I’ve always been interested by statistics. Yes, I know, it’s very sad but there’s no accounting for taste. I like to know the facts about a situation, particularly when there are a lot of silly ideas floating about that don’t seem to pay much respect towards them.
So I’ve been taking a dispassionate look at the statistics on people arriving in the UK and they reveal some very different truths to those that are being so hotly discussed in parliament. Turns out that there are lies; there are damned lies; then there are the statistical facts.
The biggest group of people coming into the UK last year were short-stay visitors who support our tourist economy. There was an increase of 650,565 of them and the income they bring in finances a lot of jobs. We could reduce that number any time we choose. If we also want to wipe out a lot of jobs and worsen our balance of payments deficit.
The next biggest category is students. There were 643,778 of them and the numbers increased by 48,315 year on year. Some 91% of those visas were for study in higher education and 24% of the visas were for dependents of those studying.
The cheapest university for overseas students in a survey some years ago was the University of Bolton. It currently charges £13,550 a year. Most charge more. A bit of simple mathematics means that 537,523 overseas students actually paid higher education fees and generated an absolute minimum of £7,283,436,379 in foreign currency.
In other words, this type of immigration resulted in well over seven BILLION pounds coming into this country. Since the students will have to support themselves and pay rent it is not unreasonable to double that sum. Far from damaging the British economy, this group of immigrants brings in at least half as much a year as the entire exports of our car industry. All those foreign made fridges that we have in our kitchens cost foreign currency and a great chunk of that comes from foreign students. Once again, our country depends on this kind of economically helpful migration.
The third big group of arrivals were economic migrants. There were 335,447 main applicants for work visas in the year ending September 2023 and they brought with them 250,297 dependents. That was a 35% increase in a single year which sounds worrying. Until you look a little closer at what those people were doing: 143,990 of the main applicant visas were to work in health and care.
Many argue quite reasonably that it would be much better to train up local people to do these jobs and to pay care staff better. There are problems with that. One is the cost. Local councils simply don’t have the money to pay the wages to attract the staff they need and central government keeps telling us that it cannot afford to increase their funding.
The other big problem with finding care workers is that Britain has a demographic shortfall. We have a lot of older people in the population. If you want someone to look after you in your old age, then it is irrational to object to bringing in fit young people who are prepared to do the job and their immediate dependents. Experienced nursing and care staff are unlikely to come into the country if they can’t bring their children with them.
The rest of the economic migrants were people who were considered important for British industry and commerce. Highly skilled engineers and expert computer programmers don’t harm this country they help it.
Refugees and asylum seekers
Then there is the issue of immigrants who were refugees from foreign countries. Here views on the merits of supporting them vary. Some of us think it is reasonable for the country to support Ukrainian and Hong Kong refugees fleeing from persecution who have links to this country. We also want to stand by our promises to people who worked for the British Army in Afghanistan. Our country offered 112,431 people a humanitarian visa last year. Which doesn’t seem overly generous or impossible to cope with.
That leaves us with the group around which there has been most discussion. People arriving in small boats on our coasts. Last year 45,081 people arrived in Britain in small boats. Given the horribly dangerous nature of the journey almost everyone agrees that is 45,081 too many.
If we wish to stop the vast bulk of people from using this incredibly risky method there is one very easy way to stop it. Set up an asylum processing centre in France and process all claims there. Send back anyone who doesn’t have a legitimate case with the support of the French government. That has got to be cheaper and quicker than flying people to Rwanda and paying for years for the cost.
Pragmatic and beneficial action
When it comes to processing the applications of anyone who has arrived here there is also a very easy and cheap solution available. Instead of locking up people who came here wanting to work, reverse the approach and require people to work whilst their asylum applications are processed. That way people are paying taxes and contributing the economy throughout their stay here. Those taxes could be used to employ people to process their applications more rapidly and if their visa application failed they could then be sent home safely.
In a world where we are rapidly wrecking the stability of the climate, it is likely that wars and forced migrations will increase rather than reduce as crops fail and people fight over the consequences. We need ways of managing that situation that work and that don’t clash with the values by which we wish our society to operate.
It is time for those who are genuinely trying to find practical and workable solutions to this issue to look a lot harder at the real facts. And stop coming up with silly and unworkable ideas that demonise people who are contributing a lot to our economy or fleeing from horrible regimes.