Why hasn’t Cameron controlled non-EU immigration?

by Jack Schickler | 22.06.2016

Brexiteers strongest suit with the voters, it seems, is immigration. And Vote Leave suggests our post-Brexit policy should be based on that in Australia, where immigrants are let in through a system of points based on skills and attributes, as part of a programme to increase the country’s population.

To see why this might not work, we don’t have to go down under – we can look at the UK, where a similar system has applied for non-EU migrants since 2008.

Despite the Conservatives’ target to cut net migration to the tens of thousands – and despite the fact that EU rules have little to say about migration from outside the bloc – non-EU net migration stood at a stubborn 188,000 last year, greater than the figure for EU citizens. Net migration is the number of people who come into the UK minus the number who leave.

Last year 287,000 non-EU migrants entered the UK for a long-term stay of 12 months or more. Of those, 112,000 were to study – people who, though in principle here temporarily, may have contributed to net migration by outstaying their course. As these migrants are lucrative to our university sector – and in demand from potential employers – attempts at a clampdown, or to kick them out once courses are complete, face a political pushback.

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In the same year, 74,000 non-Europeans came to work, representing 24% of the total entering the UK to work. While the government sets annual caps on non-EU workers, some are exempted – notably the intra-company transfers when an international business posts staff to its UK office, which in recent years have represented about 30% of non-EU migrant worker visas.

The reason for the exemption is that restrictions on posted workers might lead to less market access for British companies overseas. In the government’s words, “the UK has a national interest in access to markets abroad which needs to be balanced against any restrictions that it places on those trading and investing inwardly. It also has obligations under international agreements concerned with trade” – a reference to the World Trade Organisation rules on trade in services, requiring us to provide access to managers and specialist staff of foreign companies.

In addition, last year, 38,000 visas were also given to non-EU citizens to rejoin a family member over here, and 12,000 were granted asylum.

There is a partial but important read-across to the situation we might find ourselves in attempting to control EU migration after Brexit.

EU citizens are already a relatively small population of our foreign student body, and that proportion seems likely to decrease if paperwork and fees rise post-Brexit. Equally, few EU citizens would seek to claim asylum in the UK.

But we would be likely to face pressure to allow the EU companies who operate in the UK to post workers here – especially if we want our own businesses to enjoy access to European markets. Likewise, given historical linkages, there will be plenty of Europeans wanting to be reunited with close relatives who are British, or living in Britain.

Cutting non-EU migration has not been straightforward. Nor would cutting EU migration be. When the Leave camp pretends otherwise, it is misleading the voters.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

Tags: , , , , Categories: Articles, Migration

One Response to “Why hasn’t Cameron controlled non-EU immigration?”

  • A comment in the above”, few EU citizens would seek to claim asylum in the UK”. Why would EU citizens seek asylum? A makes the whole article questionable.