What Should Be Done?

  • Government must keep its promise to substantially reduce immigration
  • They can make real progress by…
    • Delivering sovereign border control via Brexit.
    • Cutting non-EU net migration, which has risen recently to 232,000.
    • Retaining a work permit cap, increased to include EU migrants.
    • Retaining the current skill and pay thresholds.
    • Reviving the ‘compliant environment’ measures to tackle illegal immigration
    • Scrapping the proposal for temporary low-skilled visas
    • Boosting immigration enforcement and border security
    • Substantially increasing the resources available to the Home Office


1. The non-British net inflow in 2018 was 307,000. This massive level of immigration is making the UK ever more crowded, placing unsustainable pressure on already strained public services and dividing the country while costing taxpayers billions of pounds. It is imperative that there should be a large reduction in the level of immigration.

2. Brexit should be a turning point as it will enable all foreign nationals to be brought under the same set of rules. Many people supported Brexit in order to achieve control of our borders, our money and our laws. However, there is a serious risk that the opportunity to restore sovereign border control and reduce inflows in line with the public’s wishes will be thrown away as the government shows every sign of caving in to the numerous immigration lobbies.

3. We look first at the present government’s proposals contained in the White Paper, slipped out just before Christmas 2018, and we recommend major changes. We then consider non-EU migration, which has risen in recent years and currently accounts for about three-quarters of total non-British net arrivals.

4. The only way that net migration can be brought down is by tightening the rules for each category and enforcing the removal of those who no longer have a right to be here. Outflows of those who have permission to remain and, of course, movements by British citizens are not in the government’s control.

EU Migration

5. EU net migration rose to a peak of 189,000 in the year to June 2016. However it has since fallen by more than half to 74,000 in 2018. This is probably due to uncertainty surrounding Brexit negotiations, the drop in the value of sterling, and the rising economic fortunes of countries such as Poland.

6. There is, nonetheless, the potential for a considerable increase in EU inflows once acute uncertainty surrounding Brexit has faded. This would be aided by the permanent settlement of up to four million EU citizens and their family members. Almost 700,000 people have already been granted permission to remain permanently in the UK. Government estimates indicate that between 3.5 million and 4.1 million EEA citizens and their family members could be eligible by the end of 2020. The deadline for applying will be June 30 2021 in a deal departure, or December 31 2020 if the UK leaves without a deal.

7. The White Paper is focused on migration for work, largely leaving aside the other major categories - students, family reunion and asylum. The government propose to abolish the cap on work permits, to lower the skill requirement from degree level to A level and to lower the salary threshold from £30,000 per year (possibly to as low as £21,000). Depending on the level at which the salary threshold is set, these changes would open up between six and nine million UK jobs to new or increased recruitment from abroad (see our summary).

8. We support plans to extend the Youth Mobility Scheme to the EU. This would allow young people up to 30 to come to Britain for up to two years for study or work, non renewable. However, there is also a proposal for a visa lasting up to a year, including for unskilled workers, which has already been mentioned to the EU. Those coming on this visa would be required to leave within eleven months for a “cooling off period” of one year before being permitted to return to work in the UK. This is a blatant attempt to maintain the inflow of unskilled workers but to keep them out of the long-term immigration statistics which only include those who come for twelve months or more. The government is consulting a range of about 130 largely pro-immigration groups.

9. We have said that the White Paper proposals are unlikely to deliver a significant reduction in net migration from the EU. Worse, they could actually enable an increase once present uncertainties have subsided.

10. Instead the government should both retain the current skills and salary thresholds alongside an adjusted cap, and retain the £30,000 salary threshold in line with the MAC’s recommendation. It should also drop the proposal for ‘temporary’ visas for unskilled workers which would not benefit the UK economy but would add to unsustainable pressure on roads, housing and public transport (also see: “Assessment of the White Paper on Immigration after Brexit”).

Non-EU migration

11. The largest source of non-British net migration is countries that are outside the European Union, a matter over which the government has always had jurisdiction.

12. The government implemented various reforms between 2010 and 2015 with the aim of reducing numbers. They included:

  • Raising the skills requirement and implementing a cap of 20,700 for non-EU skilled workers.
  • Ensuring that students are genuine by interviewing applicants.
  • Raising the income threshold required to sponsor a non EU spouse.
  • Shutting down nearly 1,000 “bogus colleges” to tackle abuse of the student route.

13. Despite all this, the level of non-EU net migration rose from 143,000 in 2013 to 232,000 in 2018. It has averaged 196,000 over the past decade. It will therefore be essential, whatever happens to EU migration, for decisive steps to be taken to reduce the level of non-EU net migration. For recommendations for measures that need to be taken, see this paper: ‘How to deliver a significant reduction in non-EU net migration’.

Migration by British Citizens

14. More British citizens leave the UK than return each year. Foreign net migration is therefore offset by net British emigration which has averaged about 50,000 a year in recent years. This, of course, is effectively outside the British government’s control.

Wider Reforms

15. Immigration policy is only one part of the effort to bring down net migration. Employers can still too easily turn to workers from abroad rather than providing training or raising the pay of UK workers. The government has introduced an immigration skills charge that must be paid by employers recruiting non-EU migrants. This is a start but there is much more that should be done to up-skill British workers. A number of organisations (e.g. the Centre for Policy Studies) have made recommendations for improving technical education.

16. A clear example of the failure to invest in UK talent is the NHS. Indeed, in 2016 the MAC accused the health sector of using immigration as a ‘get out of jail free card’ so as not to invest in training opportunities for British young people. The government’s abolition of bursaries appears to have made a bad situation worse. It is absurd that the NHS is so dependent on foreign trained staff when applications to UK medical schools are running at about 70,000 to 85,000 a year for 7,000 places. There is no shortage of talented and enthusiastic young people in the UK who are keen to do these roles. What is required to solve recruitment issues is more training places and better retention of existing staff, not more immigration (see this piece which argues that staffing the health service requires training not immigration).

Illegal immigration

17. It has been estimated by former senior Home Office personnel that there are in excess of one million illegal migrants in the country. We have estimated that number is growing by at least 70,000 each year (see paper detailing our estimate). Much more should be done to ensure that those with no right to be here do actually leave the country

18. Employers can already held criminally liable for employing illegal immigrants. Two Acts of Parliament (the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016) strengthened sanctions against this and also extended deportation powers, limited the extensive grounds for appeal and imposed responsibilities on landlords, banks and the DVLA to check immigration status. Those who knowingly rent properties to illegal immigrants face criminal prosecution.

19. However, many of these measures have been effectively neutralised in response to efforts by the immigration industry to weaponise the Windrush affair as part of its bid to seriously weaken controls. It is an urgent necessity for these powers to be fully restored and strengthened, alongside appropriate oversight to ensure they are implemented fairly. Between 70% and 80% of the public support these policies (YouGov, April 2018), while 77% consider illegal immigration to be a serious problem facing the country.

20. This so-called ‘compliant environment’ must also be backed up with rigorous border security and the deterrent of actual removal. Alarmingly, Home Office personnel have been quoted describing security at UK ports as ‘resourced to fail’, despite ongoing clandestine Channel crossings from France (see 2018 BBC report). This must be swiftly addressed. Additionally, in recent years too few illegal immigrants have been removed from the country, with enforced returns declining by 39% and voluntary returns falling by 45% since the year to March 2015.

21. The funding available for immigration enforcement is entirely inadequate. In 2018/19, gross expenditure on this was just under £462 million – about a twentieth of one percent of total government spending in that year. The new Prime Minister should reverse this state of affairs – ensuring that there are sufficient resources in place to attend to an issue that the public view as a serious concern (read more here: “Illegal immigration: What can be done?”).


22. In the case of immigration the devil is in the detail and there will always be determined and well-funded lobbies of those who benefit from large-scale immigration. Migration Watch UK is almost alone in representing those who are concerned about the wider aspects of training and employing our own workers and about the impact of massive levels of immigration on our society and environment. If you share these concerns you might like to consider supporting us (click here for more information).

Updated 12 July 2019

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