A group of MPs has pressed the UK government to lower its target of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands.
Currently, annual net migration to the UK is around 230,000. In 2010, then Prime Minister David Cameron set a target of reducing it to tens of thousands, and current PM Theresa May has restated this claim. However, this figure has never been met, and the Home Affairs Committee of MPs has argued that this failure undermines public trust.
In their report, the MPs identify “considerable willingness among the public to engage with the detail of immigration policy but also considerable scepticism about the current system”. They say: “The continued discrepancy between the target and reality has damaged the public’s view of the immigration system because it undermines trust in the state’s ability to control migration in the way it intends”.
What should the government do?
The report recommends taking a number of actions to restore public trust in the current immigration system. In the committee’s view, the government should:
- Use exit data and other information to produce an annual estimate of those who may be in the country illegally;
- Collaborate with the Office for National Statistics, the Migration Advisory Committee, and local authorities to issue regular analyses of migration
- Publish more factual information about the costs and benefits of migration, to challenge myths about immigration and the asylum
- Hold more parliamentary committee hearings and public debates, in order to build consensus around immigration policy.
In its ‘National Conversation’ report, think tank British Future found that most people surveyed do not know what the UK’s immigration rules are. For this reason, the report suggests greater public engagement is needed to restore confidence.
How has the government responded?
The BBC reports that a Home Office spokesperson insisted the government remains committed to significantly lowering net migration. The spokesperson highlighted the fact that migration has fallen steadily since the Brexit vote – 123,000 EU citizens left in the 12 months following the vote.
He continued: “We are making it harder than ever before for those with no right to be here to remain in the UK. However, we also believe that more analysis of the scale and nature of the problem of illegal immigration is needed in order to develop appropriate policy responses and reassure the public that the issue is being addressed seriously.”
The report recommends a switch to a points-based system for immigration, similar to that used by Canada and Australia, but the government’s response suggests that such an overhaul is unlikely in the near future.