research has shown that voters are particularly concerned about reducing the level of immigration from outside the EU.

According to a paper issued by Migration Watch UK today, the short answer is that the Government has failed to make serious efforts to reduce it despite having powers to do so.

A number of factors have been at play:

  • Despite strenuous efforts by Mrs May when Home Secretary, she faced firm opposition from the Treasury who have 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 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 benefitting financially, such as business, universities etc, 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 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.

Any serious attempt at reducing immigration can only be achieved by bearing down on each visa category.

The Migration Watch UK paper ('How to deliver a significant reduction in non-EU net migration') indicates the steps that could and should be taken. They are summarised, for convenience, in Annex A of the paper.

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.

Commenting, Lord Green of Deddington, Chairman of Migration Watch UK, said:

So why has non-EU migration risen while much of the focus is on EU migration and Brexit? The answer is that the government have taken their eye off the ball, indeed they have been asleep at the switch. Nearly three-quarters of non-British net migration comes from outside the EU yet they are doing nothing about reducing it. It is high time that the new Home Secretary got into gear.

Note to editors

A detailed summary of our proposals is to be found in Annex A of the paper. However, they can briefly be summarised (by visa 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.

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.

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