July 24, 2024

The Catholic Transcript

Complete News World

Has immigration increased in the UK since Brexit?

Has immigration increased in the UK since Brexit?

photo caption, Kiki Ekweek works as a carer in the seaside town of Skegness in England

“Take back control.” The Brexit campaign slogan, the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, was seen by many as a call to regain control of immigration policy, ending the opportunity for citizens of the European Union to live, work and study freely in the United Kingdom.

But after Brexit, the country has seen its fastest population growth since the 1960s, with migration one of the main themes of the next general election in the United Kingdom, scheduled for July 4.

But, after all, what happened?

A good starting point is the English seaside town of Skegness to understand the issue of immigration in the United Kingdom. More than three-quarters of the population there voted to leave the European Union.

Like many parts of the UK, when it comes to immigration, there is a lot of focus on those coming to the country illegally.

“Stop the boats” is a key promise of the ruling Conservative Party, which refers to tens of thousands of people crossing the English Channel in often inflated dubious standards.

Although none of these boats land on Skegness beaches, it is an issue about the town. Several coastal hotels were used until recently to house asylum seekers while their claims were being processed.

Julian Bunce, who manages the North Parade Hotel, says it causes problems in the community.

“They didn’t give us any trouble,” he says.

“(But) the general feeling in the Skegness area is that people don’t want them here.”

The vast majority immigrate legally

So you can imagine that the record increase in immigration was mainly driven by illegal arrivals in the UK.

It is estimated that by 2022, the migration balance – the difference between the number of people entering and leaving the UK each year – will surpass the historical record of 745 thousand people.

In 2023, this number is believed to be 672 thousand. That same year, 30,000 people arrived in small boats.

Most of those who come to the UK do so legally. These are people like Kiki Ekweek, who works at an assisted living complex in Skegness.

As she walks around, she knocks on a door. “Hello! That’s it Cheeky (something “naughty”) Kiki!” she burst in with a smile.

“Being a caregiver is not an easy task. You have to have mental balance, you have to have empathy, you have to have a lot of patience”, she says.

Kiki moved to England from Nigeria, initially to study at university, but stayed there to work.

Two-thirds of visas issued by the UK last year were to students and health and care professionals like Kiki. According to Oxford University’s Migration Laboratory, the main drivers behind the increase in net migration since the 2010s.

The attendance numbers, which former prime minister Boris Johnson called “scandalous” when they were at far lower levels than they are today, are, in fact, largely the result of deliberate political decisions by the government.

So, what’s going on?

Foreign students pay higher tuition fees, essentially subsidizing domestic students. If the number of overseas students falls, UK students will have to pay more; Or universities may go bankrupt; Or the government should fund them. None of these will be popular.

Furthermore, many sectors of the UK economy, particularly health and social care, are short of workers.

One in five of the 1.5 million people working in England’s public health service, the NHS, are foreign nationals.

But despite the increase in immigration, 150,000 jobs were created in the health sector last year.

Brexit effect

Although it is surprising that leaving the EU coincided with increased immigration, Brexit has reduced the numbers of one group.

In the 12 months to June 2023, the migration balance of the European Union was -86,000, meaning that more EU citizens left the United Kingdom than arrived.

But they were replaced by people from other parts of the world. About 250,000 came from India and only 150,000 came from Nigeria. China, Pakistan and Zimbabwe appear to be the next most common places of origin.

‘stop the boats’

Despite this, illegal immigration dominates the UK political discourse.

In the midst of election season, “stop the boats” has become an oft-used campaign slogan.

Current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made it one of his top five priorities.

To solve the problem, he devised a plan to send some illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The newly formed Reform UK (far-right party) pledged a zero-tolerance approach, including withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights.

Does the UK receive more immigrants than other countries?

photo caption, Kiki initially left Nigeria to attend university in the United Kingdom

The UK is generally in line with other high-income countries when it comes to migration.

In 2022, 14% of people living in the UK were classified as “foreign-born” – the same percentage as the population of countries such as the US and the Netherlands.

But when we look at countries like Canada, New Zealand, Australia, we see a different scenario emerging. In Australia, for example, the foreign-born population is twice as large as the UK as a percentage of the population.

Hard offers

So we return to our original question: Why is UK net migration higher eight years after leaving the EU?

The reality is that migration is not only driven by freedom of movement. Despite the political rhetoric, the UK economy needs migration.

Many of the decisions required to significantly reduce the number of people coming to the UK would require difficult trade-offs, which the government is reluctant to make.

Illegal migration, especially through dangerous routes, is something that all parties feel reluctant to oppose – and the focus of the debate falls on it.

Back in Skegness, Kiki knows this.

“I watch the news, so I’m not completely oblivious to what’s going on,” he says as he walks through the city’s coastal areas, when asked about the immigration debate.

“If people have a negative impression, it’s misunderstood, in my opinion. I don’t think they know the reality of what’s happening on the ground. I think they’re misunderstood.”