UK public backs skills-based immigration policy

A new immigration policy geared to the needs of the UK economy must be adopted by whoever succeeds Theresa May as prime minister, according to a think-tank report.

Businesswoman on her phone at a train station
The report from the British Future think-tank said that the nation's new leader must move away from the 'headline-chasing promises' to annually reduce net migration to below 100,000 – a policy Mrs May has pursued for a decade as both home secretary and prime minister.Instead, says the 'Immigration After May' report, an ICM poll conducted for British Future found that 60% – including majorities of Conservatives, and both Leave and Remain voters – agreed with the proposition that 'the government should replace the net migration target with separate targets for different types of immigration, like skilled workers and low-skilled workers'.Sunder Katwala, director of British Future and co-author of the report, said there was a clear consensus in favour of reforming immigration controls so that they met the needs of the economy.

New PM will need to overcome ‘trust deficit’ on immigration

"Whichever candidate makes it to Number 10, they will start with a major trust deficit on immigration, the legacy of Theresa May's approach," he said."People are fed up with the unkept promises and lack of accountability epitomised by the net migration target."The new prime minister must make a clean break and start to rebuild public confidence on immigration, setting out a new vision for immigration after Brexit.

Public support to replace ‘one size fits all’ target

"There is broad public support for replacing the 'one size fits all' target with an approach that sets separate targets for different flows of migration, with ministers held to account for the promises they make."The report recommends that the net migration target be replaced by a three-year migration plan, which could include separate targets for different flows of migration, and which is reviewed each year on an annual ‘Migration Day’ in Parliament where ministers are held to account.

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Attitudes towards immigration have shifted

"Shifting public attitudes on immigration offer an opportunity," said British Future. "The salience of immigration has dropped and attitudes have become warmer and less sceptical."The ICM research finds that most of the public would prefer flows of high-skilled migration, students and seasonal workers to remain the same or to increase, combined with a preference for greater control over lower-skilled migration."The ICM research suggested that only 18 per cent of the public – and only a quarter of Conservative voters – believed Mrs May had done a good job of managing immigration.But the poll also showed that both of her would-be successors, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, suffer from a "trust deficit" when it comes to immigration. Mr Johnson is distrusted by 49% and trusted by 22%, representing a net score of minus-27, while 41% distrust Mr Hunt on the issue, with only 13% trusting him, for a net score of minus-28.The lack of public trust goes beyond the Conservatives, however, with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn recording a trust rating on immigration of minus-37.Subscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all the latest international assignments and global mobility news.Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory