Theresa May doesn’t need Brexit to cut net migration
2 June 2017
The Conservative manifesto retains a pledge made in 2010 to reduce net migration to ‘the tens of thousands’. This commitment has been controversial as net migration has never been higher than under the Tory-led governments led by David Cameron and Theresa May.
In March, May told Parliament that Brexit was an opportunity to make progress in cutting migration ‘so that our immigration system serves the national interest’. A key stumbling block has been the free movement of EU nationals into the UK.
Leading immigration expert Professor Thom Brooks, Head of Durham Law School, claims that the Prime Minister does not need to wait for Brexit to cut net migration to under 100,000 if she really wanted to meet this target.
Brooks says: ‘Theresa May has several options she can use now. Her government can start by reducing visas for non-EU workers and students who make up a large bulk of annual net migration. While there is evidence this could cause real damage to the economy, she can reduce net migration now without waiting two or more years for Brexit talks to conclude if sincere about meeting this campaign promise’.
Over the last year, more than 93,000 skilled visas were granted with 1 in 10 to an American. Since 2011, some visas for skilled workers earning salaries of £20,800 or more have been restricted to an annual quota of 20,700 – a cap that has not been breached once. There are nearly 200,000 foreign students in the UK with about half from China, the United States and India. Big cuts in these areas could bring net migration under 100,000.
Professor Brooks argues that the government should begin taking greater responsibility for its immigration record instead of blaming past governments or the EU. He says: ‘The failure of the Tories to meet their net migration is a choice they made because the power to meet it is in their hands. It’s time the government came clean and explained why it chose to continue welcoming migrants as skilled workers and students rather than enact their very public manifesto pledge’.
A dual national of the US and UK, Professor Brooks further claims more can also be done about enforcing existing regulations on EU free movement. ‘Like any freedom – on free speech or assembly – there are restrictions. Our EU neighbours like France and Germany do much better than us in enforcing existing rules. If the government wants curbs on EU movement, it can act now to reduce numbers – its failure to do so again more a lack of political will than political impotence’.