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Government plans to “increase immigration to boost growth”. Allegedly.


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The Sunday Times reports that the Truss government intends to follow through on Truss’s pledge during the leadership race to raise the cap on seasonal agricultural workers. “Reform” of the visa system is also planned to “attract the best talent from across the world”. So far, so 2002. Adjustments to the English language requirement are specifically mentioned, as are a review of the shortage occupation list that has already been commissioned and the creation of a visa for students from top global universities that has already been launched.

A follow-up in the Times this morning adds valuable detail. A cones migrant workers hotline is under contemplation and employers are blamed for “not taking advantage of the points-based immigration system”, which requires them to pay for and obtain a complex sponsorship licence and pay an annual charge per foreign worker.

It doesn’t sound like a very well thought-through “plan” as such.

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Suella Braverman and others are reported by The Telegraph to be opposed and to have started banging on about net migration again. Because that worked so well for David Cameron. Perhaps that means that any increases to work visas will be offset by reductions to Hong Kong, Ukraine or refugee resettlement visas, or family migration, or students.

We should also bear in mind that the exodus element of the net migration equation is now a lot stickier than it used to be because British citizens have lost their free movement rights; it is harder for us to leave, as much as we might very much want to. To put it another way, the focus on net migration distracts from the actual numbers of migrants arriving because the total is offset by those who are leaving. There are likely to be less people leaving in future because we can’t.

Institutional opposition to immigration from within the Home Office is very much in evidence in the Telegraph article. Home Office officials are quoted as suggesting that “more needs to be done to incentivise back into jobs many of the 10 million UK welfare claimants who are fit to work” and that farmers should mechanise and automate. The 10 million number is an entirely invented one, and this is very much not traditional Home Office policy territory. It does, though, reveal the degree of resistance to immigration from within the department.

We have seen all sorts of public rhetoric about attracting the brightest and best over the last few years, but check out the latest Home Office figures on the impact of changes to work visas so far:

Visa typeYear ending December 2019Year ending June 2022ChangePercentage change
Temporary Worker43,46772,52629,05967%
Investor, business development and talent5,9226,1752534%
Other work visas and exemptions129,61530,1835682%

There has undoubtedly been a significant increase in skilled and temporary worker visas issued. But remember that EU free movement ended during this period. There were at least 300,000 to 400,000 EU citizens migrating to the UK annually until 2020, so there is not in truth an overall increase in immigration. The figure that jumps out at me from the Home Office figures is the 4% increase to the much-hyped, little-used investor, business development and talent visa categories. An increase in numbers from 5,922 to 6,175 over the course of two and a half years is hardly earth-shattering.

A speech by Braverman on immigration policy is apparently coming in a few weeks. Speeches, press releases and briefings aren’t the same as actual delivery.

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Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.