1. The long-term objective must be to stabilise the growth in the UK population, which is projected to grow by an average of almost 400,000 a year for the next 25 years. The population of Bristol is currently 430,000. Click here to read more about the impact of immigration on our population.
2. This can only be achieved by reducing net migration (the difference between those arriving and those leaving) to less than 100,000 a year.
3. In the year ending June 2017 there were an estimated 572,000 immigrants to the UK and 342,000 emigrants giving a figure for net migration of 230,000. 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.
6. The largest source of net migration remains from countries outside the European Union, something over which the government has immediate control (See here for more on the net migration statistics).
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. The exit checks (reintroduced in May 2015) are now showing high levels of compliance amongst those whose visas have expired (and who have not obtained an extension). However, there remains, possibly, at least one million illegal migrants in the country and more should be done to reduce this number.
10. Two new Acts of Parliament (the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016) 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 illegal migrants with no right to remain. However, this needs to be backed up with the deterrent of actual removal and in recent years too few illegal immigrants have been removed from the country. In 2016 the Home Office removed 2,400 immigration offenders, 6,200 Foreign National Offenders and 2,400 failed asylum seekers. The low rate of removal must be addressed by increasing enforcement efforts. In 2015/16 just £463 million was spent on immigration enforcement, or less than half a percent of total government spending in the same year. This is entirely inadequate. You can read a summary of illegal immigration in the UK here.
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 over 180,000 in the last ten years.
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 to 180,000 over the course of the last Parliament although fell in the year following the referendum. There is however no sign of a so-called ‘Brexodus’ with 107,000 more EU citizens arriving than leaving in the latest 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 unhindered movement to the UK.
14. Of those who have come to work from the EU in the last ten years, around 80% would not have qualified for a highly-skilled work permit. The Migration Advisory Committee confirms that low skilled migration adds little or nothing to GDP per capita or productivity (See 2016 report here). It can also have a negative impact on wages, in particular in the semi and unskilled services sector. If net migration from the EU is to be reduced, migration into lower-skilled work will have to be controlled.
15. The most effective method of reducing net migration from the EU after Brexit 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 for new entrants to the labour market and £30,000 a year for experienced workers. 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. In March 2017 the Prime Minister triggered Article 50 which began a two year period of negotiations over Britain’s exit and future relationship with the EU. The UK will leave the EU by Spring 2019. However, it seems likely that free movement for EU citizens will continue for an approximately two year transition period after we leave the EU Therefore an immediate reduction in EU migration is unlikely to take place.
17. For those EU nationals already living in the UK, the government has been clear that they will be allowed to remain and it is currently in the process of registering the 3 million EU nationals who have made the UK their home.
18. 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 50,000 a year in recent years. This is however, outside the government’s control.
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 introduced an immigration skills charge which must be paid by employers recruiting non-EU migrants under Tier 2 (there are exceptions for those switching from student visas). This is a good start although there is more that can be done to train British people, especially in the field of healthcare where training places for doctors and nurses have been cut.
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.
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 2nd January 2018