Immigration a key issue in UK referendum

08 February 2016
As the referendum expected to take place in 2017 approaches, consequences remain uncertain on either side of the debate. Immigration has become a key issue in deciding whether the UK will continue to be a member of the European Union.
Those who are in favour of staying in the EU have criticised the opposition’s promises of reduced immigration. On the other hand, those who believe that leaving the EU is in the UK’s best interest appear to represent the general sentiment that rising immigration needs to be better controlled.
Immigration to the UK continues to rise
In the last year, the Migration Statistics Report published by the Office for National Statistics identified statistically significant increases for both the net migration of EU citizens and long-term international immigration.
The Home Office has responded to the increase in immigration by adding restrictions to applications for VISAs and indefinite leave to remain (permanent residence). The Occupation Shortage List restricts Tier 2 Visa applications to skilled workers. A salary cap has also taken effect for those seeking indefinite leave to remain.
Current efforts to reduce immigration primarily affect people from outside the European Economic Area. This is because citizens of EU countries are entitled by law to live and work in other EU countries. Leaving the EU would allow the Home Office to impose similar restrictions on the immigration of Europeans.
A potential solution for lower numbers
A report published by Migration Watch, an organisation that is in favour of leaving the EU, estimates leaving the EU can reduce net migration - the number of people immigrating to the UK subtracted by the number of people emigrating from the UK- by more than half the current number (from 180,000 to 65,000 people).
Although the organisation believes that immigration is “a natural part of an open economy”, they would like to see a decrease in net migration. They also consider the findings of their report an estimate of how migration can be reduced by leaving the EU, and not a recommendation of how it should be reduced.
The chairman of Migration Watch, Lord Green of Deddington, is quoted as saying: “It’s time to explore potential alternative immigration regimes. Under current arrangements, signs indicate that migration to Britain will continue at a substantial rate for the foreseeable future. Indeed, immigrants tend to generate further migration as their friends and relatives join them in their new countries.”
Ignoring the benefits of EU membership
The Migration Watch report has been criticised for being misleading. Others believe that the benefits of staying are much greater than the consequences of leaving, and that immigration is only a small part of EU membership.
Mr McGrory of the Britain Stronger in Europe Campaign concludes: “Right now, Britain has the best of both worlds. We have an opt-out from the passport-free Schengen area, while still enjoying full access to the single market. The Leave campaigns haven’t produced a shred of evidence to show how they could guarantee a deal that is at least as good if we left.”


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