Sir Andrew Green is Chairman of Migrationwatch UK.
According to Benedict Brogan, the Deputy Editor of the Daily Telegraph, this morning, the Prime Minister wants growth at all costs. That may explain, he says, why immigration is becoming an increasingly fraught topic among ministers – with Theresa May under huge pressure to back down on numbers.
If this is so, it is nonsense. There is, in fact, no conflict between economic growth and effective immigration control. Indeed, the only ‘cap’ on economic migration is not biting. It has been set at just over 20,000 people a year, of which only half have ever been taken up. Meanwhile, international companies are entirely free to transfer their staff to the UK provided that they pay them £40,000 a year – a trivial sum for a major company. (Our summary of the current rules is here.)
So why all the fuss? The initial imposition of a limit caused great uncertainty, as companies had no assurance that vital staff could be brought in to Britain. That phase is now over, but the CBI and other bodies continue to complain – partly, perhaps, to show that they are earning their subscriptions. They may also be seeking to deter the government from any further tightening of the system – hardly likely, given the small numbers involved and the obvious importance of the growth agenda.
Other pressures are coming from the Higher Education lobby. Their case is astonishingly weak. Non-EU applications to British universities have actually increased by 10 per cent in the last couple of years. Furthermore, there is now mounting evidence, summarised here, that international students are not going home at the end of their courses.
The first results of a new question in the International Passenger Survey (introduced at our suggestion) show that only 50,000 non-EU students left in 2012 compared to an average inflow of nearly three times that number in each of the previous five years. Some will have extended legally but it is now becoming clear that there has been a massive level of overstaying. In effect, lesser institutions have been selling immigration as much as education. All graduates can already stay and work if they can land a graduate level job paying £20,000 a year, and there is no limit on the numbers. So current pressure to extend still further the scope for students to stay on and work is very dangerous for the immigration objective (not to say unwelcome to thousands of unemployed British graduates saddled with £30,000 of debt).
The Government would be extremely unwise, therefore, to bow to the special interest groups which have been profiting from the immigration chaos left by Labour. Recent opinion polls confirm that 67 per cent of respondents want ‘drastic action’ to get immigration down. If the Government, which has had a good deal of success so far, were to back off now there would be a deep sense of betrayal. Voters would know how to respond.