Routes to resolution

Think tank: Social Market Foundation

Author(s): Jonathan Thomas

December 19, 2022

This report from UK think tank the Social Market Foundation looks at finding the centre ground in Britain’s immigration debates.

Over the last 20 years immigration numbers to the UK have hugely impacted British political and public life. This report looks at the past, present and future of these immigration numbers, from asylum seekers to overseas workers, and how they interact with politics and policy. It challenges common perceptions on both sides of the debate, arguing that those advocating for more open approaches to immigration should contemplate some tough compromises to achieve broader support for their aims. More open approaches to asylum and immigration can be achieved, but require engaging with the perspectives of those who worry about immigration, and:

  • compromising on how these approaches can be achieved, and
  • more innovative thinking on what the solutions look like. A new approach to asylum Concerns for the safety of refugees must be reconciled with taking immigration control concerns into account. For refugee advocates this means accepting that:
  • refugee numbers can be limited by the state; and
  • those making asylum claims in the UK will not be prioritised ahead of refugees elsewhere in the world. But the outcome could be transformative: • fewer refugees would die making dangerous journeys; and
  • more refugees than currently allowed could be admitted and given safety in the UK.

Bringing an end to the Channel chaos requires a deal with France involving an organised movement of people which offers something to both sides: of Channel crossers back to France, and refugees from France to the UK. This is hard, but possible. A new approach to labour migration There is widespread acceptance that immigration should play an important part in the UK’s economy and society. But it cannot be the only answer. Acknowledging concerns around the appropriate balance, immigration must be presented as supplementing, not supplanting, local resources. Much more should be done to highlight the significant costs paid by employers to sponsor overseas workers, but also required in terms of key stakeholders engaging with longer term workforce planning. And the UK should look to shape migration sustainably on mutually beneficial terms with those countries from which it receives migrants:

  • sponsoring ‘brain gain’, not ‘brain drain’,
  • through ‘global skills partnerships’, identifying, but also actively developing, before they arrive, the skills of potential migrant workers in a way that can contribute to the UK economy and society but also to the development of their own country.