Attitudes to refugees have hardened since last September, said a BBC report yesterday. It found an increase in the number of people who think the UK has taken in too many refugees and should now be taking fewer. This is another manifestation of the growing concern about immigration noted by Gallup and Mori polls last month.
But the UK has only taken 1,000 Syrian refugees and only grants a few thousand asylum claims each year. Even if Britain took no refugees at all it would make very little difference to the immigration figures.
While it is true that immigration to the UK is at a record high, this has almost nothing to do with refugees and asylum seekers. As this chart from Migration Observatory shows, there was a time, back in the early 1990s when asylum seekers accounted for most of Britain’s immigration but that was a long time ago when immigration was fairly low. There was a spike in asylum claims in the early 2000s but even then it was not the main component of migration. As a proportion of overall immigration, asylum has been very low for the last decade.
Most people come to the UK through established channels, to work, to study or to join family already here.
When compared to other countries in Europe, the level of asylum applications in the UK is not particularly high. It has remained fairly steady over the past few years even as it has increased for some of our neighbours.
Source: Asylum in the EU, European Commission, June 2015 (Figures for 2014)
The UK may have the second highest level of immigration in the EU (although when you adjust for population size, it is somewhere in the middle of the pack) but unlike some other European countries, asylum barely features in the numbers.
Britain has a labour market and job opportunities that draw workers from across the EU. It contains by far EU’s biggest city and world famous universities which attract ambitious young people from all over the world. Thanks to the legacy of its empire it has communities from many different countries who maintain contacts with their friends and relatives. Consequently there is a flow of people coming here to do business and to join family members who have already settled. London is the favoured location for corporations’ European HQs. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that US citizens accounted for the largest proportion of UK temporary residence visas in 2014.
There are, then, all sorts of reasons for Britain’s record levels of immigration. Mostly people come to work, to study or to join other family members. You may think it’s a good thing, you may not. Let’s be clear about one thing though; it has nothing to do with people crossing the Mediterranean in leaky boats.