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New research finds two-thirds of public think firms should be allowed to tackle worker shortages by recruiting from overseas

Public attitudes to immigration are more positive than negative and most people would now support British businesses being allowed to recruit from overseas to address staff shortages, according to a new report.

The report  Immigration: a changing debate, by the independent thinktank British Future, draws on the latest findings from Ipsos MORI research that has tracked changing public attitudes to immigration across twelve waves of research since 2015. It finds:

  • Two thirds of the public (65%) agree that employers should be allowed to recruit from overseas for any job where there are shortages.
  • 77% of the public say recruitment from overseas should be allowed for positions in key services such as health and social care. Just 13% say it should not be allowed. Support rises to 86% among people aged over 65.
  • 67% say recruitment from overseas should be allowed for temporary seasonal work in sectors such as fruit-picking and hospitality. Just 21% say it should not be allowed.
  • Most of the public (55%) also support recruitment from overseas for lower-skilled jobs that are hard to fill from within the UK. Three in ten (30%) say it should not be allowed.
  • Nearly twice as many people favour an approach to immigration that prioritises the government having control over who can settle in the UK, whether or not that reduces numbers (44%) over a system that is focused on keeping immigration numbers low (24%).

This year sees a new balance in immigration attitudes. Roughly twice a year since 2015 this survey has asked the public if they would prefer immigration to increase, decrease or remain at its current level.  The number of people who want to reduce immigration is now at its lowest level in the series (45%), while more people than ever before would be happy for immigration to increase (17%). For the first time, the proportion of people wanting to reduce immigration (45%) is on a par with the 46% who either want to keep it at current levels (29%) or higher (17%).

The research also notes a continuing trend of the public feeling that immigration has a positive impact (46%) more than a negative impact (28%) on Britain.  When the tracker survey was conducted in February 2015, by comparison, it found only 35% were positive and 41% were negative.