From a target to an ambition: why Theresa May's immigration plan may not work
At first, it was a target - a very clear number to be met; and then it transformed into a plan, a rough idea of an eventual target; and now, it is just an ambition: to lower the immigration numbers in the UK to below 100,000.
Currently, net migration is running at 248,000 a year. However, the Tories want to reduce this to tens of thousands of people entering the country each year, and then-Home Secretary Theresa May set the target. They are failed to meet it since the target was created in 2009. In their recent general election manifesto, the Conservatives still plan to reduce net migration, but they have not set a timeframe.
Leaving the European Union is unlikely to dramatically lower the figures. Home Office minister Brandon Lewis has admitted the numbers will continue to be above the target after Brexit for at least another five years.
The Guardian also points out that Britain did not lose control of its border because of its membership - expiring membership now that it's leaving - to the European Union. Under a little known European Parliament and Council directive (2004/38/EC), member states are allowed to repatriate EU nationals after three months if they have not found a job or do not have the means to support themselves; Belgium uses this measure to regularly repatriate thousands of individuals, Britain seemingly does not.
Only half of the net migration figures come from the European Union under freedom of movement, while the other half are within the Home Office's control with their visa system and the criteria already set (including salary requirements or qualifying for exemptions by working in key ‘shortage’ professions, such as nursing).
The Institute for Government argues that if any party wants to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, they will need to completely overhaul the entire immigration system. The decision to reduce the numbers is highly political, potentially damaging to the economy and a huge administrative task - and with Brexit approaching nearer and nearer, the Government already has plenty of work on its hands.
Stephen Bush in the New Statesman calls the immigration target "unachievable and unhinged", and suggests the only good about it is that it cannot be kept. He argues the consequences of meeting the target would be terrible for the UK, because the British economy needs immigration to keep ticking over; especially when the country does not produce enough young people to take care of its elderly people.
The immigration target set by Theresa May is six-years-old and for each of its year as policy, the Government has failed to meet it; is it a failure of the Government, or is the figure simply unattainable?