Martin Beckford – Telegraph.co.uk Sept 17, 2012
The latest British Social Attitudes report says there have been “strengthened demands” for a reduction in the number of people settling in the country in recent years, coinciding with the biggest influx of migrants in history.
The hardening public attitudes were found most “strikingly” among the less skilled and less skilled respondents to surveys.
Foreign labourers and overseas students with poor grades were seen as particularly unwelcome, the polls found.
It will be seen as a boost to the Government’s plans to cut net migration – the number of people added to the population every year – from the current level of more than 200,000 to the “tens of thousands” by 2015.
“Our evidence suggests that the broad outlines of this approach are in line with public opinion – more than anything, what sways British voters in favour of migration is the perception that migrants are highly-qualified,” said the authors, led by Robert Ford, a politics lecturer at the University of Manchester.
The report says that following the election of New Labour in 1997 and the passing of the Human Rights Act the following year, migration controls were “relaxed” and methods of restricting asylum were “limited”.
This was followed by a “large wave” of new arrivals from the eight Eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004.
Analysis of survey responses taken over the past two decades shows there has been a “sustained increase in demands for lower overall immigration”.
In 1995, some 39 per cent of those questioned thought the number of immigrants should “reduce a lot”, but by 2011 it had risen to 51 per cent. It peaked in 2008 at 55 per cent.
The proportion of those who thought the economic impact of immigration was “very bad” rose from 11 per cent in 2002 to 21 per cent a decade later, with far fewer remaining neutral on the topic.
In addition, the proportion who said the cultural effect of immigration was “very bad” rose from 9 per cent to 21 per cent over the same period.
Just over a quarter of first- or second-generation migrants had negative views about the changes immigration has wrought on British society.
Detailed questioning showed that professionals and talented students were preferred, particularly by respondents who were themselves well-educated.
The authors concluded: “The flow of migrants into Britain over the past 15 years has been the largest in British history.
“The public has reacted to this with strengthened demands for a reduction in migration and increasingly negatives views about the cultural and economic impact of migrants on Britain.”
Meanwhile a separate poll has found that 70 per cent of people want a limit on the number of overseas students admitted to British colleges and universities.
The same proportion thought that those who understood little English should be removed from the country, and even more believed that foreigners who work when they are meant to be studying should be deported.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migration Watch UK, which commissioned the YouGov survey of 2,910 adults, said: “This gives the lie to those who have been claiming that the public are not concerned about student inflows.