British people are embracing immigration and keen for migrants to fill health care gaps

Study by think-tank UK In A Changing Europe found people are more positive towards net migration despite it reaching record levels

The research shows 'doctors, nurses and care workers are all good'. PA
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The British public are increasingly positive towards immigration despite record high levels of arrivals and determination from political parties to reduce numbers, a study has shown.

Think tank UK In A Changing Europe (UKICE) found the large majority of people interviewed in its study welcomed people from overseas being recruited to fill vacancies in the NHS.

In its report launched on Tuesday, Robert Ford from the University of Manchester, a professor of political science and chairman of UKICE, said: “The large majority of people say NHS managers should be able to recruit as many migrants as they want.

“The research shows doctors, nurses and care workers are all good but [there is] only one group the public want less of and that is bankers.”

However, he said migrants arriving on small boats are still very unpopular.

The study was published as UK political parties put immigration at the heart of their election manifestos.

In an effort to gain some traction with voters, Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised to halve migration “then reduce it every single year”.

Mr Sunak pledged, if elected, to remove illegal small boat arrivals in Britain by instigating his Rwanda deportation scheme with the first flights in July.

Labour opposition leader Keir Starmer has pledged to “smash the gangs” who bring asylum seekers to Britain in boats, saying his government would hire hundreds of enforcement officials and arm them with counterterrorism powers.

The Reform UK party is proposing a tax on businesses for employing overseas workers.

At least 300 small boat arrivals have been recorded this week.

This includes 34 people the Home Office said made the journey in one boat on Wednesday, taking the provisional total number of crossings for the year so far to 10,779.

The latest official estimates from the Office for National Statistics indicate that net migration in the year ending December 2023 stood at 685,000.

The study found that, for the first time in polling history, more people want migration levels to increase or stay the same than want net migration to fall, while the public is also more likely to believe immigration has a positive impact on the UK than not.

It suggested that these changes in perception are due to the belief that Brexit has delivered “stricter” controls, with an end to freedom of movement and skilled migrants prioritised over the unskilled.

“The biggest shake-up in UK immigration policy for half a century coincides with a sustained shift in public attitudes in a more positive direction, with a broad consensus that the system should meet the needs of the economy and labour market,” Prof Jonathan Portes, senior fellow at UKICE, said.

The study also found significant changes in who is going to Britain, with a fall in work-related migration for sectors previously reliant on low-paid workers from the EU along with a rise in work visas for higher-skilled, higher-paid staff from outside the EU.

Prof Portes said he believed that the UK’s post-Brexit migration system is working as intended.

“The objective of the system was to end free movement and thereby reduce migration in relatively low-skilled sectors, low-paid jobs, and somewhat liberalise the system in high skilled, higher-paid jobs,” he said.

“It is, in my view, achieving those objectives.”

A fall in EU students attending UK universities, mainly due to facing higher fees since Brexit, has been more than offset with a rise in non-EU student visas, particularly for Nigerians and Indians, it found.

Updated: June 12, 2024, 10:32 AM