UK Immigration policy may be stuck between a “rock and a hard place” in dealing with public concerns, says an Oxford University report.
The study of 1,000 found people were most concerned about immigrant groups politicians could do little to cut.
The research by the university’s Migration Observatory found broad overall support for cutting immigration to the UK, although less in Scotland.
The Home Office said its policies were in line with what the public wanted.
The Migration Observatory said it wanted answers to two questions that do not feature in standard opinion polls on immigration.
It asked respondents whom they referred to as immigrants and whether they wanted cuts to specific categories, such as asylum seekers, workers or students.
The report found approximately 70% of people want a cut in immigrants, broadly supporting previous surveys. A fifth said they thought immigration should stay at current levels.
Six out of 10 people thought the most likely reason someone came to the UK was for asylum, followed by just over half saying migrants mainly arrived to work.
This contrasted sharply with official statistics that show students make up the largest group of immigrants, followed by workers. Approximately 4% of all migrants in 2009 were asylum seekers.
This difference between actual and perceived trends could be seen when people described who they wanted to see cut.
Students -worth 40 billion to the UK economy – came last on the list, but 56% of people wanted fewer asylum seekers.
The group that people were most concerned about was low-skilled workers.
The UK has a standing ban on unskilled workers from outside the EU, introduced by the previous Labour government, but cannot restrict the movement of EU citizens.
Britain has imposed working restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian citizens. Despite the fact that they are EU members, when it comes to employment Bulgarian and Romanian citizens do not have the same rights as other Europeans, for instance from Poland, Slovakia or other A8 Accession countries.
Many care industry and catering businesses would like to recruit Romanian, Bulgarian and other European care workers, as the Government’s cap on migration, combined with newly imposed restrictions on Tier 2 and Tier 4 routes, has made it increasing difficult to recruit non-EU staff (on work permits and student visas).
Scott Blinder, lead author of the report, said the team had tried to get behind blunt questions on immigration and establish whether public concerns mirrored government priorities.
He said that while the public wanted less immigration, a majority were concerned about the groups that it was most difficult for the government to reduce.
The coalition government has a target to cut net immigration to tens of thousands by the end of the Parliament.
It has introduced curbs on skilled workers from beyond Europe and students and it is also planning restrictions relating to family migration.
In response to the study, immigration minister Damian Green said: “We have made sweeping changes to get a grip on immigration in this country, closing down routes that were subject to abuse and taking action against those with no right to be here.
“This is clearly in line with what the public want us to be doing. There is much more to be done and we will stick to our course.”
However, Dr Blinder said: “What this report shows very clearly is that the government is stuck between a rock and a hard-place.
“A clear majority of people in Britain would like immigration reduced, but they want the cuts to come from specific groups of immigrants, and these are often groups over whom the government has limited direct control, and sometimes groups that are comparatively small in number.”
Ipsos Mori surveyed 1,002 people between 2 and 8 September for the Oxford study. Approximately 11% of those sampled were born abroad, 5% of them being British citizens. Source: BBC.
Perceptions of Migrants:
- When thinking about immigrants, respondents were most likely to think of asylum seekers (62%) and least likely to think of students (29%). In current official (ONS) statistics, students represent the largest group of immigrants coming to the UK (37% of 2009 immigrant arrivals) while asylum seekers are the smallest group (4% in 2009).
- Respondents tended to think of immigrants as those who come to the UK permanently (62%) rather than those who come to stay temporarily (fewer than 30%). This differs from the internationally-agreed definition used for official UK statistics, which classifies anyone who comes to the UK for more than a year as a long-term migrant.
- When thinking about immigrants, people in Britain most commonly think about foreign citizens – 62% normally think about non-EU citizens and 51% about EU citizens (excl. British) – rather than people who were born abroad and acquired British citizenship after moving to the UK (40%). Very low proportions of the public have in mind British citizens moving (11%) or returning (7%) to the UK. Similarly, few people normally have in mind the UK-born children of immigrants to Britain (12%).
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