In this column on 16th November https://www.desmondswaynemp.com/ds-blog/rwanda-facing-down-the-judges/ I pointed out that despite the beached Rwanda policy being an important part of the deterrent to Channel crossings, we have seen a reduction this year of one third.
The net migration figure however, is going in the opposite direction: In the year to June 2023 675,000 represents disastrous failure for those of us who have campaigned in election after election for a reduction in immigration.
Nevertheless, nothing is ever as bad as first reported.
About half the numbers are accounted for by students and their dependants. The reality is that tertiary education is one of our major export industries which is worth about £20 billion to the UK economy. It also allows own students to study at university at substantially lower fees, in effect subsidised by foreign students.
Those foreign students return to their native countries with a British education and goodwill towards us, which will have a beneficial impact on developments, commercial and diplomatic, for years ahead.
It is right however, that we have clamped down on short and ‘low value’ courses which attract migrants who really aren’t interested in study but just want to find a way of getting into Britain.
We need however, to cut the 150,000 dependants that postgraduate students have been bringing with them. So, beginning with courses starting in January, students on taught postgraduate courses will no longer have the ability to bring dependants; only students on designated postgraduate research programmes will have that entitlement.
All this begs the question of why we include students, here temporarily, in our migration statistics at all, when most other jurisdictions don’t. The answer is simple: we always have; So, any government that chose to exclude them would be accused of ‘fiddling the figures’.
Which leaves us with the other half of the net migration figure: those on work visas.
As I’ve said before in this column, there isn’t an enterprise that I have visited that isn’t having difficulty recruiting staff. We have a million vacancies, yet 21% of our working age population, nearly 9 million people (including 3 million ‘on the sick’) are economically inactive.
Little wonder then, that businesses and public services sponsor so many visas for overseas workers, making a mockery of the ’points-based immigration system’ which was modelled on Australia’s.
The argument is made that -were we to abolish the list of critically short occupations allowable and to raise the salary threshold, the consequent fall in the number qualifying migrants would fuel inflation and cause some sectors to grind to a halt.
I am sceptical. The counter argument is that, whilst migration is generating greater national income, the income per head of population is not growing in proportion. Genuine economic welfare may actually be falling as a result of the pressures on housing and public services arising from the growing migrant populations.
Furthermore, despite the numbers arriving, the shortages persist: 70,000 people were recruited from abroad for care roles in the year to June, while the number of vacancies in the sector dropped by only 11,000.
Foreign workers cost employers 20% less than UK employees: this incentive to recruit from abroad should certainly be removed.
But the strain on our society, economic an social, of immigration well beyond what we can safely absorb, will not be assuaged until we can curb our appetite for foreign labour and address economic inactivity amongst our own working age population.