What Can Be Done?
1. The long term objective must be to stabilise population growth of the UK.
2. This can only be achieved by reducing net migration to the UK. In 2012 net migration was 212,000; this must be reduced to the low tens of thousands. In other words it must return to the levels of the 1980s and 1990s. This still allows for large flows each way.
3. A target for net migration remains essential for focusing government policy. It may have to be refined to the aspects of immigration that the government is able to control i.e. non-EU flows.
4. The next stage for any government is to take steps to reform the European Union so that a degree of control is introduced over the free movement of workers. The principle of free movement was established decades ago when what is now the European Union was a much smaller group of countries with similar levels of wealth. Today the European Union is a Union of 28 hugely different countries with a significant wealth disparity between the richest and poorest countries. For example in 2013 the UK had a GDP per capita of €29,600 (around £23,700) compared to Bulgaria which had a GDP per capita of €5,500 (around £4,400). This creates a massive incentive to migrate from poorer countries to wealthier countries; an incentive that did not exist when the Treaty of Rome was signed and the principle of free movement established in the 1950s.
5. Limiting total net migration is therefore an entirely feasible policy by controlling both EU and non-EU migration. Migration of British citizens cannot, of course, be controlled but it has historically been an outflow, recently of the order of 60,000 a year.
6. There remains more that can be done on non-EU migration:
The government immediately closed the Tier 1 route designed for highly skilled workers without a job offer and has capped at 20,700 the number of people that can come for work with a job offer when there is no suitable local candidate within the UK and EU (known as a Resident Labour Market Test designed to prevent displacement). Intra Company Transferees remain outside this cap but the rules around allowances have been tightened. The government may wish to impose a resident labour market test on those students wishing to continue working after their studies to ensure that British graduates have a better prospect of employment.
The government has so far closed down over 600 bogus institutions and has introduced interviews for non-EU students to deter and weed out bogus applicants. The working rights of students at certain institutions has been limited and only postgraduates can now bring their dependants with them. The reforms have been mainly aimed at the non-University sector. There are concerns that non-EU students are failing to depart following their studies and education establishments could be compelled to withhold degree certificates until they receive evidence of a legal extension or that the student has returned home. Student visas could also be disaggregated into those for Higher Education, Further Education and Language Studies. This would allow some visa requirements to be tightened or relaxed as necessary.
The government has introduced a minimum income threshold for sponsors wishing to bring their non-EU spouse to the UK. This is designed to protect the taxpayer on the grounds that citizens and settled residents should be able to support their family. However, non-EU spouses of EU citizens are not currently subject to these rules due to EU law. The government should ensure that all non-EU spouses can be supported by their EU family member before a visa (known as the EEA Family Permit) can be granted.
There is considerable scope for action on outflow. Non-EU outflow has remained at around 100,000 per year despite inflow reaching well above 300,000 at times. Non-EU outflow of students is just 50,000 per year, which is just a third of the average number of student who arrived in the previous five years. This suggests that students are staying on either legally for work and family reasons, or illegally. The latter must be addressed by increasing enforcement efforts.
e) Illegal Immigration
The government has passed an Immigration Act which extends deportation powers, limits the extensive system of appeals currently available and imposes responsibilities on landlords and banks to carry out checks on individuals. Enforcement action must increase as must the resources made available. Too few illegal immigrants are removed from the country each year, with just 8,000 non-asylum cases forcefully removed in 2013, of which about half were foreign national offenders.
7. So far the government has sought to tinker around the edges with regards to EU migration, tightening the habitual residence test, and implementing a minimum income of £150 per week before an individual can get in-work benefits. It has also strengthened the implementation of existing rules limiting claims for out-of-work benefits within the first three months of residence. This is not sufficient to address the wider issue of control of EU movement so a renegotiation remains essential.
8. Public opinion on immigration is clear and strong. This government has taken steps to address their concern, but these measures have been insufficient to achieve a clean break with the mass immigration that occurred under the previous government.
Updated 26 June 2014