Migration numbers are not as bad as they look
An orderly post-Brexit system is actually in place
Last Thursday’s huge 504,000 net migration figure is another blow to the Government’s standing on a subject which they ought to own. And to make matters worse for the Tories, though not the country, Labour is sounding more sensible on immigration than it has for years.
Many commentators (including Matthew Goodwin in these pages) are hammering the Government for this dramatic failure to fulfil the 2019 election promise to reduce overall numbers and are predicting a huge surge in support for the Reform party.
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Yet, dig under the headlines about that unsustainable number — alongside employer demands for even higher inflows to tackle labour shortages — and we actually have in place a well-balanced post-Brexit system for legal migration.
Unlike in the era of EU free movement, almost all of that 504,000 net migration number is covered by student, work or refugee visas. And with the exception of the probable one-off spike in the controlled refugee inflow (unlike Channel boats) from Ukraine, Hong Kong and Afghanistan, most of the migration will be temporary.
The big inflow of students, probably also a one-off post-Covid spike, reflects our national strength in higher education and is broadly beneficial. There should be tighter control over students bringing in dependents, but as there is relatively little student overstay, there is a strong case for taking them out of the migration statistics entirely.
There should also be a switch in focus away from that net migration figure which swings around, driven by short term flows, to the more important figure for our national future: those granted permanent residence every year. Currently migrants can apply for permanent residence after five years, and that should be extended to seven. But last year just 106,000 people were granted permanent residence, a less frightening number than the 1 million-plus visas granted in the year to June or that 504,000 headline figure.
What about work migration? Only about 20% of the net migration number was work visas even though employers point to an alleged one million vacancies. But the U.K. already has a very open work visa system, with almost two-thirds of all jobs in the economy (those paying £25,000 a year or more, starting well below average earnings) qualifying. We do not need to liberalise it further; indeed there is evidence that some of the business sectors that complain most loudly are barely even using the existing visa system.
Finding the right balance between the needs of the economy and the popular desire for slower demographic change and prioritising work opportunities for existing citizens is not simple. But it is fair to point out that economic growth over the past 15 years has been weak despite historically high migrant inflows.
There are, however, reforms that could fill vacancies in acceptable ways. For example, the Youth Mobility Scheme could be expanded. This allows tens of thousands of 18-30 year olds from Australia, New Zealand and South Korea, among other places, to work for two years with limited access to public services and no dependents. And why not look at jobs on the Shortage Occupation List (allowing employers to bypass migration rules) and gear our training system to fill them?
Employers say too many young people have lost their work ethic, but if that is the case then we need to help them re-discover it. There are also very few jobs — agriculture is a notable exception — where British people will not work if pay and conditions are right.
Some argue that we should reverse the post-Brexit priority and restrict skilled migration while being more open for lower-paid jobs. But this would not be popular, and it would remove any incentive to sort out low pay in social care (responsible for about 20% of all vacancies) or do anything about the six million adults without qualifications.
The U.K. is not an anti-immigration country. In fact, there is an institutional bias towards high inflows led by the Treasury, employers and universities. Against them stands the much-vilified Home Office and still largely sceptical public opinion.
Migration numbers will return to more normal levels and, in the meantime, Rishi Sunak should call Keir Starmer’s bluff and seek more cross-party consensus on resisting employer pressure for further liberalisation and stopping those Channel boats.
David Goodhart works for the Policy Exchange think tank. His report ‘Compassionate but Controlled’ is available on its website
How can a country who has a severe housing shortage have a policy of open borders? Madness.
The people actually making the policy have houses, that’s why. They don’t feel the pain of the homeless and destitute.
In addition they may well be landlords and so doing very nicely gouging tenants? All suppprted by the housing shortage!
I wish people would stop going on about private landlords ‘gouging tenants’. I have 2 properties, one of which is a holiday let and so part of the local economy. The other has been continually occupied by the same 3 Polish men for the last 4 years with no rent increase. We SMEs of the property rental sector are doing all we can to stay afloat so back off.
You’re no doubt charging those Polish men per room, so you’re getting more than you would be able to extract from a family. I think gouging is the correct word. You owning multiple houses means other poorer families have to rent instead owning a home. The money you take in rental payments means less money for the local economy that creates jobs and growth. Excessive numbers of private landlords along with low skilled immigration are a major cause of the stagnation in productivity and wages
You have no idea about their rental arrangements. The whole house may be rented to these three compatriots who have decided between themselves to take on the tenancy.
Your biases are showing.
It’s not bias, just experience from working with and talking to numerous Eastern Europeans on building sites and being aware of how they live and how they get ripped off by landlords
Thanks for this article. A couple of wee quibblettes. A “one-off spike in the controlled refugee inflow”? The trouble is that there is a continuous succession of “one-off” spikes. Furthermore, if the inflow is “controlled” then this is a meaning of controlled of which I have been hitherto unaware.
The author also forget to mention that most international students are still able to work part time, last time I looked it was around 10 hours week.
£100 doesn’t go far these days.
12 things that Sunak could do:
1.Make it clear through legislation that decisions about who can enter, live in, work in or claim asylum in the UK are solely the preserve of parliament. Override/withdraw from any international obligations that run counter to that. Bring the legislation to the house before Christmas with the shortest possible schedule. If Labour oppose, call them out. If his backbench Wets resist, fire them and call an election.
2.Following the above, legislate that: no one can enter, live in, work in or claim asylum in the UK except through the official channels with a valid passport. Overstaying a visa, absconding, sham marriages, arriving in boats or the back of lorries will be treated the same way: detention followed by deportation.
3.Build as many immigration detention centres as possible away from population centres. They need not be more than Nissen Huts with a guarded perimeter fence. Scottish islands, British Oversea Territories etc would be good.
4.Restrict entry visas to citizens of countries that don’t co-operate with the repatriation of their citizens that enter the UK illegally.
5.Strike up more deals with third countries like Rwanda so that we can deport illegal immigrants who have genuine asylum claims. Incentivize these third countries through the Foreign Aid budget.
6.Immediately stop Overseas Students bringing dependents. Continue to weed out bogus courses.
7.Make it necessary for anyone wishing to claim asylum in the UK to make their intentions known before travelling here. Assess applicants before giving them the right to enter the UK.
8.Announce the winding down of the Afghan and HK schemes.
9.Announce a cap of 100k for all immigrants from 2025 onwards and publish a plan of Minimum Salary increments for work visas to get there.
10.Give tax breaks and support to firms that introduce automations and process improvements that remove the need for low paid foreign workers.
11.Give grants to people wishing to train for Shortage Occupations.
12.Extend the period that you need to live here before applying for citizenship to 7 years (as the author says).
It would be a complete waste of you time sending a copy of this to most of the HoC. Nigel Farage needs a copy ASAP.
Have you considered what withdrawal from international agreements might affect the millions of immigrant (sorry expat) Brits all around the world?
Your 2nd suggestion follows no.1 as does no.3.. you must have no intention of ever going abroad have you?
No.6 the only overseas students allowed to bring dependents are post grads: you want to attractarried PhD students but they have to leave wife and child at home? Seems unnecessarily cruel! ‘Can’t see too many takers on that.
No.7 is just silly. Refugees fleeing persecution will not wish to advertise their intentions!
8. A bit glib. Only those at risk from the Taliban who’ve helped GB troops are eligible. Do you want some of them to die in Afghanistan?
Your remaining suggestions are just more policies, plans, statements and announcements.. you’ll find thete are plenty of those already!
I have answered your objections to points 2,3 and 7 in my response to Linda below.
Your objections to point 6 – overseas students bringing dependents – is covered by more knowledgeable people than me in other comments.
On point 8: these schemes, however noble, cannot be open-ended. At some point the government must conclude that most people who worked for the British and want to leave have done so.
One problem with your second point is that refugees who are fleeing for their lives are often unable to have time to get a passport or find an embassy. Your seventh point also has problems for similar reasons, they often can only claim asylum when they reach a safe haven; this should, of course, be their first safe haven. The main problem with point four is that often the authorities don’t know where teh illegal immigrants come from as they ditch any identification to circumvent being sent back.
Re: point 2, it is uncommon for someone to turn up at Heathrow etc without a passport. Generally you need one to board a flight to Britain. Because of our geography, it seems highly unlikely that the UK would be the immediate destination for a refugee fleeing for his life (unless Ireland, France or the low countries go to war). They would generally flee to a neighbouring country and then begin the journey which eventually ends in Britain.
This leads to point 7. Typically a refugee finds himself in a safer country and then migrates to Europe. This is when he could make his intention to come to Britain known and could present himself for interview at he nearest embassy, consulate or British delegation in a UNHCR camp. If he is successful, then travel documents can be provided by the authorities (which would act in lieu of the missing passport).
Point 4 relates to one of two problems we have with deportations. The first is when we know a person is from a country but that country drags their heels in arranging, or flatly refuses, repatriation. These are the countries I am referring to in point 4. The second problem is when the origin of an illegal immigrant is unknown or his origin is known but we couldn’t, in good conscience, send him back there – say an active warzone. This is where deporting them to a safe, third country that has been paid by us, like Rwanda comes in. On both points, the golden rule is: If you enter the UK via an unofficial route, you can never stay. Get that message across and illegal immigration will stop.
Matt, further to your last line “Can never stay” there is no proof of mass export of unofficial visitors or even an attempt at doing so.
A list one can engage with. Stimulated some good chat here already. Few additional thoughts on points less commented on thus far.
Re: no.3 – could run into £millions and need a practical staffing plan. It’d involve a lot more infrastructure construction if somewhere remote. And who’s moving to an inhospitable island to work and staff these Centres miles from anywhere? Even if poss, not quick. One can almost predict the irony that to set it up you’d need an injection of foreign labour!
Re: No.10 – support sentiment but would need clear definitions, and close oversight or it’d risk being Covid Loan fraud-fest Mk2. Not going to work either for those businesses who employ illegal immigrants as they’d be breaking the law in applying.
Re: No.11 Agree, and perhaps re-introducing the Bursary for Nurses a good start. Agricultural sector? Perhaps some automation will eventually pick our fruit, but until then?
3, 10 and 11 require some significant investment, and thus where that’s found another critical question.
But these are things we have to grapple with and consider.
Thanks J. Good points.
Yes i think you correctly identify No3 as the most difficult bit. More difficult still as it has to be done quickly in order to stem the tide of next spring’s arrivals. In terms of cost, I would imagine that it is less than £250 a night in hotels for 40k people as we have at the moment. My initial thought is getting the army to build like the Nightingale hospitals. As for staffing, yes that is hard. Maybe your idea is not a bad one – get some of the illegal immigrants to do it in return for asylum after 3 successful years on the job. Poachers turned gamekeepers.
No10. I was thinking here of the capital investment tax break that Sunak introduced in his first budget as chancellor. If firms know that cheap labour is drying up over the next 3 years and they can write down tax against investment in automation machinery, it might be popular.
No11 – when I was a young man in the late 80s I worked on farms and the majority of workers were either country lads who had been to ag college, A Level and Poly students, a certain number of directionless young men sent from the jobcentre and men just out of prison on licence. At busy times an army of local mothers who knew what they were doing would turn up to help. I never saw an immigrant but the crops still got planted and picked.
Re: No. 11, yes I too worked on a farm part-time in the 80s. I think some key changes since then though. Firstly, there’s just less youngsters – we were the end of the baby boom gen. Secondly there are other options – e.g: being a p/t barista seems to be much more attractive. Agriculture has expanded too, and we grow a broader range in the UK…and need to grow more if want to be less dependent on others. Census estimates suggested c75k seasonal workers needed each year, and they often have to be prepared to live in huts etc away from cities etc for these seasons. Not straight forward for a student studying and looking for p/t employment too. Nor for someone unemployed living along way from the need. Plus finally one does suspect the farmers find the non-indigenous seasonal workers much more productive. If the immigration is temporary and seasonal it may suggest it’s less a problem, but one wonders how good our data and visa management is. And in some communities, it will feel like an unexplained influx.
Perhaps one of the frustrations with the current asylum seeker backlog and the recent dispersal drive away from Kent, is perhaps a good number could be working in this sector whilst awaiting processing. And they tend to be younger and probably would prefer to work. That might offset some of the £7m per day we are apparently paying in accommodation now. But we don’t let them work until processed, and we’ve let the backlog build up so much it’s costing us much more now than had we properly invested in effective processing capacity. We were processing 20k claims p.a in the noughties. Less than 1.5k I understand in last 12mths. So just perhaps worth pondering should they be allowed to work until such a time as we have a much quicker system?
I agree with you that seasonal workers. Properly monitored and never able to claim they have made a life here and so entitled to stay beyond the season, I suspect people would find that acceptable.
I don’t agree about letting people work before they have been processed. I think people should be detained in a camp until arrangements are made for them to return home or be deported to a third country.
Once you allow people who have entered the country illegally to do anything other than wait under arrest for deportation, you are incentivising other people to try illegal entry.
The backlog is due to illegal immigrants having a fair asylum hearing, with appeals and the rest. This would be wiped out once parliament ruled that, despite any previous international agreements we might have made, no one who entered the country illegally will be granted asylum. The backlog would be gone. And the Home Office staff could concentrate on asylum claims made through the proper channels.
I think your last point has a sentiment many will concur with but a key practical problem. We offer hardly any alternative routes for making an asylum claim. If we had some, not based in the UK, we’d also pull apart the traffickers business model. The lack of legal routes to making a claim does appear to create a market for illegal endeavour and already vulnerable people are then prey to this. The traffickers, who couldn’t give a damn about who might drown, are the real evils in all this. I’m sure if we were sending 20K home a year in the noughties we are capable of effective processing if we decide that’s the approach.
The Rwanda deal at £125m for only 200 asylum seekers seems pretty poor return and not going to create that much of a disincentive for Traffickers to still sell the chances of getting to Kent as ‘pretty good’ to someone who’s desperate. Plus one suspects the countries making these arrangements with us will get much the better end of the financials and prove v slippery. Rwanda already done v nicely thank you. So maybe we spend that on some proper processing closer to home where we know the money isn’t being trousered? The vast majority will have to go back, but we could do this effectively, quickly and humanely if we put our mind to it couldn’t we?
I disagree, we offer a number of routes for asylum. We take 20k asylum seekers a year directly from UNHCR camps. That is in addition to the custom schemes for HongKongers, Afghans and Ukrainians. People can also arrive at any UK airport or seaport and apply for protection.
The last option is one I think is open to abuse and I would put a stop to. I would replace it with an online application form which is followed up by interviews at the local British consulate.
However given that we already take 20k refugees plus currently 150k HK, Afghan and Ukrainian asylum seekers, I think the UK does plenty. Don’t forget that we are also one of the largest funders of regional refugee camps.
I think we do plenty. 20k asylum seekers a year should be plenty in normal years. Add to that 80-100k work visas and family reunion visas and I think we are done. 100k new people (net) each year should be set as the cap.
In terms of the Rwanda deal, it isn’t limited to 200 people. The Home Office has not published any details on numbers of people it exports to deport via that route (though of course deportations to Rwanda are on hold until the ECHR objection has been resolved/overridden).
I don’t believe however quickly, efficiently and humanely we return bogus asylum seekers we will ever be able to overcome the backlog (or break the smuggler’s business model) until the message is clear that no one entering the country illegally will be allowed to stay.
For that you do need third countries like Rwanda. Otherwise you would be sending illegal immigrants from active warzones back into those warzones which is surely inhumane.
Difficult isn’t it. The sentiment that you come here via illegal route and there will be a negative consequence for your application has obvious appeal. Yet as you say if it’s then apparent they have a legitimate reason for fleeing it won’t be possible to return them. The first returned applicant then hung by the Republican Guard and the British public, whatever the concerns about numbers, won’t stand for it. Yet I don’t see the 3rd country working without some unsavoury regimes trousering alot of our money while laughing at us.
I wonder whether you are overestimating the sentimentality of the British public. I think if the govt doesn’t put a stop to these boats and there are 100k illegal arrivals next year, they will be erecting gallows of their own in Dover. And maybe on Downing Street too.
No I don’t think so. And I think a v significant number of Brits would respond in the reverse and tackle those who might contemplate such action, But we need to avoid that fissure with good Policy and effective implementation. We haven’t had 100k via the Boats either – closer to 40k, and we understand a third are Albanian and probably will all get sent back once processed (and if processed quickly and effectively)
Matt, I stopped reading your paragraph immediately you said “deport them” where to?
Two options: 1. back to their home country or 2. If their home country can’t be discovered or is too dangerous to send them back to, to a third country that we pay to take them. Rwanda is the only country on this list so far but if we offered a bounty of £10k per person, I suspect other countries would come forwards.
The U.K. is not an anti-immigration country. In fact, there is an institutional bias towards high inflows led by the Treasury, employers and universities. Against them stands the much-vilified Home Office and still largely sceptical public opinion.
In other words – and as is the case in virtually all other areas – the people in charge are no longer representatives of the public. They have their own agenda & plans and will implement them regardless of what the citizenry want.
As things stand, encouraging the bloke in the street to engage with the democratic process so that he might have a say in how the country operates is nothing but a sick joke.
Student numbers have increased significantly. Not, in itself, a bad thing but the percentage who stay on after graduation is about 40% (a small number illegally, most go into work for a period or into further study). How many of this 40% will stay here permanently? Some of these students will be very useful indeed (highly skilled, motivated) but I’ve seen a big increase in international students where I teach and, to be frank, they are woeful students (terrible English, have to be taught the basics even though they have first degrees, poor engagement). Apparently, there is a thriving HE recruitment industry in India and, while there are lots of controls on who enters HE from overseas, this is clearly not working very well (I am not kidding when I say that I teach Masters students who can barely write in English). Many of my African students bring dependents in (something reflected in the recent stats with more dependents than students for some groups). I am not convinced taking students out of the figures is useful since so many stay on.
Could we make the right to stay in Britain to look for work contingent on the degree the student achieves? 2:2 for STEM, 2:1 for non-STEM? Maybe with an independent spot-check assessment done from time-to-time to make sure no institutions are fiddling the system.
Possibly, Matt. My concern would be that universities will then be under pressure to grade inflate. I would like to continue to see international students coming into UK HE, lots of positives (soft power, hard cash) but we need to build a system that is abuse-proof.
Good points, i certainly agree that if students switch to a post study work route they must be counted. And its true they can use housing and public services, but not much of either (as many of them live on in campus accomodation, one of the few bits of the housing market that has booming in recent years) and most are young and healthy. We should certainly stop undergrads bringing in dependents and keep an eye on levels if they remain at this v high level a cap should be considered. But the current number is probably a one off.
Hello David, thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment. Yes, I agree; if they switch post-study, they should be counted in (otherwise, it makes sense to leave them out).
Maybe follow me on Twitter and we can exchange contact details, would be interested in your first hand experience
I don’t Tweet but maybe I’ll create an account and send you my details that way. Kind regards.
At our church a Nigerian family including four young children sought help to find accommodation and clothing, the wife having secured a place to study a post-graduate degree at a local University.. The University had made no provision for them and after being shuffled for a few weeks from grotty bed and breakfasts they were finally offered a flat without any cooking facilities, fridge or beds. The Church rallied round to find them most of the missing items over time. I was told by a Nigerian friend that many middle class (in Nigerian terms) families are desperate to get out of Nigeria and this was one way to do so. The major gainer from this was the University that received the substantial fees and the local Nigerian recruiters that clearly failed to spell out the difficulties the family would encounter finding accommodation. It should not be down to the goodwill of charitable organisations to try to assist foreign University students in this way. The University should shoulder the social cost of their recruitment drives.
Hello Jeremy, thanks for your post. Nigerian students are more likely than others to bring dependents over and I often wonder how such families fare finding housing etc (I’m afraid university senior management teams just have pound signs in their eyes when it comes to international students. They provide an international office and targeted support for such students but I suspect they just think the more, the merrier (and more in university coffers). Little thought, as well, for staff struggling to teach international students with sometimes poor English (Nigerians are more fortunate in that respect) and who have different cultural expectations of learning at PG level (plus, many international students are working while studying – hence their variable engagement).
Jeez ignore dependents of students and mask the true figure of ‘incomers’? No. If students need dependents then we shouldn’t accept them at all, this avoiding the additional load of their dependents on education and health systems.
I’ve read elsewhere that a huge proportion of dependents are those of certain countries – seems like a great way of getting your family into the country with official approval.
Problem is no one realises nearly every migrant makes the Uk poorer.
They work and ad £x to the GDP . But as its probably less than average per capita GDP they reduce average GDP per capita.
They bring in family. Who use schools doctors housing etc . But their tax payments fall way short of the cost of these marginal increases in the required public services.
So pretty much every immigrant makes the UK poorer because their use of public services costs far more than their tax payments or their addition to GDP.
And Net migration is basically fraudulent data. Rich people who pay high taxes are leaving and poorer people who pay very little tax are arriving. To count their numbers net is a deception.
The figures show a very large Moslem immigrant population. That is a very big problem.The daily farce of boats crossing the Channel illustrate quite clearly that the lawyer/criminals in cahoots to bring illegal immigrants across have de fact allies in high places. In other words, the government is not in charge of running the UK.
Very optimistic and cheerful. I think this article is basically right but planning the future is a thing which is doomed to failure. There will be a plethora of adverse responses from those who know better but who really is in a position to know? Certainly not governments.
Don’t forget that each of those 106,000 grants of permanent leave to remain in 2021 were for a FAMILY, in other words for the original visa holder and those dependents resident with him/her in the UK.
When work visas are granted they are usually accompanied by, on average, two “family visas”. If the same holds true for Permanent Leaves to Remain, that 106,000 actually means around 320,000 additional people, which actually sounds a bit more realistic.
Please, someone, tell me that I’ve missed something!
Britain earns considerable income from foreign students and these help to maintain the prestige of our top universities (of which we have more than the rest of Europe combined). Foreign students should not be included in the immigration numbers. Other than accommodation, highly educated young people place very few demands on health care and other services.
Until they bring in dependents and stay on.
I have never heard or seen so many students with ready made families. There again a student can be of any age when it helps a college to increase its income T,would be better if the colleges gave them food and water and a bed, similar to the NHS provision of birth to grave without a £ of imput. Over population is a problem that grows and grows and has crept up on our wiser folk.
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