Half of British public support more immigration of highly skilled workers, poll suggests

Exclusive: The combined research by Ipsos Mori and Kings College London found that 52 per cent of British adults believed more migrants coming to do highly skilled jobs should be admitted

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 18 April 2017 07:40 BST
A banner reading 'Migrants Welcome Here' is unfurled on Westminster Bridge on January 20, 2017 in London
A banner reading 'Migrants Welcome Here' is unfurled on Westminster Bridge on January 20, 2017 in London

More than half of British people support increased immigration of highly skilled workers, suggests a new poll, which charts the UK’s attitude towards migrants from diverse sectors of the economy and different areas of the globe.

The combined research by Ipsos Mori and King’s College London found that 52 per cent of British adults believed more immigrants coming to do highly skilled jobs should be admitted, compared with 12 per cent who disagreed.

However, the public is considerably less supportive of allowing lower-skilled migrant workers to come to the UK, with only 18 per cent agreeing that more should be allowed to come and do routine manual jobs. Over 40 per cent said fewer should be permitted.

It comes after the independent Office for National Statistics (ONS) said immigration is “particularly important” to the wholesale and retail, hospitality and health sectors, which employ around 1.5 million non-UK nationals. The ONS’s annual data also highlights the severity of imposing curbs to immigration after Brexit as it shows that EU migrants account for as many as one in 10 of employees in some sectors of the British economy.

Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, has previously indicated that highly skilled workers, including bankers and businessmen, will be exempt from the curbs after Britain leaves the bloc and is no longer subject to the EU’s free movement of people.

During a committee hearing Mr Hammond said he would expect to use controls “in a sensible way that would certainly facilitate the movement of highly skilled people between financial institutions and businesses in order to support investment in the UK economy”.

The Independent and Open Britain are urging for the Government to drop its target to cut net migration to tens of thousands of people each year. It is divisive and will harm our economy.

The poll, which also asked respondents about the impact of immigration in general, found that just under half – or 48 per cent – believed it has been good for Britain while 34 per cent responded that had a negative impact.

Underlining the importance of immigration in last year’s EU referendum vote, the poll suggested that those who identified as voting “Remain” at the plebiscite in June 2016 thought immigration has been good for Britain by 68 per cent to 16 per cent. For “Leave” voters, 25 per cent of respondents believed it was good, opposed to 58 per cent who believed it to be bad.

But when questioned on whether they would support more highly skilled migrants coming to Britain, “Leave” voters supported more rather than fewer by 43 per cent to 20 per cent.

When charting immigration from around the world, it found the public is much more sympathetic to immigration from Australia and New Zealand than from the rest of the world. Only around one in ten believed Britain should allow more migrants from Eastern Europe, the Indian sub-continent, North Africa, the rest of Africa or the Middle East.

Kully Kaur-Ballagan, head of race, faith and cohesion research at the university, told The Independent: “A majority of Britons have wanted to see immigration reduced for many years, and it was a particular motivation for those voting Brexit. However, our research has also shown that people’s views on immigration are more nuanced beyond the headline figures, and as Article 50 has been triggering our latest data reinforces this by showing the public view different types of immigration very differently and does not want a blanket reduction of all types of immigration.

Yvette Cooper interrogates Theresa May over immigration policy

“There is a clear backing to allow in more students and highly skilled migrants to Britain and for this latter group, there is clear support among both Leavers and Remainers.

“However, the public is much less supportive of allowing lower-skilled workers. Therefore, any new immigration controls will require a delicate balancing act between supporting the needs of industry that rely heavily on lower skilled migration and the public’s desire to see numbers reduced.”

Norman Lamb, a Liberal Democrat MP and a leading supporter of the campaign group Open Britain, said: “The fact is that migrants in our country keep our economy and public services running by bringing their skills to Britain, working hard and paying their taxes.

“Choosing to sacrifice our economy at the altar of lower immigration, as the Government seem set on doing, would make us all worse off. The Government needs to acknowledge the benefits immigration brings to our country, and scrap their damaging and unachievable target of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands.”

Ipsos Mori interviewed a representative sample of 998 GB adults by telephone on 10-14 February 2017. Data were weighted to match the profile of the population.

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