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Fix the Net Migration Fixation

Written by
Nilmini Roelens
Date of Publication:
23 November 2023

Net migration, in very simple terms, is the difference between the number of those coming and leaving country as against the residual population. The calculation is much more complex than that.

The Telegraph this morning reports on the existential pressure on the Government over this issue: Conservatives face 'do or die' moment over record migration numbers, Tory MPs warn (

The extract below belies the conflation of net migration with "abuse" in the Government's attitude which regrettably filters through to the public psyche:

The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman said: "Net migration remains far too high. That's why we are taking action to bring it down. That is what the British public expect.

"That's why in May we announced the toughest-ever action to reduce migration. That includes clamping down on the roughly 150,000 dependants of students who come into the UK every year and introducing an additional immigration health surcharge and raising visa costs.

"We know this is predicted to lead to significant reductions. As we've seen today, the ONS figures show migration is now reducing year on year, but we believe there is much more to do.

"Where the system is being abused, we will leave no stone unturned in rooting that out so companies and individuals cannot exploit our system."

In fact, net migration figures have reached record levels. 745,000 in the year to 2022.

The Government's angst and obsession over net migration figures is causing a type of suicidal self-harm, far more serious than shooting oneself in the foot.

OCD fixation on small boats

In the same manner that Cinderella's aesthetically challenged sisters might cut off their big toe to fit into a political glass slipper, seeking to make new Treaties to make wrong things appear right, even after the Supreme Court has declared the Rwanda plans to be manifestly unlawful, the Home Office is hell bent on doing whatever it can to hit the net migration targets.

This OCD over the small boats/Rwanda issue is about the net migration figures as is everything else.

Why now turn on skilled migration too, at a time we urgently need to address skills shortages and grow the economy? The Financial Times (FT) reported on 22.11.23 that the Government is examining increasing the minimum salary threshold again from what is now £26200 to potentially £30k. The shortage occupation salary threshold of £20960 is also likely to increase.

A Home Office official is quoted as saying: "This is all about abuse".

The affairs of the State must be desperate, and it is a desperate state of affairs, when we must turn to throttling the goose that can lay the golden eggs for one political dinner, the elections. To conflate their own fixation with the concept of abuse is not only inflammatory but extremely counterproductive.

It will have a seriously deleterious effect on SMEs who are already struggling and who just cannot find the qualified or skilled staff among settled workers. The pool of workers from the EUSS schemes are now dwindling and predictably EU nationals are also given a tougher time along with other migrants.

UK's very own "one child policy"

They have also targeted the Health and Care Worker visa since the addition of care workers to the Shortage Occupation List led to a surge in demand and a corresponding rise in the number of dependents qualifying for entry.

The government solution of allowing one or none dependents for care workers is not only inherently discriminatory but it will discourage much needed care workers in a sector that has already been struggling to recruit for years. The UK's own version of the "one child policy" will mean it is indirectly discriminatory for women. The worker will be obliged to make a Sophie's choice between one dependent or another and thereby splitting up families. The sole responsibility rules will prevent one parent from coming with a child leaving the other parent overseas.

The Autumn statement of 22 November 2023 promises to improve the business visitor rules from January 2024 and again later in 2024. In a cryptic paragraph that ironically begins "It is vital that business can access the talent that they need…" this one "improvement" is confessedly to be because visitors do not affect the net migration figures.

The improvements to the Youth Mobility Scheme is notable for its absence for offers for non-Old Commonwealth countries and there is still not even a hint of YMS expanding to young EU nationals. But then that would affect net migration figures even more.

From double whammy to triple whammy

However, on top of increases in visa fees in October 2023, the double whammy after 16 January 2024 of an increase in the Immigration Health Surcharge from £624 pa to a phenomenal £1035 pa, and a threefold increase in employer civil penalties for illegal working from £20000 to £60000 per worker from 22 January 2024 will be a final act of hara-kiri as SMEs relying on migrant labour could be driven out of business overnight. They will simply not be able to recruit overseas workers due to the high recruitment costs and just one civil penalty could be a death blow to an SME. It will be easy to fall foul of illegal working rules. It is clearly an excellent source of revenue for the Home Office bringing enforcement out in force.

The trouble with fixating on the net migration figures post Brexit as against the previous years is comparing apples with oranges. Nationals of twenty-seven new countries must now qualify for entry via the UK's domestic immigration system than they did when there was free movement.

So why continue to obsess on these figures? Discouraging the positive contributions of migrants instead of focusing on supporting businesses and attracting the skills and funds that international students, skilled workers and the much-needed services of care workers demonstrates a myopic vision.

There you have it. What better way to get net migration figures under control than building an impenetrable wall around this green and fair land? The problem is we will become more isolated than we are already and more worryingly, the wall could potentially collapse inwards.