11 April 2018

Immigration: A contentious issue in the UK

Britons are split over an issue central to a post-Brexit world: immigration. From net migration rates to price reductions in industries sustaining migrant workers, public opinion polls expose a great divide.

Even after the Brexit referendum, immigration is still a problem that concerns a large portion of British citizens. However, immigration is not only a salient issue but also a contentious one, splitting British public opinion about the magnitude of the problem, its consequences and what ought to be done to manage it.

Data taken from a public opinion survey conducted by IPSOS Mori in April 2017 illustrates the extent to which Britons are divided over the issue of immigration. The first bar chart displays Britons’ opinions on what they consider to be a “sustainable” level of net migration for the UK today (i.e. the number of migrants coming into Britain minus those leaving Britain). Given that, in 2016 to 2017, the net migration rate in the UK was 273,000, it is interesting to see that half of the entire sample of British respondents consider 100,000 to be a sustainable number, only about one-third of the current level. This percentage increases to two thirds if we consider only Conservative respondents or those who chose to vote “Leave”. Only 16% of total respondents consider 100,000 to 300,000 to be a sustainable number, while only 5% believes that the UK could sustain a net migration rate of more than 300,000. The percentage of voters opting for one of these two fractions only slightly increases (30%) if we restrict the sample to Labour and “Remain” supporters. Interestingly, almost one in three Britons does not know what a “sustainable” net migration rate looks like. This is particularly true for Labour voters and EU supporters.

As the second graph shows, British public opinion is also split when it comes to the consequences of a more effective border control, as well as price reductions for goods and services in industries employing large amounts of migrant workers. Unlike the 42% of total respondents that believe otherwise, 62% of Tories supporters and 68% of “Leave” voters believe that higher prices would be a cost worth paying to reduce immigration. On the contrary, only 25% of Labour supporters and 20% of “Remain” voters agree with this statement.

Britons have also shown interesting opinions about future UK/EU relationships concerning the circulation of workers coming from other EU member states. Once the UK leaves the EU, citizens from other countries will no longer be able to reap the benefits of freely entering the UK job market. That is why some experts are proposing special work visas to allow some EU citizens to come and work in Britain after Brexit. The third graph shows strong support for high-skilled workers, such as doctors, nurses and academics. However, considering the fear of rising prices for goods and services, more than half of the respondents agreed to offer visas for low-skilled workers in specific sectors, such as care home workers (60%) and seasonal fruit and vegetable pickers (56%).

Photo Credits CC: Duncan Hull 🐝 feat. Alexander Damiano Ricci


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