Immigration policy: basis for building consensus Contents

4There should be different approaches for different types of immigration

63.While surveys show that the public wants to see a reduction in immigration overall, attitudes can vary depending on the type of migration, with fewer people wanting to see a reduction in high-skilled workers, students and some low-skilled workers doing jobs in sectors where supply from the UK labour force is constrained.65 Many of those who participated in British Future’s National Conversation recognised that immigration could deliver economic benefits and they were happy to accept people coming and ‘contributing’. There was however widespread concern that some migrants were attracted to the UK because of its welfare system and there was frequently a perception that migrants received preferential access to benefits. British Future’s work also showed that the public supported the principle of humanitarian protection as long as it was not abused, while our sessions in Bedford and Glasgow showed that people are often sympathetic to individual family reunion cases at the same time as wanting national rules to prevent abuse.

64.The central target and driving force in current Government immigration policy is an aggregate target which does not differentiate between different kinds of migration and which also includes flows of British citizens. The net migration target does not allow adjustments for economic needs or international obligations arising from both trade and humanitarian agreements. The majority of evidence to our inquiry recommended that immigration policy be reformed to recognise the desire for different approaches for different types of migration. Participants in the National Conversation regularly drew attention to the Australian points-based system as a good example of a system of differential immigration control but were unaware that the UK uses aspects of a points-based approach for some non-EU migration.

65.Evidence to our inquiry and from the National Conversation suggests that any approach that treats all migration as the same encourages polarisation of the debate. Treating different kinds of migration differently would reflect most people’s views of immigration, and allow for much greater consensus to be built into the debate, as well as for greater transparency over immigration policy in general. The Government should replace its net migration target with an evidence-based framework for different types of immigration that takes into account the UK’s needs and its international obligations to accept people, arising from both trade and humanitarian agreements. Different targets or controls for different kinds of migration should be set out in the Annual Migration Report, as part of a three-year migration plan. Doing so would allow for more specific consideration of the costs and benefits of immigration and might help to build greater consensus behind different approaches to different kinds of migration.

66.There are four main categories of migration: study, family reunion, protection and work. We discuss the first three below and focus on immigration for work in the following chapter.

Migration to study

67.The UK is home to world-leading universities and international students and staff contribute to the economies of every region of the UK. Research commissioned by Universities UK found that in 2014–15 non-EU and EU students contributed £13.8 billion to UK GDP and supported 206,600 jobs.66 The majority of non-EU students are temporary visitors and leave the UK after completing their studies.67 A proportion will remain in the UK either to continue their education or move into employment via points-based routes.

68.The Government has been clear that there is no cap on the number of international students who can come to study in the UK or remain in the UK to work after their studies if they meet the points-based criteria.68 However, the Government includes international students in its target of limiting net migration to 100,000 per year. Although international definitions of long-term migration include migration for the purposes of study, that does not mean they need to be included in the target.69 The higher education sector argues that including international students within the target makes the UK look a less welcoming country to prospective students than its competitors.70 It also means that, if universities are successful in attracting more international students, as the Government wants them to be, its net migration target is less likely to be met without placing further restrictions on other routes.

69.We heard from witnesses that the public do not see international students as migrants at all. A poll conducted by ComRes for Universities UK showed that 75% of British adults said they would like to see the same number, or more, international students. This figure increased to 87% once the information on the economic benefits of international students was provided.71 Professor Ford told us:

If you ask, as researchers have done, who do you have in mind when you answer questions about immigration, they never say students. [ … ] That is a big contribution to the net migration message but it is one that the public are largely completely unaware of and if you tell them about it they are surprised that these people are in that target at all and they do not want them in that target. 72

British Future has conducted similar exercises in gauging public opinion. When they asked people who attended their citizens’ panels whether they would prefer the number of international students coming to the UK to be increased, reduced or remain about the same, 53% wanted student migration to stay at the same level, while 32% wanted to see an increase.73 Jill Rutter explained that “of the 37 panels so far, we have had only one where there have been any significant negative comments about international students”.74

70.International statistical rules require students to be included in the way migration is calculated but we do not believe that it is logical or in the best interests of the UK to include international students in a target based on restricting migration flow, given that they represent a large group of migrants who are in most part temporary and whom the Government is keen to encourage to come to the UK. There should be no national target to restrict the numbers of students coming to the UK. As a minimum, the Government should remove immediately student migration from the net migration target.

71.Although the British public is largely supportive of relaxed rules for student migration, the arrival of students can place a strain on local resources. They can skew housing and labour markets at the expense of local people and they may place a strain on public services and other amenities.75 This links to broader issues of community cohesion and integration.

72.In calling for more international students to come and study in the UK, universities must be mindful of local impacts of large numbers of students and work with local authorities to help manage pressures on housing and public services. Universities should be expected to consult local authorities on future student numbers in their area.

Humanitarian protection

73.The UK has a long and proud tradition of providing sanctuary to those in need. The UK played a key role in drafting the 1951 Refugee Convention, which has helped to protect millions of people, and it remains a world leader in providing humanitarian support today.76 In the last year the UK has granted asylum to 16,211 people, and continued to work towards meeting its pledges to resettle 20,000 people fleeing the war in Syria and 3,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from the Middle East and North Africa. Public support for more assistance to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Europe has seen a number of NGO-led public campaigns, as well as the successful vote in parliament for the “Dubs amendment” to the 2016 Immigration Act and the subsequent “Dubs scheme”. The UK has also pledged £2.5 billion in aid to the Syrian crisis, considerably more than comparable countries.77 While people migrating for humanitarian purposes are a component of migration, and are measured as such in Government statistics and the net migration target, it is not strictly correct under United Nations definitions to use the term “migrant” to refer to someone seeking protection.78

74.We heard from British Future that the UK’s acceptance of refugees and asylum-seekers continues to receive robust support in principle, but that underlying sympathy for asylum, particularly for women and children, risked being eroded by concerns over vetting, security and benefit dependency.79 In their citizens’ panels British Future heard how empathy for refugees was influenced by national and international events. In almost all their meetings, people said that the media reports disputing the age of children accepted from the Calais camp dented their support for refugees. However, British Future’s National Conversation also identified positive responses to Syrian refugees in a number of locations, particularly where churches and community groups were involved in initiatives to welcome Syrian refugees.80

75.British Future also found that the British public had little understanding of the asylum system. Many people viewed asylum-seekers as people who did not contribute to—but claimed from—the welfare state and were generally unaware that asylum-seekers were barred from working or that levels of state support were far below that available to UK citizens. Professor Ford explained that the belief that asylum is ‘a noble principle being abused’ must be addressed if one wanted to build greater support for asylum.81

76.The success of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme shows that a well-funded, well-organised refugee programme can attract public support. This is evidenced by the number of local authorities signing up to the Scheme, under which additional funding is provided to them to provide individuals with housing and access to education, the job market and mainstream services.

77.There should be no diminution in the UK’s approach towards its international humanitarian obligations as it leaves the European Union. The UK has a proud tradition in providing support to those fleeing persecution and the principle has widespread public support. The principle of asylum—with the internationally recognised degree of evidence required—must be upheld. The Government should make every effort to honour its existing commitments to bring unaccompanied children from Europe and elsewhere, both as part of the Dubs scheme and the Dublin III Regulation but also through family reunion routes within and outside the Immigration Rules.

78.We recommend that the Government does more to challenge public misconceptions about people seeking asylum. In particular, a much clearer differentiation must be made between asylum and migration for other reasons. Clear public information should be provided on the entitlements, rights and number of asylum-seekers compared with other migrants to combat myths. A failure to do so risks harming support for asylum and refugee policy. As a minimum, people who enter the UK for humanitarian purposes should not be included in headline figures of net migration including, while it remains in use, the net migration target.

79.The success of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme shows that a well-managed and well-funded refugee resettlement scheme attracts strong support. A resettlement scheme along similar lines to the Syrian VPRS should be established on a permanent basis, in collaboration with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which would apply to refugees from other countries.

Right to family life

80.Throughout our inquiry we have been made aware of concerns that parts of the immigration system are failing families and children. In particular, our attention was drawn to the additional difficulties, stresses and costs associated with children seeking indefinite leave to remain who are now granted permission to stay for renewable periods of up to 30 months. In 2015 research commissioned by the Children’s Commissioner for England found that the minimum income requirement for UK citizens and settled residents applying to bring a non-EEA partner to the country disproportionately affected women, and had led to 15,000 children being separated from their parents since the policy’s introduction in 2012.82

81.Recent reported individual examples of the rules being applied include the Home Office informing the Filipino wife of a stroke victim and mother of their two children that there were ‘no exceptional circumstances in her case’ and that she must return to the Philippines and make an application for a spouse visa from there.83 A second example involved a 20-year-old Syrian asylum seeker who entered the UK illegally in order to reunite with his family who had been taken in as refugees but now faces deportation to Bulgaria under the Dublin rules.84 British Future noted that people were more sympathetic when they were made aware of the details of particular cases of families being disadvantaged by the immigration system.85

82.Much of the evidence we received for this inquiry called for immigration policy and those responsible for its administration to be more sensitive to the rights of families and children, particularly where there was evidence—beyond the salary of the key sponsor—that they would be able to support themselves. Fees, requirements for regular visa extensions and salary thresholds and qualifying periods are just some of the barriers that we were told prevented people from being able to live a settled life in the UK. We believe that striving to meet the best interests of families and children should be at the heart of immigration policy. We urge the Home Office to take note of these concerns and review the impact of its policies on families and children.

66 Written evidence submitted by Universities UK [IBC0001]

67 According to the Office for National Statistics, 51% of students leave the UK when the finish their studies and 18% leave and then return

71 Written evidence submitted by Universities UK to the previous Committee (IM0203)

72 Oral evidence taken on 31 October 2017, HC (2017–19) 500, Q16

73 British Future and Hope not Hate, National Conversation on Immigration: An interim report to the Home Affairs Committee, January 2018

74 Oral evidence taken on 31 October 2017, HC (2017–19) 500, Q10

75 Institute of Community Cohesion, Promoting community cohesion and preventing violent extremism in higher and further education, Professor Harris Beider and Rachel Briggs, March 2010

76 Written evidence submitted by UNHCR to the previous Committee [IM0545]

78 House of Commons Library Briefing Paper, Migration Statistics, SN06077, 10 October 2017

79 Oral evidence taken on 31 October 2017, HC (2017–19) 500, Q20

80 British Future and Hope not Hate, National Conversation on Immigration: An interim report to the Home Affairs Committee, January 2018, pp 17 and 46

81 Oral evidence taken on 31 October 2017, HC (2017–19) 500, Q21

82 Written evidence submitted to the previous Committee, [IM0172]; BBC News, Immigration rule ‘has split 15,000 children from a parent’, 9 September 2015; Children’s Commissioner, Family friendly? The impact on children of the Family Migration Rules: A review of the financial requirements, August 2015

83 Guardian, Wife of stroke victim who needs 24hr care must leave UK while he cares for children, 17 October 2017; the Home Office have since granted leave

85 Oral evidence taken on 31 October 2017, HC (2017–19) 500, Q6

12 January 2018