Migration Statistics - the Immigration Year 2016

20 December 2016
The latest Migration Statistics Quarterly Report has just been released by the Office for National Statistics. Estimated figures for the year ending June 2016 show net migration (the number who left the UK subtracted from the number who came to the UK) over this period as 335,000. This calculation was made on the basis of 650,000 leaving and 315,000 arriving, and these figures are broadly similar to the figures for the previous year, ending June 2015.

Within these figures, net migration of EU nationals was estimated at 189,000. It is the highest figure on record, but only marginally so, and only slightly higher than for the previous year.

The figures for the year ending June 2016 do not reflect the Brexit referendum, which was held in late June, so if there has been a “Brexit effect” on EU migration this particular set of figures will not show it.

These numbers about EU migration continue to illustrate a kind of brutal reality for the Government. The previous Cameron-led Government often bandied about an aspiration to reduce annual net migration to the “tens of thousands” (ie any figure less than 100,000). What the Government did not seem to sufficiently grasp was that whilst they could control other immigration routes they could not control European immigration very much, because of the deeply-enshrined European legal principles of free movement of people.

So, whilst they could easily remove immigration work routes for non-Europeans nationals and easily make the requirements more onerous for non-European family visa applications, they could not take any such measures for Europeans because European law - to which the UK is signed up - simply does not allow it: and it hardly needs be said that this was a major issue during the European referendum campaign.

The present Government (which is headed by Prime Minister Theresa May, who was Home Secretary during the Cameron administration) has interestingly somewhat de-emphasised the “tens of thousands” commitment, although it may still be lurking somewhere in the background. But, in any case, the result of the Brexit referendum is, indeed obviously, a highly important fact in this respect.

A lot of dust has been raised about the triggering of Brexit: whether the result of the referendum should be binding on the Government, whether the Government can trigger Brexit without the agreement of Parliament, whether there should be a second referendum, and so on. But, despite the fact that the issues are still rumbling through the courts, a lot of the dust has now settled. It is accepted in most quarters - including staunchly Remain quarters - that Brexit will happen. The question is now how it will happen, not whether it will happen.

So it can be envisaged that at some point in the future Europeans will face similar immigration hurdles to non-Europeans, and this must inevitably give the Government a far greater opportunity to control immigration than it had previously. The Brexit vote must surely be the Big Thing of the UK immigration world in 2016.

What else happened in 2016? The Tier 1 General and Tier 1 Post-Study Work visa routes, abolished some years previously, have more or less faded from memory; there must be very few, if any, migrants still holding these types of leave. The Tier 1 Investor and Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa routes have survived, as has the Tier 2 Skilled Workers route: these are the routes that the Government believes attract “good quality” migrants.

The Tier 2 route has been made more onerous than previously; this follows the trend of the last few years. In many cases Tier 2 applicants for indefinite leave to remain (ie settlement) now have to show a salary of at least £35,000, and the Government is planning to implement an additional “immigration skills surcharge” on employers from next year. The Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer route is being shrunk and simplified. But the Government has, however, retained the “new entrant” and “experienced” Tier 2 salary rates scheme, which allows employers to pay lower salaries to less experienced employees.

Rights of appeal to the Immigration Tribunals have been further limited: the so-called “deport first appeal later” legislation has been extended, which further limits in-country rights of appeal for unsuccessful applicants. And, in a remarkable volte face, the Ministry of Justice imposed, and then rescinded - as a result of widespread adverse reaction - huge increases in immigration appeal fees.

Despite this latter compromise, it seems fair to say that 2016 has witnessed a continuation of the Government project of trying to make migration to the UK more difficult and reduce the numbers coming in, but it has not succeeded - as yet.


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