What Can Be Done?

1. The long-term objective must be to stabilise the growth in the UK population, which is currently increasing by 500,000 (a city the size of Liverpool) every year.

2. This can only be achieved by reducing net migration (the difference between those coming and those leaving) to between 50,000 and 70,000 a year; the level of the 1980s and 1990s.

3. In 2015 there were an estimated 631,000 immigrants to the UK and 298,000 emigrants giving a figure for net migration of 334,000. Reducing net migration as proposed would still allow for substantial flows each way. Crucially it would not prevent the increasing numbers of tourists and business visitors that we all want to see.

4. Some opponents claim that immigration cannot be controlled so it is fruitless to try. They argue that this is just another manifestation of globalisation. This is nonsense. The UK, like every other country, should be able to control immigration. Reflect for a moment on what the level of immigration from much of the developing world would be without a visa system and border controls.

5. What is needed is more effective immigration control and enforcement of immigration law. A target for net migration remains essential for focusing government policy so it is welcome that the government remains committed to reducing net migration to the tens of thousands.

Non-EU migration

6. By a small margin the largest source of net migration remains from countries outside the European Union, something over which the government has immediate control (See here).

7. In recent years substantial reforms to non-EU immigration have taken place with the aim of reducing numbers. They included raising the skills requirement for non-EU workers, ensuring that students are genuine by interviewing applicants, raising the income threshold required to sponsor a non-EU spouse and shutting down large numbers of bogus colleges. However only a small reduction in inflow has been recorded.

8. There is still considerable scope for action on outflows. Non-EU outflow has remained at around 100,000 per year despite the inflow reaching well above 300,000 at times. Steps have already been taken to make some legal migration more temporary so that fewer people are entitled to stay on and settle. For example, workers must be earning a £35,000 if they wish to settle.

9. A further means of increasing outflows is to tackle illegal migration where people stay on even after their visas have expired. The statistics suggest that a large number of students are not departing following the completion of their courses. In 2015 net migration of non-EU students was 70,000. The re-introduction of exit checks at the UK border is a step towards identifying those who have stayed on illegally. While the Home Office claim that exit checks are being used for operational purposes to identify overstayers, it is also important that they publish their findings to help assess government policy.

10. Two new Acts of Parliament have extended deportation powers, limited the extensive grounds for appeal previously available, imposed responsibilities on landlords, banks and the DVLA to carry out checks on immigration status and those who knowingly rent properties to illegal immigrants face criminal prosecution. All of this is designed to make life more difficult for those with no right to remain. However, this needs to be backed up with the deterrent of actual removal. Too few illegal immigrants have been removed from the country, with enforced removals of immigration offenders averaging around only about 4,300 a year over the last nine years. This must be addressed by increasing enforcement efforts. Currently the government spends just 0.25% of total government expenditure on immigration control (see here). This is entirely inadequate.

11. The aim must be to get non-EU net migration back down to well below 100,000 a year. Non-EU net migration has averaged 190,000 over the last ten years and was at that level in 2015.

EU Migration

12. In June 2016 the UK voted to leave the European Union. This presents the government with an opportunity to redraw the rules governing the entry of EU nationals to Britain. The goal should be to create as little disruption to the familial, cultural and economic ties between Britain and the EU as possible while also reducing EU migration.

13. EU migration more than doubled over the course of the last Parliament and now stands at 180,000 a year. Around 70% of EU migrants arriving in Britain come to work and this is where the focus should be. There is no reason why tourists, students, the self sufficient and those in genuine marriages should not continue to enjoy free movement to the UK.

14. Of those who have come to work from the EU in the last ten years 80% are currently working in low skilled work. Low skilled migration adds little or nothing to GDP per capita or productivity and in has a negative impact on wages, in particular in the semi and unskilled services sector. If net migration from the EU is to be reduced low skilled work will have to be controlled.

15. The most effective method would be to extend the current work permit system to EU workers. Work visas are restricted to those who have been offered a skilled job paying a minimum of £20,700 a year. We estimate that around 30,000 work permits per year would allow businesses to maintain their stock of skilled EU workers while also allowing for future growth. (See here) This could reduce EU migration by around 100,000 a year. (See here).

16. However, this will not happen overnight. The Prime Minister has indicated that she will trigger Article 50 no later than March 2017. This begins a two year period of negotiation over Britain’s exit and its future relationship with the EU. If negotiations are successful the UK could leave the EU by Spring/Summer 2019. However, in the meantime free movement will continue and an immediate reduction in EU migration is unlikely to take place.

British Migration

17. More British citizens leave the UK than return each year. This means that foreign immigration is to some extent offset by net British emigration which has averaged around 60,000 a year in recent years. This is however, outside the government’s control.

Total Net Migration

18. Net migration from within the EU plus that from outside the EU needs to be brought down to about 130,000 a year. Allowing for British net migration of about 60,000 a year brings total net migration to the target level of between 50K and 70K a year.

Wider Reforms

19. Immigration policy is only one part of the effort to bring down net migration. Employers can too easily turn to migrants rather than provide training in the necessary skills or offer enough pay to people already in the UK. The government has indicated that it will look at whether companies can be incentivised to invest in training the local workforce.

20. Employers should also be encouraged to pay reasonable wages and where necessary invest in technology rather than take on overseas workers prepared to work for low wages. Brexit offers the opportunity to end the supplementing of wages for low-paid EU workers with tax credits and housing benefit (see here). Employers should pay wages that are sufficient for workers to maintain themselves and their families without support from the UK taxpayer. The state, as a major employer itself, also has a role to play in ensuring appropriate levels of pay and conditions together with education and training for workers in key areas of the public sector, such as health and social care.

21. In the longer term the use of ID cards, to tackle illegal working and to regulate access to public services, is essential.

A stronger society

22. Public concern about mass immigration of people of many different backgrounds is consistently clear and strong. We would like to see net migration reduced so that it is no longer an issue of public concern. This would help to ensure a harmonious society that continues to welcome migrants and the contribution they make to our society.

Updated 11th October 2016

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