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Panorama: Immigration the UK’s Record Rise

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On 25 March 2024, the BBC aired the Panorama programme ‘’Immigration: the UK’s record rise.’’

Interviewer, Ros Atkins, explored the UK’s net migration figures and interviewed a range of people, including a care home owner, a sponsor licence holder, a member of the Migration Advisory Committee, and several politicians, including former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman.

Our Immigration Solicitors found the programme balanced and accurate in its assessment of immigration statistics. It did not attempt to come up with answers or apportion blame but posed some difficult questions. The programme left its viewers to ponder on how the current government, and any future government, will tackle legal migration figures.

In this blog, we analyse the Panorama programme and the facts and figures from an Immigration solicitor's perspective.

UK Online and London-Based Immigration Solicitors 

For immigration law advice call London-based OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

Immigration: the UK’s record rise

The Panorama programme was prompted by the record net UK migration figure for 2023. Many people expressed shock at last year's net migration figure of 672,000 people.

Many assumed Brexit had reduced the UK net migration figure because one of the key drivers for Brexit was repeatedly said to be  ‘’taking control of our borders’’. The Panorama programme highlighted that at the time of Brexit, the net UK migration figure was around 315,000 people. The figure has now more than doubled. In response, the government has said it plans to cut legal migration by 300,000 people next year.

The Panorama presenter eloquently explained the basic mathematics. If the government achieves its planned 300,000 reduction in net migration numbers that will get the UK back to the level of migration experienced in the lead-up and in the immediate aftermath of Brexit.

Small boats or visas

Small boat arrivals and people smugglers are blamed for the increase in UK net migration.

The Panorama programme went some way in dispelling that myth.

The media focus has consistently been on illegal migration with the slogan ‘stopping the boats.’ The reality is that the 2023 UK net migration figure of 672,000 people was primarily made up of legal migrants and their dependants. Around 50,000 people entered the UK illegally, compared to the 1.4 million visas issued by the Home Office.

The UK arrived at a net 2023 migration figure of 672,000 people as some British citizens chose to emigrate and some non-UK nationals chose to return to their home countries.

Is humanitarianism behind the rise in UK net migration figures?

Some assumed that the UK net migration figure leaped to 672,000 people because the UK offered homes to people caught up in conflict, such as those from Hong Kong entering on Hong Kong visas, Ukrainians or refugees from Afghanistan.

Panorama helped dispel that myth too. The presenter explained that whilst in 2022 the Home Office issued almost 300,000 humanitarian visas by 2023 that figure had dropped to around 102,000 humanitarian visas.

To put humanitarianism into context, only around 7% of the visas issued last year were for humanitarian purposes. The rest went to legal migrants entering the UK on visas such as Health and Care Worker Visas, Skilled Worker Visas, Family Visas and Dependant Visas.

What is behind the UK’s record rise in immigration?

The Panorama programme led viewers to the conclusion that the recent UK government policy was behind the massive rise in immigration.

Key reasons for the rise in net migration included:

  1. The introduction of the Health and Care Worker Visa to make it easier for care homes and nursing homes to recruit carers and senior carers to work in the healthcare sector because of the massive healthcare recruitment crisis. Without overseas carers coming to the rescue, many care homes and nursing homes were facing the prospect of closing beds
  2. The focus on attracting international students to study in the UK on Student Visas to help universities balance their books. UK universities have not been allowed to increase course fees for British students but there is no cap on student fees for international students on Student Visas. Overseas students have effectively been subsidising the course fees for British students. If international students are discouraged from applying to study in the UK, then universities are at risk of going bust unless the government allows universities to increase course fees for their British students, something that won't be popular in an election year and during a cost-of-living crisis as ultimately much of that cost is passed onto the British taxpayer
  3. The introduction of the Graduate Visa to allow international students to remain in the UK after the completion of their undergraduate studies and to work in unsponsored jobs. The Migration Advisory Committee advised against the post-Brexit introduction of the Graduate Visa but the government pressed ahead with the Graduate Visa to increase the attractiveness of the UK to international students who were subsidising university course fees for British students. The government has now asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review the Graduate Visa and changes are expected in mid-2024
  4. The popularity of Dependant Visas enabling relatives to accompany overseas workers and international students arriving in the UK on Health and Care Worker Visas, Skilled Worker Visas and Student Visas. Last year, the Home Office granted 146,000 Health and Care Worker Visa applications and Dependant Visa applications for their 203,000 dependants. Panorama did not go into the costs of health or education for dependants but it was touched on. The government response is to stop carers and senior carers on Health and Care Worker Visas and most international students on Student Visas from being able to be accompanied to the UK by their family on Dependant Visas

Raj’s story and the Health and Care Worker Visa

The programme featured Raj, a care homeowner. His care home needs 130 staff but he was only able to recruit 70 people from within the UK. For him, a sponsor licence application and recruiting 40% of his carers on Health and Care Worker Visas was the answer as he was then able to recruit sufficient carers without having to close care home beds.

Panorama touched on the option of improving UK-based recruitment of carers by increasing salaries for carers but did not explore how local authorities, many facing bankruptcy, would pay for that. Viewers were left with an interviewee explaining that as many Health and Care Worker Visa applicants can no longer bring their family with them some care and senior care workers are withdrawing their job applications. There was no time to go back to Raj to see if he had found a new solution to looking after our most vulnerable members of the community.

Panorama – the unanswered questions

For those of you who watched Panorama on 25 March, you probably were left with the same sense of disquiet as our Immigration Solicitors at the questions left unasked and unanswered.

The population is predicted to rise to 76 million by 2036. Panorama put that into context for us as equating to an extra 5 Birminghams.

Tom Pursglove, the minister for legal migration said net migration needs to fall. He was not asked and did not explain how the new immigration policies would affect our elderly, our students or our businesses. Labour holds the same view on the need to reduce net migration but it was said that they declined to appear on the programme.

With an ageing UK population, falling birth rate, less vocational training than in other developed countries, pressures on housing and in particular availability of affordable housing that are available to rent, where do we go from here?

Panorama did not come up with solutions. It did raise questions about how the changes to the Health and Care Worker Visa, Skilled Worker and Student Visa would impact our elderly, our universities and our businesses and economy.

Our Business Immigration Solicitors ponder that question with our business clients, including care home and nursing home owners, who face the same dilemmas and challenges as the featured Raj.

UK Online and London-Based Immigration Solicitors 

For immigration law advice call London-based OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

Our lawyers speak Arabic, Armenian, Farsi, French/Mauritian Creole, Spanish, Tamil Tagalog/Ilonggo, Urdu/Punjabi

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