Announcing a ‘snap’ election has resulted in party members having a lot less time to draw up their official manifestos. Instead of having months to draw up their pledges and promises, the parties have had just a few weeks and formal announcements are expected throughout this week and next.
Whilst it is inevitable that we can expect to see the immigration related complexities of Brexit addressed by all the major parties, it will be interesting to see the differing opinions on the issue of what should be Britain’s net migration number?
In the year September 2015 to September 2016, the UK’s net migration stood at 273,000,* a number Theresa May wants to see reduced to just tens of thousands. In 2010 David Cameron set a similar target but 7 years later, this target has remained steadfastly unachievable.
Labour accepts that migration is an issue and according to a leaked document seen by the BBC, due to be signed off on Thursday 11th May 2017, does not see it as an ‘overarching priority’. The Liberal Democrats believe a fixed migration target will hurt UK businesses, hospitals and universities whilst the UK Independence Party (UKIP) say they could cut net migration levels to zero within five years aligning the number of people coming to the UK with those leaving, a one in, one out policy.
It would appear then that there is a vague consensus amongst all the major parties that this issue needs to be tackled one way or another, but just what are the options available if the UK is serious about cutting net migration? There is of course no easy answer and all the possible scenarios bring their own controversial consequences.
EU Migrants: Currently, EU citizens are entitled to work in the UK under the Freedom of Movement Act of Workers, which is a fundamental principle of the EU enshrined in Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and developed by EU legislation and the case law of the European Court of Justice. Brexit could see the end of this and half the net number immediately. However, this brings about it’s own problems as migrant labour is vital to so many businesses and with unemployment in the UK falling, many jobs would remain empty. According to a study by Oxford University,** the majority of EU migrants have jobs all lined up before they arrive and very few rely on the welfare system.
Non-EU Migrants: Migration from non-EU countries is administered according to a Points Based System (PBS), and a combination of family ties and other routes. However, despite this, the difference between EU and non-EU migration numbers remains at only 1,000* and this number would obviously include students
Students: Far more students come to the UK to be educated than those who leave to study elsewhere. In the year to September 2016, the UK welcomed 134,000 foreign students and many politicians from all sides have pushed to remove students from the migration statistics.
Theresa May has so far resisted this saying “Students are in the net migration figures because it is in the international definition of net migration and we abide by the same definition that is used by other countries around the world.” Theresa May would lay herself open to criticism of changing the rules in order to hit her target. It is also clear that further restricting overseas student migration through the PBS in any way would adversely affect university income, research and results as a large majority of overseas students make up the upper echelons of academia
Asylum Seekers: Between March 2015 and March 2016 the UK received 34,687 applications for asylum and only 10,549 were approved*** so controlling this sector of migration would have very little impact on the overall figures, along with damaging the UK’s global reputation for helping those in need.
The debate on migration is obviously set to continue as parties look for realistic solutions to balance the numbers.
*Source: Office for National Statistics https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/internationalmigration/bulletins/migrationstatisticsquarterlyreport/may2016#immigration-to-the-uk
**Source: The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford