Media Release

Reform immigration rules to provide more safe routes into the UK for refugees who can better contribute economically

In its ‘New Plan for Immigration’ the Government has re-stated its desire to continue prioritising the resettling of refugees. However, it also issues concern that those refugees struggle to find employment in the UK and will therefore “look at the range of people accessing resettlement schemes including the potential for people to achieve better integration outcomes in the UK”.[See Note 1]

In response, the Social Market Foundation think-tank said that the Home Office could pilot projects which use the Government’s new post-Brexit points-based system (PBS) and the under-utilised Mandate Scheme for refugee resettlement to admit more migrants on humanitarian grounds who also have better potential to integrate and contribute economically to the UK.

Currently, the PBS and existing refugee resettlement programme are two of the main safe and legal options for migrants wishing to enter the UK. The PBS is designed to attract skilled workers who offer a net positive economic contribution to the UK. The refugee resettlement programme supports some of the most vulnerable refugees to legally resettle to the UK.

But the SMF, a cross-party think-tank, highlights that a number of would-be migrants to the UK who could integrate and contribute to the UK’s economy become ‘stuck in the middle’ of this binary system, and overlooked for entry to the UK as a result.

Many refugees and others in difficult humanitarian situations do not meet the vulnerability criteria set by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which is the requirement for the UK to currently consider admitting them for resettlement. Yet those being overlooked may have significantly better economic integration prospects here. This may be because of family connections here or desirable skills or English language capabilities.

The SMF report, authored by migration policy experts Jonathan Thomas and Russell Hargrave, does not suggest the UK should roll back on it commitment to resettle a portion of the world’s most vulnerable refugees. But it does suggest that focusing its resettlement efforts solely on the most vulnerable alone risks undermining both political and public support for refugee resettlement into the UK if those resettled find it hard to work here and come to be seen as a burden on public services and welfare.

The report therefore suggests that, alongside continuing to resettle a portion of the world’s most vulnerable refugees, the UK should expand both its Points Based System criteria and its resettlement approach to attract and admit refugees with their potential contribution in mind.

For the PBS this would mean awarding extra entry points to would-be migrants who face humanitarian distress. These could be combined with points awarded for their qualifications, skills, and employment history to help them reach the points level required to gain a work visa to the UK.

For the resettlement programme, the Government should consider expanding the Mandate Scheme, which currently helps migrants join a close family member in the UK. However, the Scheme has managed to resettle only around 25 refugees annually for the last decade.

A rebranded and broadened Mandate Scheme could potentially see thousands of refugees with existing family connections join relatives in Britain. Other countries such as Australia and Canada adopt such an approach, which allows refugees to more easily integrate. The Canadian approach has seen large numbers of refugees resettled who have an existing family member there, which can typically equate to over 10,000 refugees a year.

The cross-party think-tank said that such an approach could command strong public and political support, with the Government focused on both offering safe and legal routes to the UK for those most in need but also looking to attract the brightest and the best to contribute to the UK’s economy.

The Government has recently offered a special visa for British Nationals Overseas citizens in Hong Kong “fleeing political persecution” on the premise that those people will also be net positive contributors to the UK economy. Polling evidence cited in the SMF report shows that two-thirds of the public who are aware of the proposals back this offer.

The SMF said that the offer demonstrates the Government is willing to “think outside the usual boxes of the immigration system” and sets a precedent for taking the potential of hybrid economic and humanitarian immigration routes more seriously.

Pilot projects using both the Mandate Scheme and PBS could begin with small numbers – possibly in the hundreds – and should be closely monitored and measured to ensure their effectiveness before being built out further, the SMF report said.

Jonathan Thomas, Migration Researcher at the Social Market Foundation, said:

The bedrock of political and public support for the refugee resettlement programme provides the UK with an opportunity to go much further, but the poor economic outcomes for those refugees being resettled to the UK are a real risk to this.

“Alongside resettling some of the world’s most vulnerable people, accepting refugees into the UK who can better economically contribute could improve the British public’s perception of the contribution made by all refugees and allow the Government to better deliver on its New Plan for Immigration.”

“The Government should reboot, rebrand and publicise the Mandate Resettlement Scheme. The UK can then provide a haven to more of those in need who have an existing connection with the UK which can help them integrate and maximise their contribution here.”

“The approach the UK has adopted to the situation of the BNO citizens in Hong Kong can be the start of a new chapter on immigration, one which provides routes of entry to the UK which marry compassion and contribution.”


  2. YouGov polling from July 2020 – more information
  3. The SMF report, “Stuck in the middle” is published at 09:30 on Thursday 25 March at



Related items:

Page 1 of 1