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British Future calls for a comprehensive immigration review post-Referendum

The public does not believe that the UK will meet its net migration target, even after leaving the EU, according to a new report published by independent thinktank British Future.

The report, What next after Brexit? Immigration and integration in post-referendum Britain, is released as new ONS immigration statistics are published, likely to show that the Government remains no nearer to its manifesto commitment to reduce net migration to ‘tens of thousands’.

It finds that only around a third of people (37%) think we are likely to meet the net migration target in the next five years, even after Brexit, according to ICM polling. More think we are not likely (44%). Of those who take a view (ie excluding those who say ‘Don’t Know’) 54% think it is unlikely, 46% likely.

The report says it would be unwise to predict what levels of immigration are best for Britain until the details of the Brexit deal are clear. But Brexit could offer “an opportunity to get immigration policy right” and the report calls for a comprehensive immigration review, once the shape of Brexit is known. This should involve the public through a “national conversation on immigration”, modelled on the consultation launched last month by the Canadian government. New research shows that such a review would reveal UK public attitudes to immigration that are more moderate and nuanced than most might think:

  • Only 12% of people would like to see a reduction in the numbers of highly skilled workers migrating to Britain; nearly four times as many (46%) would like to see more of it, with 42% saying that it should stay the same. Among people who voted Leave in the referendum these numbers remain broadly the same: 45% would like to see an increase, 40% say that the numbers should stay as they are and just 15% would like to see them reduced.
  • Only a fifth of people (22%) would like the number of international students coming to study at Britain’s universities to be reduced, less than the 24% who would be happy for them to increase. The majority (54%, including 50% of Leave voters) would rather the numbers stayed the same. Students made up over a quarter of immigration flows to the UK last year (1).
  • Most people (52%) would be happy for the number of people joining immediate family in the UK to remain the same. 13% think it should be increased while 35% would prefer it reduced.
  • People are less positive about low-skilled workers moving to the UK, however: while four in ten (38%) would be happy for numbers to stay the same (31%) or increase (7%), six in ten (62%) would prefer the numbers to be reduced.

The report calls for increased investment in a system that works.  It recommends improved funding for the Home Office to handle borders and immigration while coping with a higher workload as a result of Brexit. It also calls for the Government to honour a Conservative manifesto commitment for a fund to manage the local impacts of migration, particularly in areas of rapid population increase, focusing on housing, school places and pressures on NHS services.

The Comprehensive Immigration Review, the authors argue, must be undertaken at the highest level of politics, considering top-level issues and not just micro-policy. It should examine how migration can help provide the economy with the skills that it needs, as well as hearing the case for reductions in other areas. It also needs to consider family migration and public support for increasing the number of international students.