Could the Irish and co scupper Coalition immigration cap?

Migrants from inside the EU could scupper the plan to reduce immigration to under 100,000. Although businesses might not be complaining.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
One interesting story that you may have missed during the Christmas period (we did): according to the Institute for Public Policy Research the Coalition’s plans to reduce the number of immigrants coming to the UK to below 100,000 might be doomed to fail. The think tank (which is, admittedly, very pro-immigration), points out that even if the Government caps the number of people allowed into the UK from outside the EU, migrants from our ailing European neighbours - particularly Ireland - could scupper its chances of hitting its target. Because there's nothing much they can do about them...

It’s no surprise that the majority of UK immigration comes from within the EU. And the IPPR’s argument is bolstered by figures released by another think tank, the Economic and Social Research Institute: back in July, it said that Ireland’s crumbling economy could result in 120,000 people leaving the country in search of a better – or more economically stable, at least – life in 2010 and 2011. And predictably, the UK is the number one destination.

But it’s not just the Irish who are planning to try their luck over here; we could also see an influx from the other PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) too. And at the same time, fewer Brits are leaving these shores, discouraged by dodgy property markets in once-attractive destinations like Spain. So net migration (those coming in, minus those leaving) is unlikely to fall much below 200,000 this year - which is about the same as 2010.

Yet although the Government doesn’t have much control over immigration from inside Europe, it hopes to cut down on some of the abuses. For instance, it's been busily working out how to reduce the number of students coming to this country by 40%, on the basis that it’s one of the most common routes into the country (for instance, by enrolling at one of those dodgy-looking FE ‘language’ colleges). But the IPPR reckons that even with this and a raft of other measures, the Government will only be able to reduce net immigration by 2-3%. Which isn't much.

Of course, there is an argument that immigration is actually good for business and attracting foreign investment, which explains why UK plc has been lobbying hard against the Government's plans. It's already won some key exemptions from home secretary Theresa May, notably workers earning over 40k (which will help multinationals ship managers in), and scientists (which is good for innovation). But we’re still potentially blocking lots of students, who could go on to make a hefty contribution to the economy, not to mention unskilled workers, who make up a big chunk of the workforce, from entering.

As we’ve said before, given that the Government made an election promise to crack down on immigration, this was always going to happen. But what plays well to the electrorate isn't always what's best for the UK economy...

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