Public attitudes towards immigration are becoming more positive despite record high levels of arrivals, a think tank has said.
Net migration to the UK reached 504,000 people last year, the highest figure since records began in the 1960s, as the world opened up after the pandemic.
But despite rising numbers, a study by the UK In A Changing Europe (Ukice) think tank published on Thursday found public opinion is much more positive on immigration than previously.
The study found that, for the first time in polling history, more people want migration levels to increase or stay the same than want net migration to fall, while the public is also more likely to believe immigration has a positive impact on the UK than not.
It suggested that these changes in perception are due to the belief that Brexit has delivered “stricter” controls, with an end to freedom of movement and skilled migrants prioritised over the unskilled.
Ukice said: “This policy approach is broadly popular and makes it harder to claim the Government is not exercising control over who comes to Britain, even if overall migration levels remain high.”
The study also found significant changes in who is coming to Britain, with a fall in work-related migration for sectors previously reliant on low-paid workers from the EU along with a rise in work visas for higher-skilled, higher-paid staff from outside the EU.
But Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory, said the fall in low-skilled immigration and the consequent labour shortages have not resulted in increased pay for staff in industries such as hospitality.
“The average impacts of the new immigration system are still expected to be small, but it’s clear that different employers are experiencing it in very different ways.”
A fall in EU students attending UK universities, mainly due to facing higher fees since Brexit, has been more than offset with a rise in non-EU student visas, particularly for Nigerians and Indians.
Meanwhile, the UK has also seen the biggest influx of refugees since the Second World War, with 437,000 people arriving via humanitarian routes since the end of the transition period on December 31 2020. Around 85% of these arrivals were Ukrainians or Hongkongers.
Overall, Prof Portes told reporters that the UK’s post-Brexit migration system is working as intended.
He said: “The objective of the system was to end free movement and thereby reduce migration in relatively low-skilled sectors, low-paid jobs, and somewhat liberalise the system in high skilled, higher-paid jobs.
“It is, in my view, achieving those objectives.”