High migration levels will become the norm in the coming decades as the UK struggles with an ageing population and skills shortages,a think tank has found.
The Social Market Foundation predicts that a post-pandemic immigration rate of 1.1 million arrivals per year could be the start of historically high immigration trends.
The Office for National Statistics found that in the year to June 2022, long-term immigration into the UK was 1.1 million, an increase of 435,000 on the previous year.
This high level of immigration was in part down to skills shortages following the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
But while these factors may wane, there are other factors at play that will sustain immigration trends at high levels in years to come, argues Jonathan Thomas, senior fellow at the SMF.
On the supply side, some forecasts predict a near tripling of the number of first-generation immigrants into the UK over the next three decades, according to the SMF.
This will be driven by population shifts in countries such as India, Nigeria and Pakistan, all of which are driving up student visa numbers.
SMF’s report, Routes to resolution, recommends “more innovative thinking” on how government and employers approach immigration as they attempt to compromise on the need to bring in skilled workers and concerns among the electorate about high levels of immigration.
Its recommendations include:
- Exploring ‘skills partnerships’ with migrants’ home countries, including training up workers in essential skills. “The UK should focus on helping to strategically shape migration sustainably on mutually beneficial terms with those countries from which the UK is receiving migrants,” Thomas advised.
- Immigrants should be shown to be “supplementing” rather than supplanting local labour, assuaging public concerns.
- The international refugee system should be overhauled to break the bond between people claim asylum and where they settle. Where asylum represents an entry into the system rather than a final destination, this will remove the incentives that drive people smuggling, the report says.
- Britain should negotiate with France on curbing dangerous Channel crossings for refugees, but must accept that this could involve the UK accepting a higher number of refugees.
“Current high levels of migration could well be the norm rather than the exception,” said Thomas.
“Over the longer term the UK’s deep historical connections with some of the most populated countries across the globe – India, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Bangladesh – have the potential to create far more sizeable flows of people to the UK than the smaller and stagnating populations of the EU ever realistically could.”
“The political consensus favouring economic arguments for liberal migration policy is extremely fragile. That consensus also creates an opportunity for political disruptors, an opportunity seized by Nigel Farage and UKIP in the early 2010s.
“To avoid that risk, there must be compromise on all sides to reach a sustainable centre-ground position on migration.”
James Kirkup, Director of the SMF added: “Immigration is going to be a major part of British national life in the decades ahead.
“We need a deeper and richer national debate about what that will mean and how we can approach migration issues in a way that meets our economic needs and acknowledges the concerns that some people have about population changes.”