by Sara Valle-Martínez
Net migration in the UK is expected to reach almost 250,000 annually over the next few years, despite Prime Minster Rishi Sunak’s pledge to drive down the number of new arrivals. That’s according to the data released by the Office for Budget Responsibility this month.
This increase in immigration last year was primarily driven by non-EU nationals, who make up 66% of total immigration. The same report shows the number of EU nationals moving to the UK is lower than it was three years ago. So, what’s affecting these numbers?
The year 2020 was decisive for England in many different ways. From January 1, free movement ended and EU citizens migrating to the UK were subject to more restrictive immigration rules.
Migration from the EU had already fallen sharply since the Brexit referendum in June 2016. The pandemic further accelerated these trends, as people chose to return to their home countries.
“The fact that it is harder to come to the UK now, especially for less qualified jobs like hospitality, has affected it, so a lot of places are understaffed. People don’t want to come because it’s a long and tedious process,” said Marina Fagúndez, 27, who works in reception for student accommodation.
Estimates made before the COVID-19 global health crisis suggested that the pandemic would reduce EU migration by around 60,000 a year.
Although the predictions have materialised, the latest data shows that the number of work visas has risen significantly, relative to pre-pandemic levels. Even if the new requirements for EU nationals to obtain visas are tougher than ever before, workers and students are navigating them to set foot in England.
But has immigration really increased?
Sunak recently came under fire after he told the House of Commons that the backlog of asylum applications was “half the size that it was when Labour was if office” during a debate on migration last December 13.
He told Alison McGovern, a Labour MP who had argued the backlog was “now 14 times bigger” than when her party left office, that she needed to “get her numbers right”.
The organisation Full Fact found other factually inaccurate claims made about immigration matters including the claim by the home secretary, Suella Braverman, that 100 million refugees could come to the UK.
ONS data shows that around 89,000 Ukrainians resettled in the UK and 76,000 came from the former British colony of Hong Kong, as a special visa programme was developed in response to nationalist policies put in place by Beijing.
People who work in the hospitality industry are dumbfounded by these numbers, as they’re struggling to see them reflected in the CVs being sent to hotel receptions, food and beverage, and housekeeping departments.
Mohammad Khan, 29, a front office manager in Central London, believes the impact of the pandemic and Brexit have both affected the number of applicants.
“It has reduced the quality of applicants,” he said. “I believe Brexit has caused qualified applicants to leave the UK and also diminished the opportunity to recruit skilled applicants from within the EU in hospitality.
“Hospitality seems to be the most understaffed, as can be seen when visiting hotels, restaurants, cafés, etc. As they are constantly recruiting, this I believe is due to British applicants not wanting to undertake these roles.”
When the Brexit “war” was on, it was common to see British citizens draped in the EU flag, standing on street stalls and participating in mass demonstrations.
Some others painted their faces in red, blue and white and took the streets fists up to fight “vested interests” and proclaim the uprising of United Kingdom Independence Party.
The then leader of UKIP, Gerard Batten, called Theresa May a traitor for her “betrayal” that created “the biggest crisis since the English civil war” in the 1640s because of her deal to leave the European Union, which they claimed was a ruse designed to produce no Brexit at all.
Back when Brexit was a mere concept, the immigration minister, Robert Goodwill, said that British people had sent a very clear message that they wanted more control of immigration.
“There is no consent for uncontrolled immigration, which puts pressure on schools, hospitals, and public services. That is why reducing the number of migrants coming to the UK will be a key priority of our negotiations to leave the EU,” Goodwill said.
Wish granted for Goodwill, although hotel as well as other workers are not as happy.
“The hospitality industry is suffering the most at the moment as UK citizens do not usually apply for these jobs and even if they do, they stay for a very short time and look for other jobs that pay better,” said Denada Sateri, 31, who works as an assistant manager in a hotel near Russell Square.
“People don’t bother anymore to go through that long process and prefer staying with their families and working for less than they would earn in the UK.”
The government’s point-based immigration system requires applicants to have enough points to qualify for a skilled worker visa. A total of 70 points is needed – some of the skills reviewed include speaking English, qualifications, a job offer, or a minimum salary of £25,000.
The company Khan and Sateri work for used to offer their employees accommodation to compensate for low wages. This changed drastically when the pandemic started, as companies struggled to make ends meet. They sold all the buildings where they hosted the staff around the same time over 80% of the workforce lost their jobs.
As of now, only a few are allowed to live in the premises. There’s been a salary increase to match London’s standards, but hotel jobs are oftentimes amongst the lowest paid. For this reason, a huge amount of the company’s ex-staff left the country and others found jobs elsewhere.
London is one of the most affected cities, since around 35% of people living in the UK who were born abroad live in the capital city, compared with 14% in the UK as a whole.
“I think it’s pretty hard to find all the information you need for paperwork now. The website is not clear and if you send them an email, they just reply with generic information. Sometimes it honestly feels like they don’t even know what or how to do it,” said Fagúndez, who used to work for the same company.
Fagúndez left London during the pandemic to be with her family and also because she wanted to pursue higher education back in Spain. When she came back to the UK, she decided to move to Scotland instead of returning to the capital city.
“I’ve got the pre-settled status and I need to know if I can apply for settled status because I left for a couple months to study. It doesn’t say anywhere if I’m allowed to request the settled status now.
“There could be more information or reasons why you can or cannot apply for the settled status. But the information on the site is kind of confusing,” she added.
Sateri said: “I find it fair, to some extent, to bring new rules in place, but those rules should benefit both parties. The EU settlement scheme for example, should apply to all those immigrants who were living before Covid for years in the UK and just because they were ‘forced’ to go back to their country and stay for more than six months, shouldn’t be a reason to lose the right and not apply for it anymore.”
“Or all those people who have never been or lived in the UK, they can only apply for a job if they have the right skills for it. How can someone come and live in an unknown place and environment without visiting the country first? How will they know the actual cost of living, where the safest place for accommodation would be and so many other issues?
“It’s a very complicated situation which in my opinion should be revised so that everyone can have equal opportunities. It seems that they’re blaming Covid for everything nowadays, but that’s not the case for sure! It’s just convenient to blame it on something,” she added.
Link to published article: https://hollowayexpress.org.uk/are-immigration-figures-really-rising-or-does-processing-immigrants-take-longer/