Changing attitudes to UK immigration

- Posted in United Kingdom by Dominicon 20 September 2012

The latest publication from the National centre for Social Research shows a declining attitude in the public consensus of UK immigration.

The British Social Attitudes Survey is conducted on an annual basis and involves in-depth interviews with approximately 3,000 respondents. The study covers a range of issues including politics, the environment, the European Union, crime and many others. It is however, the study's findings on UK immigration that are the most notable.

The survey is the first to be conducted after many of the coalition Government's much publicised attempts to reduce net migration to the UK to the 'tens of thousands' have come into effect and, combined with a still sluggish economy, the survey's findings reflect a toughening attitude towards immigration.

What did the study find?

51% of people would like
to see immigration levels
'reduce a lot' according to
the study.

The survey's findings included:

  • 51% of respondents would like to see immigration levels 'reduce a lot' - up from 39% in 1995 but down from a 55% peak in 2008.
  • A further 24% of respondents would like see immigration 'reduce a little'
  • 21% of respondents thought the economic impact of immigration is 'very bad' - up from 11% in 2002
  • 21% of respondents thought the cultural impact of immigration is 'very bad' - up from 9% in 2002

The study also reported far fewer neutral views on the effects of immigration compared to past studies and according to Robert Ford, a politics lecturer at the University of Manchester who led the study, says the results are unsurprising given trends in immigration.

"The flow of migrants into Britain over the past 15 years has been the largest in British history," said Mr Ford.

"The public has reacted to this with strengthened demands for a reduction in migration and increasingly negative views about the cultural and economic impact of migrants on Britain."

Why do people feel so strongly?

Since the turn of the century and the freedom of movement directive within the UK, large numbers of people have been able to enter the UK without scrutiny, regardless of their intentions. This fact was compounded when eight Eastern European countries acceded to the EU in 2004.

The then-Labour government predicted 12,000 people a year would enter the country; net migration levels have reached approximately 250,000 since then.

However, while the number of migrants has given many cause for concern, it is the quality of immigrants that is the more prominent issue.

"What sways British voters in favour of migration is the perception that migrants are highly qualified," said Mr Ford.

The Government has made several changes to UK visa and immigration policies in recent months including introducing application caps and salary thresholds. The changes culminated in the revocation of London Metropolitan University's (LMU) ability to sponsor foreign students, forcing over 2,000 international students to find alternative institutions to study at or return home.

Marissa Murdock, casework manager at the UK Visa Bureau, says the public opinion is to be expected, but often unjustified.

"Everyone everywhere interacts with immigrants on a daily basis without incident and often without notice, yet when attention is drawn to the issue, it's often in the form of newspapers sensationalising a fraction of the country's immigrant population," said Ms Murdock.

"This only serves to incite negative opinion towards migrants, many of whom contribute in many ways to this country."

The Government's policy changes are sure to go some way to reducing the number of immigrants who neglect to contribute in taxes or burden public services, but policies such as that which saw thousands of LMU, many of whom were legitimate fee paying students, faced with the prospect of being deported have already hit harder than perhaps necessary.

A further study published this week by the General Medical Council showed the number of foreign trained doctors coming to the UK was down by almost 90% in 2012 compared to a decade ago.

- Dominic Ladden-Powell is the Online Editor for the UK Visa Bureau.