Should the United Kingdom drastically restrict immigration now

"Migration and Population" newsletter

Vera Hanewinkel

Vera Hanewinkel is a research assistant at the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies (IMIS) at the University of Osnabrück and editor at focus Migration. Email: [email protected]

Immigration has been high on the UK's political agenda for a number of years. According to the latest Eurobarometer, the British see immigration as the biggest challenge the country is currently facing. What is the background to this development? A look into the country's migration history.

Great Britain (& copy Burak Korkmaz)
The UK did not become an immigration country until after World War II. In the post-war years, the labor demand was mostly met with workers from the former British colonies. All people born within the British Empire were considered British nationals and benefited from privileged immigration conditions until 1962. In the years that followed, these were further restricted until the government decided in 1971 that the same legal regulations should apply to citizens of the Commonwealth of States as to all other foreign nationals. This regulation came into force in 1973 when the borders were opened to workers from the member states of the European Economic Community. Until the 1990s, the majority of immigrants came to the country for the purpose of family reunification.

In 2002 a new law on nationality, immigration and asylum came into force, which was supposed to encourage the immigration of highly qualified workers from third countries by introducing a point system. This was developed into a five-stage point system in 2006. A residence permit is only granted to applicants who, among other things, acquire sufficient points based on their qualifications and job market needs. For some work segments such as teaching, nursing staff or engineers, the number of residence permits issued annually is also limited.

While the immigration of third-country nationals has been increasingly restricted since the 1960s, immigration from EU countries has only been controversial since the accession of the Eastern European countries in 2004. The decision made by the Labor Socialist government prior to EU enlargement to grant nationals from the new member states direct access to the UK labor market resulted in around 730,000 people immigrating from the new EU member states by 2011. The number of Polish nationals living in the UK has increased almost tenfold in just a decade (2001: 58,000, 2011: 579,000). In addition, India (694,000 people), Pakistan (482,000) and Ireland (407,000) are among the main countries of origin of foreign-born residents of the United Kingdom. According to the 2011 census, their number was 7.5 million people (13% of the total population).

British citizenship can usually be applied for after five years of legal residence in the country or three years of marriage to a British citizen. Since 2005, they have been required to pass a naturalization test that tests their knowledge of the language, British history and society. UK-born children of permanent immigrants or recognized refugees are granted British citizenship automatically.

The governing coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats under Prime Minister David Cameron (Tories, Conservative), which has been in office since 2010, has announced several times that it wants to reduce annual net migration to below 100,000 (see issues 9/14, 2/14, 8/11) - but so far without success. Although the number of asylum applications has fallen drastically since the early 2000s as a result of a series of restrictions on the right to asylum (see issues 9/03, 2/03, 4/00), internal migration within the EU, in contrast to (voluntary) Restrict migration from third countries only indirectly. Cameron's attempt to restrict the right to freedom of movement has already been clearly criticized by the EU Commission (see issue 8/14).

This text is a summary of the United Kingdom country profile.

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