Last week’s figures showing a sharp rise in immigration into the UK is sure to add to the pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron to say how his proposed cap on annual immigration will work and at what level it will be set, the Financial Times reports.
The new coalition government has pledged to cut net immigration from the 150,000-plus each year addition to the UK population back at least to below 100,000.
Cameron has already capped Tier 2 working visas for non-European Union migrants, at 24,100 between June and next April – 1,300 fewer than last year.
However, researchers have taken issue with a net target, arguing that it makes little sense to aim for a figure that is largely out of the government’s control. Immigration rose 33,000 last year to 196,000 but most of the net increase came from fewer Brits emigrating – probably because the weak pound made overseas living less appealing, while the recession slashed jobs abroad.
The net number of Brits moving abroad dropped to 36,000 in the year to December 2009, from 90,000 in the year to December 2008.
A8 EU net migration down to 5000
Meanwhile, a number of other indicators seemed to be pointing against net immigration.
UK Tier 2 work visas fell sharply, as did national insurance registrations that foreigners must complete to work here.
More significantly net immigration from the eight eastern European nations that have had free movement of labour rights in Britain since 2004 was just 5,000 last year, compared to 80,000 at its peak. The figures confirm other indicators that Eastern European migrants are returning home in large numbers.
Sarah Mulley from the Institute for Public Policy Research said: “This demonstrates the difficult task that the government has set itself in seeking to significantly reduce total net immigration – a measure over which it has only limited control.
“The impact of changes in British migration [over which the government has no control at all] on total net migration demonstrates this very clearly.”
Several aspects of the increase in immigration will provide ammunition for those seeking lower inflows.
Immigration by non-UK citizens was swollen by a 35 per cent surge in student visas in the year to June 2010; there was also a 37 per cent jump in grants for migrants to settle indefinitely in the same period.
Damian Green, immigration minister, said the surge in student numbers was a worrying sign that people might be coming to the UK under false pretences. “It’s important to look carefully at those courses to see that they are genuinely valuable and are not just being used as an excuse to evade immigration controls,” he said.
The government is also looking at reforming the student visa system and how it can deal with the surge in applications to settle permanently in the UK.
New student visas rose to more than 360,000 in the year to June, from about 270,000 the previous year. However, in 2008-9, 144,770 non-EU students started courses at UK universities. The remaining non-EU student visas must have been allocated to pupils at other institutions – such as language colleges and independent schools.
But the rise in student numbers probably reflected both the weak pound making British education cheaper and universities seeking funding from high-paying foreign students.
The university sector is concerned by the prospect of tighter controls. Universities UK, the institutions’ umbrella group, estimates that non-EU students contribute £2.2bn in tuition fees – 8 per cent of their total income. Their higher fees cross-subsidise UK and EU students.
Meanwhile, a rise in grants of settlement – which provide indefinite leave for immigrants to remain – is thought to be in part a reflection of faster processing of applications by the Home Office, as well as the fact that many eastern European people and families who have moved to the UK since 2004 are becoming eligible to stay permanently. Source: FT.
The UK needs to attract the best skilled migrants and international students in order to remain competitive and economically vibrant, as Canada, Australia and the US are also competing for highly skilled and skilled talent.
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