Foreign students and their dependents could face curbs as net migration hits half a million

Other options could include clamping down on students who take advantage of two-year graduate visas to stay in the UK for low-skilled work and increasing the minimum salary for skilled workers, which has not been raised in line with inflation.

Ms Braverman said the government remains committed to reducing immigration “over time”, acknowledging that the current level “has put pressure on the provision of housing, housing, health, education and other public services”.

“We must ensure that we have a sustainable, balanced and controlled approach which is why we continue to keep our immigration policies under review,” she said.

Addressing the rise in dangerous and illegal crossings and stopping abuse of our system remains my priority. It is imperative that we regain the public’s trust and take back control of our borders.”

Immigration is high but job vacancies in the UK are still 1.2 million

By Charles Hymas, Home Affairs Editor, and Ben Butcher, Data Journalist

The number of people coming to the UK to live, work and study has reached a record 1.35m – yet there are still 1.2m vacancies in Britain today.

Data from the Ministry of Interior on Thursday showed that the total number of work, study, humanitarian and other visas issued for the year ending in September 2022 reached 1,342,991 – a 62 percent increase in just one year.

Net emigration – the number coming into the UK minus those leaving – was also at a post-war record of 504,000, up 170,000 from the previous record of 331,000 in 2015, despite government pledges to reduce the headline figure.

One of the arguments in favor of immigration has been to boost growth and fill staff shortages, but work visas account for only a third of those granted – and a portion of them are not necessarily in areas of the economy where there are sharp skill gaps.

Instead, as the authors of the net migration figures, the Office for National Statistics (ONS), attest, immigration has been governed by a combination of “unique” factors that have created a system that appears more liberal than the one that existed before Brexit. It fails to bridge the countless skill gaps.

The clearest examples are the “legal but safe” humanitarian routes opened up by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, and the threats to freedom in Hong Kong.

This saw 89,000 Ukrainians, 76,000 Hong Kongers and 21,000 Afghans come to the UK in the year to June 2022, underlining the country’s tradition of offering refuge to those fleeing conflict, violence and threats to human rights.

This means that non-work visas account for about a quarter of all grantees. Most of the Ukrainians who came were women and children, with about half of adults having found jobs by summer, according to survey data, many in low-paying jobs in the hospitality industry.

Students represent the largest percentage

By far, the largest part — nearly half — of the 1.4 million visas granted involve students, who also brought their partners and children in record numbers.

476,389 new foreign students were granted visas in the year ending September 2022, up 77 percent from 2019, with a fifth of them bringing 116,000 partners or children with them. This gives the total number of student visas with dependents nearly 600,000.

This figure is not accidental but a deliberate policy by Boris Johnson’s government who committed in February 2021 to “increase the number of international students hosted in the UK to 600,000 by 2030” due to potential economic benefits and soft power.

Mr Johnson also relaxed the rules for students, allowing them to work for up to two years after graduation, who were granted 71,300 visas including 11,300 dependents last year.

This has proven attractive to students from a wide range of countries, with India having tripled the number to 127,731 since 2019 overtaking China for the first time as the largest foreign nationality in UK universities.

International students are allowed to work, up to 20 hours a week during term time, and unlimited time during holidays, but Madeleine Sumption, director of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, said: “A lot of international students are very wealthy having been able to afford fees.” So much so that many are not inclined to work.”

And the huge increase in the number of international students – up 77 per cent since 2019 – has been boosted by undergraduates returning to their UK courses after studying remotely abroad during the pandemic.

Increase in work visas

The number of work visas increased by 82 per cent to 248,919, largely driven by non-EU migrants seeking work in the UK rather than EU nationals.

The introduction of a points-based immigration system has opened up half of all jobs in the UK to foreign workers, by lowering salary and skill thresholds for immigrants. Previously, employers also had to prove that a British worker could not be recruited to fill a vacancy before heading abroad.

The number of occupations eligible for skilled visas has been greatly expanded to include positions such as chef, mason, electrician, welder, health and care worker, while the government has also removed caps on most visa routes.

However, the flow failed to solve the problem of lack of skills. “People coming in have different jobs than EU nationals used to do,” Ms. Sumption said. “We have an unusual situation where there is a shortage of low-paying jobs where employers previously depended on EU nationals.

“Despite the fact that there is generally relatively high immigration on average, non-EU nationals do slightly different jobs and are more skilled. They go into more professional occupations and we have a lot of people coming into the health sector. These were not usually jobs that left a vacancy after the reduction of net migration in the European Union.”

The largest groups of foreign workers are from India, Nigeria and the Philippines, who are traditionally drawn to health and wellness. Doctors, nurses and care workers account for 55 percent of skilled work visas this year.

This means that there are still severe shortages in areas dominated by Eastern Europeans such as food processing, construction, retail, hospitality and cleaning even though work visas have nearly doubled.

Work to reduce bringing in dependents of students

Rishi Sunak and Sola Braverman, the home secretary, have previously said the industry cannot rely on cheap foreign labour, but it must train domestic workers to fill the gaps and expand the use of automation and technology.

The figures will also increase pressure on the two ministers to introduce new measures after the prime minister pledged to cut net immigration, a key commitment of the Conservative Party in the last election.

Downing Street hinted on Thursday that there could be a measure to limit the number of students bringing dependents and those studying “low-quality” degrees.

However, Mr Sunak has made clear his priority is tackling illegal immigration. The numbers are stark, with not only a record 42,000 migrants crossing the Channels to reach the UK in small boats but also the asylum crisis.

Home Office figures Thursday showed asylum applications for the year ending September 2022 were at a two-decade high of 72,027, double the number in 2019 before the pandemic. The backlog of applications has also reached a record high, with 148,533 now awaiting asylum decisions. Of those, 97,717 have been waiting for more than six months.

On Thursday, the Number 10 maintained record levels in legal immigration that were “unique,” reflecting unprecedented global events such as the Ukraine War. Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said he remained committed to reducing net migration although he had not set “a specific date for that”.

Experts agree that it is exceptional – and will naturally diminish although it may take up to five years. “These extraordinarily high levels of net migration result from a unique combination of circumstances post-war in Ukraine and the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis,” said Ms. Sumption.

“We cannot assume that they represent a ‘new normal’, and it would be rash to make major policy decisions based solely on these numbers. Some of the most important contributors to non-EU migration, such as the arrival of Ukrainians, are not expected to continue indefinitely.”

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