News today will have (or better said- should have) raised alarm amongst the UK education sector in general and the EFL sector in particular. Responding to news last week that “Net migration to the UK has increased”, the Tory minister, Damian Green, has identified visiting students to be the problem and declared that the number of foreign students currently allowed into the UK is “unsustainable”.
The Tory party have an avowed policy of reducing net migration to tens of thousands so last week’s report by the Office for National Statistics, that net migration increased by 33,000 to 362,015 in 2009 had them claiming that the coalition government had inherited an immigration system which was “largely out of control”. On his return from a trip to India, responding to a figure showing the number of visas issued to students had increased by 35% to 362,015, Green claimed this number was unsustainable. He wanted to review these figures and was particularly concerned with the number of visas issued for sub-degree courses. These words will have particular importance for the UK TEFL industry, especially after the ridiculous English language level restrictions placed on students outside the EU wishing to come and actually study English in the UK.
What is particularly disturbing about all this is the lack of any reasoned analysis of the figures and the hateful racist attempts to detract attention away from the real issues facing ordinary people living and working in the UK. In the first place, the number of people migrating to the UK is actually falling and there were 4% less people arriving than the previous year (down from 590,000 in 2008 to 567,000 in 2009). Indeed, the net migration figure had been caused by a 13% drop in the number of people leaving the UK (down from 427,000 in 2008 to 367,000 in 2009). Moreover, as the new labour think tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) point out, the picture has been highly coloured by the activities of British nationals rather than a great change in the activity of non-British nationals:
Declining net emigration by British citizens accounted for most of the increase in net immigration. Net emigration by British citizens was 36,000 in the year to December 2009, compared with 90,000 in the year to December 2008, a decline of over 60 per cent. Most of this decline in net emigration was driven by reduced emigration by British citizens (down23 per cent), although the level of British immigration/return also rose slightly. Meanwhile, net immigration by non-British nationals was stable at around 220,000 – slight decreases in immigration were counter-balanced by slight decreases in emigration. Declining non-British immigration is confirmed by data on National Insurance (NINo) registrations by overseas nationals – down 17 per cent in 2009/10 compared to 2008/09, and the lowest figure since 2005.
So if the UK government wanted to maintain the general picture of net migration from the UK which we have seen over the last three decades, it should assess why British nationals are no longer emigrating in such numbers and why so many are returning.
Locating the causes.
Indeed, the rise in students visiting the UK and the fall in British Nationals emigrating is inextricably linked. Again we quote (this time at length) from the IPPR:
Falls in net migration from the new EU member states have helped to significantly reduce net migration since peaks in 2005 and 2007, and net immigration from these countries remains very low despite the most recent increases. With the expansion of the EU in 2004 only the UK, Sweden and Ireland fully opened their labour markets to workers from the new accession countries. The result for the UK was a rapid, substantial, and largely unpredicted wave of migration from countries such as Poland. However, this proved to be a short-lived phenomenon, for two main reasons. Firstly, there was an initial surge because opportunities to migrate had not been available previously and there was a ‘backlog’ of people seeking to move. Now that most of those (largely young adults) who wanted to come to the UK have done so, immigration is settling down at a lower rate. Secondly, most of those who came only planned to stay for a few months or years, so many of the initial ‘wave’ are now returning home. This is a trend made more extreme by the recession.
The recession has also had wider impacts on migration to and from the UK. Net migration has historically been correlated with economic growth, and previous recessions have seen the UK experience net emigration. Pre-recession levels of net immigration were substantially higher than those seen before previous recessions, so it seems unlikely that net migration will fall to the same extent as a result of the current economic downturn. However, it is certainly the case that changing economic conditions have led to a decline in immigration to the UK for work, and have led more migrants to return home. This is both because there is less work available now in the UK and because the weakened pound has made the UK less attractive to migrants who want to work here and send money home. On the other hand, the weakened pound has made the UK an attractive destination for foreign students. Dramatic increases in student immigration to the UK have been partly driven by this, and partly by active efforts by British further and higher education institutions to attract more overseas students, particularly in the face of uncertain funding levels for UK students.
The UK has seen net emigration of British citizens (including migrants who have gained British citizenship) for most of the last three decades, but this net emigration is now declining sharply. More British people are returning to the UK, but the most significant trend is that many fewer British people are emigrating to other countries. This seems likely to be due to the global recession. Some key destination countries for British emigration (e.g. Spain) have been badly hit by the economic crisis, which has reduced employment opportunities for British migrants. A weaker pound has also made it more expensive for British retirees on fixed incomes to move abroad, and for British students to study overseas….
Of course, Green knows that nothing is “out of control” and he himself was encouraging Indian students to study in the UK during his most recent trip there. He is well aware of the funding crises of British universities and knows how important overseas students are to keeping these institutions afloat. He is also aware, however, that racist scapegoating is a convenient tool in distracting people from the real causes of the problems afflicting ordinary people’s lives. Whilst we doubt his government will do much in the short term to restrict overseas students to British universites, we can expect more restrictions on the UK TEFL sector as the Tories attempt to secure some populist support while introducing more and more unpopular cuts in education, health and welfare services.