What Can Be Done?
1. The central aim must be to stabilise the population of the UK as closely as possible to the present level.
2. This requires a reduction in net migration from the present level of 176,000 (calendar year 2012) to 40,000 or less. In other words immigration must be brought back to the levels of the 1980s and early 1990s.
3. The first step is to set a target range for net migration and build policy round it, as the House of Lords Economic Committee recommended in April 2008. In the past the scale of immigration has been simply the outcome of a complex set of regulations. The Conservative element of the Coalition is committed to reducing net migration to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament in 2015.
4. Is such an approach realistic? The net migration figure of 176,000 for 2012 consisted of 497,000 people immigrating and 321,000 people emigrating. These are substantial movements in both directions. The issue is the difference between them. It should be possible to achieve a low net migration figure while still allowing for substantial flows into and out of the country. Migration is, of course, a good and natural part of an open society and economy.
5. Another question is whether such an approach is feasible, given free movement within the EU. In fact, immigration from the other members of the EU 15 has been almost in balance (the average of the last five years is only about 30,000 a year). We expect the same to happen eventually to the new East European members (the A8); they will continue to arrive, perhaps in smaller numbers, but will be counterbalanced by departures. In the last five years net migration from the whole of the EU has made up about 36% of total net migration so the largest component of net migration is from outside the EU and could and should be controlled by government. However, in January 2014, citizens of the A2 countries (Romania and Bulgaria) gain full access to the UK labour market which has the potential to increase inflows into the UK. We estimate that between 30,000 and 70,000 migrants from the two countries combined will come to the UK each year for the next five years, with a central estimate of 50,000. Not all of these will show up in the net migration statistics but any such increase has the potential to undermine the government’s efforts to reduce net migration.
6. The next step is to examine the main components of non-EU immigration:
(a) Work Permits
These have trebled from 40,000 to about 120,000 a year since 1997. The government has introduced a cap on work permits of 21,700 a year. At present only about half these permits are being taken up. However, the impact of this cap will be reduced as Intra-Company Transfers (ICTs) have been excluded from it. The government have also broken the previously almost automatic link between work and settlement. In future, economic migrants wishing to stay in the UK will have to demonstrate earnings of more than £35,500 per year. This means that employers will be able to recruit those workers it needs, and the economy will be able to retain those migrants who are beneficial to the UK, but without adding to the population in the way that we have been in recent years. This policy will also increase the incentive to train British workers.
There can be no question of interfering with genuine marriages but arranged marriages with overseas partners should not be permitted if there is an element of pressure on one of the parties to the marriage. Existing measures to prevent sham marriages should also be tightened; the government has introduced a Bill which should help in the detection and prevention of sham marriages. Language requirements have been raised which should facilitate better integration. The government has introduced a minimum income requirement of £18,600 for those wishing to sponsor an overseas spouse. This measure is designed to protect the taxpayer. We suggest that all applicants wishing to come to the UK for marriage should be interviewed to ensure that the marriage is genuine.
The numbers are nowadays small relative to immigration as a whole – there were just under 20,000 applications in 2012 and grants of asylum were just 5,800 in the same period. The main requirement now is to consider applications promptly and remove those whose claim has failed and who no longer have any legal right to remain in the UK.
The number of non-EU students and their dependants given leave to enter the UK in 2012 was over 210,000 and an additional 300,000 student visitors entered for less than 12 months. In 2011 this figure was over 260,000 and an additional 260,000 student visitors given leave to enter for study. These are huge numbers but it is important to realise that genuine students are not an immigration problem so long as they leave at the end of their studies. Unfortunately, the Points Based System of which some 60% relates to students has been abused on a considerable scale. (Briefing Paper 2.3 and Briefing Paper 2.19). This needs serious ongoing attention. The government has taken measures to tackle this abuse. Seven hundred bogus colleges have been closed down and all educational establishments now have to achieve ‘Highly Trusted Sponsor’ status. Stricter language requirements have been introduced for students and the rules surrounding employment rights of students have been tightened up. Where previously students were able to extend their student visas, they now have to show academic progression. Only those studying at postgraduate level for more than 12 months can bring their dependants with them. The post study work visa which gave all students two years to find work of any kind – described by the Migration Advisory Committee as one of the most generous in the world – has now been closed after it was found that 60% were working in low skilled jobs. The government has now rolled out a regime of interviews to ensure the credibility of applicants – such interviews are a matter of course in competitor countries such as the US and Australia where strict requirements have not reduced numbers. These measures should root out further abuse and deter bogus students from applying while protecting the integrity and reputation of Britain’s highly esteemed education sector. However, new data shows that students are not going home as they should be. In 2012 just 49,000 non-EU students left the country, just 36% of the average inflow in each of the last five years. Further data will be instructive in understanding the scale of students staying on for work, marriage and illegally. (Briefing Paper 2.25)
(e) Illegal Immigration
In addition to these categories there are significant numbers of illegal immigrants in Britain. We estimate that there could be up to 1 million in total. (Briefing Paper 11.22). The best way to tackle this problem is to impose heavy fines on the employers of illegal immigrants and remove those caught working illegally. The government has been increasing its enforcement efforts believing, correctly, that if the opportunities for illegal work are closed off, people will not stay on illegally. It is imperative that the penalties that are issued are collected. Between April 2008 and October 2012 almost £70 million in fines were levied on companies found employing illegal migrants, yet just £21 million had been collected. It is important that this be significantly improved. (Briefing Papers 11.7, 11.17, 11.22 and 11.23). The government has introduced a Bill aimed at making it more difficult for illegal immigrants to live in the UK by ensuring that landlords check the immigration status of tenants, and preventing illegal migrants from accessing bank accounts and driving licences. The Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent in the spring of 2014.
The government have now largely reformed each immigration route. They key now is to ensure that people leave when their visas expire. While immigration from outside the EU has averaged around 300,000 per year for the last six years, emigration of non-EU citizens has only averaged just over 100,000 a year. While many of these will have been granted settlement, some will have overstayed their visa. The government is starting to remind people when their leave is about to expire and that they must leave the country – this should continue and be developed.
7. It will be apparent that there is a practicable way forward and that the political system is now beginning to respond to very strong public opinion. The formation in September 2008 of a Cross Party Group on Balanced Migration was a major step forward. Their website can be found at www.balancedmigration.org where a fuller account of their policy proposals can be found.
Updated 29 November 2013
1 Home Office, Points Based System Tier 1: An Operational Assessment, October 2010, URL: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/.../rds/pdfs10/occ91.pdf
2 Nicholas Soames Parliamentary Question 121380, 15th October 2012, Hansard, Column 98W.