Rishi Sunak Calls for Lower Legal Migration to the UK Amidst Growing Concerns
In a recent interview with the BBC, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed his concerns over the “excessively high” levels of legal migration to the UK. While he acknowledged the need to address the issue, he refrained from specifying an exact figure for acceptable migration levels.
The Conservative Party made a commitment in their 2019 manifesto to reduce net migration, and pressure has been mounting on the government to fulfil this promise. New figures on net migration to the UK are set to be released next week.
During the interview with Chris Mason at the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, Sunak chose not to divulge the specifics of the government’s plan to manage legal migration. When questioned about the possibility of limiting dependants accompanying international students, Sunak declined to speculate, emphasising that the government is exploring a range of options to tackle the issue and will reveal more in due course.
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In their 2019 manifesto, the Conservatives pledged to reduce the overall number of migrants arriving in the UK, at a time when net migration levels stood at 226,000. However, in the year leading up to June 2022, the number surpassed 500,000.
This surge in migration can be largely attributed to individuals coming to the UK from non-EU countries. Among them are 170,000 Ukrainians who fled their war-torn country, as well as 76,000 individuals from Hong Kong who were resettled under a scheme for British citizens. Additionally, approximately 270,000 people arrived in the UK for study purposes.
The Office for National Statistics, responsible for collecting migration data, suggested that the lifting of travel restrictions post-pandemic may have contributed to the increase in student numbers. However, it is too early to determine if this upsurge signifies a long-term trend.
“The current numbers are unacceptably high, and we are committed to reducing them,” stated Sunak, while also acknowledging that the influx in 2022 was due to Ukrainian refugees seeking safety in the UK—a development he believed the country should take pride in.
Pressed on what he considers an “acceptable level” of legal migration, Sunak explained that it would depend on the state of the economy and the circumstances faced by the nation at any given time. Consequently, he refrained from providing a precise figure, stressing that his priority lies in tackling illegal migration.
Speaking to journalists in London, the prime minister’s spokesman reaffirmed Sunak’s position, emphasising that he would not propose a specific migration target. The spokesperson added that the prime minister would evaluate the situation once the new migration figures are made available.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman recently called for reduced immigration and suggested that more British citizens should be trained to fill positions typically occupied by foreign workers, such as lorry driving and fruit picking. However, Sunak has adopted a more flexible stance, assuring that additional seasonal fruit pickers could be permitted entry to the UK if the need arises.
While many within the Conservative Party advocate for a decrease in net migration, some businesses argue that such measures could harm their industries, especially in times of low unemployment. Julian Metcalfe, CEO of the food chain Itsu, spoke to the BBC’s Today program, highlighting the difficulties faced by the industry in finding staff, which in turn drive up prices and hamper restaurant operations. Metcalfe urged the government to introduce a two-year working visa to alleviate the staffing challenges.
During his visit to an Iceland meeting of the Council of Europe, the prime minister emphasised the importance of increased cooperation between the UK and the EU in addressing illegal migration. Downing Street later announced that the UK and the EU had agreed to collaborate on combatting cross-border crime and people smuggling.
Anneliese Dodds, Chair of the Labour Party, expressed her reservations about setting a net migration target, deeming it imprudent. She advocated for an immigration system that functions effectively, allowing for an influx of individuals to meet short-term skills requirements. Dodds, however, emphasised the necessity of long-term investments in training and education to reduce reliance on external talent—an area she believes the Conservative Party has neglected.
As the UK grapples with the challenges posed by migration, the government faces the task of finding a balanced approach that addresses concerns over high legal migration while ensuring the smooth functioning of industries and the nation’s overall economic well-being. The forthcoming migration figures will undoubtedly shed light on the current state of affairs and inform the government’s future actions.