Alp Mehmet, who is Vice-Chairman of Migration Watch UK, spoke at the Conservative Renewal Conference this year. This is what he has to say.
But, let us first recall what led to the present immigration policies. Between 1975 and 1996 UK net migration ranged from minus 79,000 (1981) and a net positive flow of 77,000 (1994), with a total of 154,000 net migrants for the entire 22 years. From 48,000 in 1997 it rose to 140,000 in 1998 and continued upwards reaching 252,000 in 2010.
The 2011 census confirmed what Migration Watch had been saying since the 2001 census; that immigration was the main driver of population growth. The Labour years had seen a net foreign inflow of nearly 4 million people, 30% (1.2 million) of whom were from the EU. At the same time, there was net emigration of 1 million British citizens, while the foreign born population of England and Wales had gone from 3.8 million in 2001 to 7.5 million in 2011; it had doubled. As the scale and speed of immigration increased, concern among ordinary people also grew and was sensed by the Conservatives. And so, a net migration target of tens of thousands was born.
Labour and the LibDems didn’t cotton on to public unease until the 2010 election campaign when both got duffed-up on the stump and doorstep. Even then, they did little about it. It wasn’t until the Eastleigh by-election that Labour and the LibDems felt the need to review their immigration policies. The LibDems have now ditched their daft idea of an amnesty for illegal immigrants and are rethinking their other silly idea of directing immigrants to particular parts of the country.
Labour have wriggled and squirmed. “We got it wrong,” said Ed, in a speech focusing on Poles and containing a mealy-mouthed acknowledgement of his party’s catastrophic mistakes in office. I found his lame mea culpa totally unconvincing. Not least because most immigration during the 13 Labour years was from outside the EU. And while Messrs Miliband and Clegg have both hinted at immigration being too high, neither has given any clue as to how they would bring it down. Unlike the Tories, who not only said immigration was too high but also did something about it.
Theresa May has been the first Home Secretary in my 45-year involvement with immigration work with the courage and determination to oversee policies that have reduced immigration. And she has done it without harming the economy. Business has not been denied access to skilled workers (only half the visas available for this purpose have ever been taken up), the number of business visitor visas issued has gone up, as has the number of employees that multi-national companies have transferred from other countries to their UK operations. There are now also special arrangements for entrepreneurs, investors and the exceptionally talented. All credit to Theresa May for sticking to her guns while coming under massive and sustained pressure both from colleagues and the immigration lobby.
Despite the fourth quarter figures showing a slight increase over the third quarter, 2012 as a whole saw a fall of 40,000 over 2011 and of 76,000 from the 2010 peak.
As for students, those who come, complete their courses and leave, have always been welcome. In fact, in the year to March 2013 there was a 5% increase in the number of non-EU students at our universities. I am certain they will continue to apply in greater numbers than there are places. The only people sending negative signals to prospective overseas students are those who continually tell the world our immigration policies are unwelcoming.
However, it is also true that not all students are genuine and far from all of them leaving, as the universities claim, many stay. In the five years to the end of 2012, an average of 136,000 students were admitted annually. In 2012, the first year that it became possible to record the number of former students leaving, just 49,000 left. Removing students from net migration would discredit the migration statistics and make a nonsense of the migration figures.
So, what now? To begin with, I suggest: a lower target range for net migration, say 40-50,000; increasing the outflow through tighter control of applicants seeking extensions of stay; requiring former students to leave, unless they have appropriate jobs; greater effort to track down and remove illegal immigrants; a significant increase of immigration control resources. This of course relates only to non-EU migration. Although, EU migration will have a significant bearing on the overall net migration figure and may even cancel out the successes with non-EU migration. But that is for another article.