What Can Be Done?

1. The long term objective must be to stabilise the population growth of the UK.

2. This can only be achieved by reducing net migration to between 50 and 70,000 a year, the level of the 1980s and 1990s.

3. In 2014 there were an estimated 641,000 immigrants to the UK and 323,000 emigrants giving a figure for net migration of 318,000. Reducing net migration as proposed would still allow for substantial flows each way. 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. 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.

Non-EU migration

6. The largest source of net migration remains from countries outside the European Union, something over which the government has 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.

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.

9. A further means of increasing outflows is to tackle illegal migration where people stay on even after their visas have expired. The re-introduction of exit checks at the UK border is a step towards identifying those who have stayed on illegally. The first results will be published in the summer of 2016.

10. The Immigration Act 2014 has extended deportation powers, limited the extensive grounds for appeal currently available and imposed responsibilities on landlords and banks to carry out checks on immigration status. This needs to be backed up with the deterrent of removal. Too few illegal immigrants have been removed from the country each year, with enforced removals of immigration offenders averaging around 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 below 100,000 a year. Non-EU net migration has averaged 190,000 over the last ten years. In 2014 it was an estimated 197,000.

EU Migration

12. To reduce net migration free movement of labour within the EU must be addressed. This migration more than doubled over the course of the last Parliament and now stands at over 170,000 a year. It is likely to remain high in the medium term (see here). While the principle of free movement is one that all member states sign up to, the European Union was until 2004, not only a smaller group of countries but a group that was also at similar levels of wealth. Today the European Union comprises 28 hugely different countries with a significant wealth disparity between the richest and poorest. In 2013 the UK had a GDP per capita of €29,600 (around £23,700) compared to Bulgaria at €5,500 (around £4,400). This creates a massive economic incentive to migrate from poorer to wealthier countries. There were no such disparities when the Treaty of Rome was signed or even when the UK joined, in 1973.

13. On the 23rd June 2016 there is a referendum on whether the UK should remain or leave the EU. In advance of the referendum the government has negotiated a deal that would be implemented in the event that the UK remains in the EU. The deal includes an ‘emergency brake’ on in-work benefits such as tax credits so that EU migrants cannot access full benefits for the first four years. The government argues that this will reduce the incentive to come to the UK to take low paid jobs. However, the deal is unlikely to make much difference as in-work benefits are only substantial for low-paid households with children. The majority of EU migrants are single or childless couples when they arrive in the UK so will not be affected by temporary restrictions on benefits (see here).

14. The deal does include useful changes to the immigration rules for family members. As EU rules currently stand, EU citizens are not subject to UK Immigration rules on non-EU family members, thus, absurdly, placing them in a more favourable position to that of British citizens when it comes to sponsoring a non-EU spouse and non-EU family members (see here).

15. In the event of a vote to leave the EU there would be an opportunity to agree new immigration controls. A policy that introduced a system of work permits for EU workers, restricted only to higher-skilled work, could reduce EU net migration by as much as 100,000 a year (see here).

British Migration

16. 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 not however in the government’s control.

Total Net Migration

17. 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

18. 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. Employers should, therefore, be encouraged to pay reasonable wages, train people and where necessary invest in technology rather than take on overseas workers prepared to work for low wages. Supplementing the wages of low-paid EU workers with tax credits and housing benefit (see here) should also stop. 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.

19. 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

20. 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 21 March 2016

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