Migration in the News in 2024

Danielle Cohen
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor Linkedin
Danielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice.
23 January 2024

Reading the papers this week it seems that mass migration is considered to have been a disaster for Britain and that Britain could manage without 1.2 million people coming to the UK. There are those who say that the NHS would collapse overnight, care homes will go unstaffed, and the best universities will implode into financial blackhole without migration. There are those who think that this is scaremongering and Britain would be fine with massively reduced immigration and that the only thing that stands in its way is the government. According to Sam Ashworth-Hayes in the Telegraph on 21st January 2024, the NHS in 2022 hired some 12,148 foreign doctors and over the 2022/2023 financial year they were joined by an additional 24,000 nurses. He argues that the government can cut the numbers arriving by over a million before touching this tiny group and therefore the health service is not a barrier for the reform and even if it is, every year hundreds of qualified students are turned away from medical school due to the government cap in places, which left Britain significantly more reliant on overseas staff than its peers. Whilst the university sector does rely on funding from overseas students, he says that the reason is that domestic tuition fees are capped whilst foreign student fees are uncapped and he argues that the institutions to which some overseas students from poor countries come from attract those who wish to obtain the right to work under a post study visa. In relation to care homes, he suggests that instead of the government encouraging people to come and work for less, it is best to pay the social care work force more.

On the same day, Rishi Sunak warned his peers against attempting to block the Rwanda Bill legislation, saying that to do so would be an attempt to frustrate the will of the people and whilst the labour party has made much of its opposition to the Rwanda Scheme, it has been noticeably quiet in offering its own proposals for dealing with the small boat situation. Fast forward a day later and Sunak’s warning appears to have fallen on deaf ears as the Prime Minister suffers his first Lords defeat on the topic.

There is no doubt that a backlash against immigration is increasingly central to western policies. In the US, Donald Trump has said that illegal migrants are poisoning the blood of the nation. The British government is keen on removing asylum seekers to Rwanda and some in the west now cast envious eyes towards countries such as Japan and South Korea which take a much more restrictive attitude to immigration. Matthew Goodwin, a British academic and anti-immigration activist, said on Twitter that “a revolution is sweeping through Britain and I think millions of ordinary people have had enough of it”. He argued that close to half of all social housing in London goes to households that are headed by someone who was not born in Britain. It is not surprising, says Mr Rachman of the Financial Times, that 41% of Londoners were born overseas and the number of Londoners with migration background is far higher and that London is easily the most prosperous and dynamic city in Britain and is doing much better than the rest of the country. He questions whether the high level of immigration is actually a large part of London’s success story. In Germany, German far right leaders push for a Brexit-style referendum on membership of the EU to take place should they come to power. Its leader Alice Weidel told the Financial Times that the UK’s exit from the bloc was dead right.

This mismatch of opinions is somewhat confusing when the former Home Secretary Suella Braverman (whose parents came to Britain from Mauritius and Kenya) is acting against immigrants and one has to acknowledge that Britain and Europe face some competition between the growing numbers of people seeking to come and the scales of arrivals that the voters will accept. The looming question is how western democracies will balance legal obligations with political imperatives. Italy said in November that it will build two centres in Albania to host up to 36,000 migrants per year. Austria and Germany are also considering plans to process asylum seekers abroad. Denmark, which has introduced increasingly strict immigration policies over the last decade, passed a law in 2021 allowing refugees to be moved to asylum centres in third countries for processing. The European Bloc paid Turkey billions of dollars to keep refugees from reaching Greece and has funded the Libyan coastguards which pushes migrant’s boats bound for Europe back to North Africa. Eventually Europe may have to consider how its courts balance the rights of refugees versus citizens and one has to acknowledge that these are sensitive and complex issues.

In short, looking ahead to the year of 2024 it is sure that migration is set to dominate Europe’s political agenda, that politicians will look to toughen immigration rules and potentially leaving refugees in limbo.