The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has stated in its Migration Review 2010-2011 the the government’s policy on immigration in relation to restoring 1990s “tens of thousands” levels is bound to fail. The report also shed light on the systematic deception employed by the government in relation to student visas. The IPPR said:
Home Office research published in September showed that of the 186,500 students granted visas in 2004, 80 per cent had left the UK by 2009 while only 3 per cent had gained settlement rights. This means that the impact of cuts to student numbers on total net migration will be highly unpredictable – a sharp decrease in student visas issued would reduce immigration (and thus net immigration) in the short term but would also reduce emigration in the medium term, which would push net immigration up again.
It is really quite obvious that the home secretary has been attempting to muddy the waters in relation to the students who come to the UK in order just to acquire settlement rights here. Earlier in the year, Mrs May expressed her displeasure about not enough students going back home from the UK because they wanted to settle here. At the time I had blogged about why the best and the brightest would prefer to leave the UK given how unfair the immigration policies are in this country.
In relation to skilled migration and how the local people of the UK perceive its flow the IPPR took the view that:
In particular, the public can see the value of high-skilled migration – by capping these immigration flows, the government is limiting a particular flow that isn’t publically perceived to be a problem.
The IPPR’s report warned the government that it has now lost credibility on the immigration issue. The report stated that:
Migration in 2011: What will the year ahead hold for the UK?
Despite the government’s efforts, net immigration to the UK looks unlikely to fall significantly in 2011. If the UK economy continues to recover, we might even expect to see increases in some forms of immi- gration for work, despite the cap. Other forms of immigration – such as refugee flows, family migration and the return of British nationals to the UK – also look set to continue at roughly their current levels.
There are a number of specific reasons why net immigration is likely to remain high in 2011:
• The UK economy may perform more strongly relative to eurozone countries, such as Spain, Portugal and Greece (and some of the newer member states), increasing the likelihood of people from those countries coming here for work. EU citizens are exempt from the annual cap being introduced in April.
• While Polish immigration to the UK has stabilised in recent years, there has been a substantial increase in the inflow from Lithuania and Latvia.
• Irish emigration into the UK could well increase. The respected Economic and Social Research Institute for example, has predicted that 120,000 Irish nationals could leave the republic in 2010 and 2011, with the UK among their favoured destinations.
The annual cap on non-EU migrants will have only a limited effect on overall immigration levels. The annual cap from April 2011 is set at 21,700 compared with a temporary cap level until April 2011 of 24,000. The 13 per cent cut in Tier 1 and 2 numbers will reduce total numbers by only two or three per cent.
• A recent High Court ruling that the temporary cap on non-EU economic immigration is illegal opened up the possibility that there could be a rush of applications to ‘beat the cap’ before April 2011. The government says it has now reintroduced the restrictions because ‘technicalities’ have been overcome. It remains to be seen if further legal challenges are made against the temporary cap.
• As noted above, emigration by UK citizens has dropped substantially. There is no obvious reason why this trend should change substantially in 2011.
• The recent growth in foreign student numbers will be curbed in the medium term by government-announced reductions. However, the consultation on curbing foreign student numbers is still continuing, and even if the government moves quickly to bring in new measures, any restrictions are not likely to take full effect in 2011.
Taking all these factors together, net immigration of around 200,000 in 2011 seems likely, leaving the government a long way from its overall objective of reducing net immigration ‘from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands’.
The likely continuation of net immigration at relatively high levels will put further pressure on an already-challenging government policy agenda. The early part of 2011 is likely to be dominated by debates about foreign students – in a very challenging education funding environment, these debates have the potential to be extremely difficult for the government. The need to reset the cap on skilled migration for work in the second half of 2011 (and to impose further substantial cuts, if the overall target is to be met) will again put the government in conflict with employers, and the second round of cuts to skilled migration numbers promises to be even more controversial than the first. Finally, efforts to curb family migration and settlement will likely raise legal challenges on human rights grounds.
Politically, the government can expect to come under fire both from anti-migration groups (if immigration numbers continue to rise) and from the employers, universities and communities who will be directly affected by policy changes. There is also a real risk that the public will become disillusioned with the government’s promises to reduce net migration levels if numbers don’t fall. As Labour found, once a reputation for competence on migration is lost, it is very hard to regain – 2011 may see the Coalition government learn this lesson the hard way.