Furious Conservative MPs are writing to Rishi Sunak to demand action to bring down immigration after new figures showing an overall influx of more than 500,000 people over the past year.
Senor backbencher Sir John Hayes told The Independent he expected upwards of 20 signatures on a letter telling the prime minister to get a grip not only on unauthorised Channel crossings by small boat but also the system of work and study visas, which he said were “out of control”.
Some 381,459 work visas were issued in the 12 months to September 2022 – up 87 per cent on the previous year and well above the pre-Covid level of 192,559 in 2019, according to figures released by the Home Office.
Numbers of study visas were up by 38 per cent over the same period to hit 597,827, compared to 404,410 in 2019. Indians made up around one-third of work visas and more than a quarter of those for study.
Sir John told The Independent that the flow of incoming workers created a “displacement effect” by discouraging employers from training up homegrown staff and incentivising investment in low-skill jobs rather than the high-skill, high-wage careers the government wants to deliver.
“The home secretary has been very open and honest and straightforward about the need for robust action to take control of our borders in relation to small boats,” he said. “There is a similar job to be done to retake control of visas, which I think are out of control now.”
Sir John, a close ally of home secretary Suella Braverman and chair of the Common Sense Group of traditionalist Tories, said that the current levels of immigration were at odds with the promise in the 2019 Conservative manifesto to bring overall numbers down.
“These figures are alarming,” he said. “I would be amazed if Rishi Sunak wasn’t alarmed by them, because he has made clear he’s signed up to the manifesto pledge, and the home secretary has made those pledges even more emphatically.
“It’s understandable that the focus is on illegal migration, but we need to take seriously the issue of migration more generally,” he said. “Population growth on this scale on the basis of immigration places enormous pressure on housing, infrastructure and the environment.
“Then there is the displacement effect on the skilling and training of our own people. Numbers of people not in education, employment or training (Neets) are still stubbornly high, particularly in certain sections of the population – young black men, for instance – and we owe them better than to import people from abroad while we leave them languishing on benefits.”
Official forecasts always record immigration as boosting the national economy, as incomers are on average likely to pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits and services.
But Sir John argued that this overlooked the pressures experienced by existing residents as a result of population growth.
“The Office for Budget Responsibility seem to view migration in the terms of an economic textbook, but the public and those who serve them see the story in a rather broader way,” he said
Not all Tory MPs were concerned by the net migration figures, pointing to the fact that a significant portion of the increase was made up of Ukrainians and Afghans taking advantage of humanitarian schemes and Hong Kong residents holding BNO (British national overseas) status.
Leading Brexiteer Peter Bone told The Independent: “The fact that we are taking in people from Hong Kong, from Afghanistan and especially from Ukraine is the right thing to do.
“The point is that we are controlling our borders and we are making the decisions, not the EU. Imagine what the figures would have been if we stil had free movement of people. That is what Brexit was about – it was never about having no immigration.
“Student numbers may be rising, but most of them will go back to their home countries. The government’s priority must be stopping the illegal migration by boat across the Channel.”