Cam’s immigration cap: do the numbers stack up?

David Cameron and Nick Clegg clashed on immigration in last night's debate. Left Foot Forward asks how could Cameron's immigration cap work in practice.

Immigration proved to be an emotive issue in last night’s leaders’ debate, with David Cameron and Nick Clegg clashing on immigration caps (Conservative policy) and amnesties (Liberal Democrat policy). I wrote here yesterday about the Liberal Democrats’ immigration policies, so today it seems appropriate to analyse the Conservatives’ policy of capping immigration.

Mr Clegg was keen to emphasise last night that a cap on immigration wouldn’t deliver what the Conservatives are promising – because it could only apply to migrants from outside the EU. He got his stats wrong, but the point stands. In fact, a cap could have a limited impact even on migration from outside the EU. A recent ippr report examined the numbers in some detail.

Although the Conservatives have not set out the level at which an immigration cap might be set, they have talked about reducing annual net immigration below 100,000 (“tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands“), and have also intimated their support for calls for annual net immigration to be reduced to around 40,000. A cap of 100,000 could be delivered if British net emigration continues at a significant rate and net immigration from the EU settles down at something close to current levels. However, delivering net immigration of 100,000 (which would surely not satisfy those who want to see a drastic reduction in immigration) would also require current policy trajectories to be followed, such as the implementation of plans to further restrict student immigration.

Instigating these policies would be challenging, and a cap at this level would still be very difficult to achieve if improvements in the economy lead to increases in work-related migration to pre-recession levels.

A cap of 40,000 could only be met with drastic changes to policy. Given that EU migration is outside the control of government, and asylum/refugee migration is governed by international conventions, very significant reductions in migration to the UK for work and study, and restrictions on family formation/reunion, would be required.

Limiting these immigration flows is not straightforward – they are either not the groups that those who support a cap seem to be worried about (for example highly-skilled migrant workers); are flows that are economically important to the UK (for example students and skilled migrant workers); or are flows that are difficult to limit (for example family formation or reunion).

A cap of 40,000 looks impossible to achieve from the UK’s current position without threatening both economic performance and the rights of British nationals and settled migrants to be with their families. The Conservatives’ immigration cap policy is pretty meaningless until they set out the level at which the cap would be set, and caps set at the kind of levels which they are implicitly promising would be impossible to deliver without causing the UK significant economic harm.

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13 Responses to “Cam’s immigration cap: do the numbers stack up?”

  1. Jo Cox

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cam's immigration cap: do the numbers stack up?

  2. Immigration Tips

    Cam's immigration cap: do the numbers stack up? | Left Foot Forward: David Cameron and Nick Clegg clashed on immig…

  3. Think Debate

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cam's immigration cap: do the numbers stack up?

  4. Chris Clothier

    A post about immigration under heading of “safer communities”? Not the kind of progressive thinking that behoves Left Foot Forward :o)

  5. Liberal Conspiracy » Friday 30th April

    […] Sarah Mulley: Cam’s immigration cap: do the numbers stack up? […]

  6. Sevillista

    I’m not sure Cameron’s so-called “cap” is that challenging.

    In the debates, Cameron has explicitly excluded returning Brits, EU immigrants, students and family-formation related immigration from the cap (I.e there is no total cap).

    The leftovers (non-EU work-related immigration) makes up only 12% of total immigration according to 2008 International Passenger Survey statistics. There were only 67,000 immigrants in this category out of 538,000 immigrants.

    So Cameron’s so-called “cap” involves no decrease in immigration as the current Government already achieve it!

    It is completely meaningless.

  7. blanco

    “Safer communities”? That’s a bit like how Labour called a chapter of their manifesto “Crime and immigration”. You guys have sold your soul to the school of were-not-quite-as-regressive-on-immigration-as-the-tories-but-please-still-give-us-your-votes-bigoted-masses

  8. Anon E Mouse

    Sarah – We live on an island for goodness sake – it’s about political will.

    blanco – Have you only just realised that dude 😉

  9. Mr. Sensible

    Bit surprised Brown didn’t go for the 2 little boys remark.

    The only way to conrol migration effectively is the points system.

    Caps have been derided by industry, and an amnasty doesn’t work.

  10. No clarity on Conservative immigration cap | Left Foot Forward

    […] clarity on Conservative immigration cap Last week, Left Foot Forward examined whether the Conservative party’s immigration cap policy stacked up. In the BBC2 […]

  11. Which way now for immigration policy? | Left Foot Forward

    […] limits would be determined by the balance between immigration and emigration. Numbers matter, and previous Left Foot Forward postings have suggested that a net immigration cap of 40,000 people a year – intimated by the Tories – […]

  12. ginger

    I think the whole immigration system is wrongly justified. I feel the people who are already here and have paid their taxes and kept this country going should be the first thought of when it comes to immigration. I do feel for the Asylum seekers, but help should start for the people that are already here. Think of your own first and the immigrants who are now british citizens and have worked hard should be allowed to have their families visit first as they have put into the country. I have Asian friends and Carribean friends who have been here since the 50,s and 60,s and have tried to have their family here just for a visit and they are often turned down and these people think about what they have put into the country and their family have to go through so much just to visit and people who have put nothing at all into the country are allowed to just walk in. I feel it is unfare, and what about having health checks for people entering?

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