This briefing paper sets out the case for scrapping the Coalition’s immigration cap in favour of a new target which aims to increase public confidence in the immigration system.
Targeting Immigration assumes that the next government will keep an immigration target in some shape or form and assesses four options:
- A target based on a new ‘sustainable’ population growth estimate (set in the context of birth and death rates, as well as inflow and outflow)
- A target split into different migrant ‘types’ but excluding students (separate targets for economic, family and humanitarian migrants)
- A target focusing on economic migrants, linked to job vacancies in the economy (a target which adjusts according to number of vacancies)
A target which aims to improve public confidence in the immigration system (modelled on targets set by the previous Labour government to improve confidence in the Criminal Justice System)
The SMF calls on parties to aim for a ‘statistically significant’ increase in public confidence in the immigration system by 2020. Targeting Immigration: What does a good immigration target look like? suggest ways in which, alongside other policy levers, the next government can demonstrate it is committed to addressing public concerns over immigration, including:
- Use of official statistics on job market vacancies when determining the level at which economic (Tier 1 and Tier 2) visas are set;
- Analyse annually a new ‘National Immigration Survey’ in order to get a clearer picture of local confidence in the immigration system, including ascertaining the specific aspects of the immigration system that might be of particular concern locally and addressing them;
- Create a system of consequences for the government failing to meet its target. For example, the government could enter into a binding legal commitment to increase confidence, as happens with carbon emissions and child poverty targets; or be obliged to answer for a missed target in a way similar to the Bank of England missing its inflation target.
The SMF’s briefing outlines a number of problems in the current government’s ambition to bring net migration down to the ‘tens of thousands by 2015. Targeting Immigration highlights the Government’s lack of control over the migration of EU citizens, who have a right to reside and work in the UK, and over the outflow of British citizens from the UK. It finds that EU migrants have contributed significantly to recent rises in net migration – reaching around 140,000 in 2014, up from a low of 65,000 in 2012. The briefing also points to the negative effects that changes to the points-based visa system for non-EU migrants can have in other areas of policy, including:
- Shortages of skilled workers which negatively impacts UK productivity
- Difficulties for British citizens who want to live with their non-EU spouses
- Potential reduction of the approximately £17.5 billion annual subsidy for the university sector from international higher and further education students