Why is immigration a big issue in the British elections?

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One of the main battlegrounds of the forthcoming election will be immigration, as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised to reduce immigration levels if his Conservative Party wins next month's election.

With the opposition Labor Party now leading by more than 20 percent in surveys, Sunak feels the issue will set his party apart.

Voters in Britain have long expressed worry over immigration, arguing that big influxes harm social cohesion and place undue strain on the government-run National Health Service, property market, and educational system.

David Cameron, the prime minister of the Conservative Party at the time, promised in 2010 to return net migration to the tens of thousands per year, a goal he never quite achieved.
One of the main reasons for the 2016 vote to leave the European Union was the decision to stop allowing individuals to enter Britain freely from other European nations. Proponents of Brexit had said that this would assist regain control over the country's borders.

Nonetheless, net migration has been increasing, hitting 329,000 in 2015.
The tentative total for 2023 shows net immigration of 685,000, down from a record high of 764,000 in 2022, according to the most current official numbers released in May. The decline in the number of people using humanitarian visa programs to go from Hong Kong and the Ukraine to the UK was the main cause of that decline.

Indian nationals made up around a fifth of all immigrants to the UK last year, by far the largest group, followed by Chinese and Nigerian nationals.

According to the government, an increase in the number of students and workers in the care industry, coupled with their dependents, is one reason for the rise in migration.

Sunak announced new regulations in January that would reduce immigration by 300,000, including a ban on family visits by overseas students, a 48 percent increase in the wage requirement for skilled worker visas to 38,700 pounds ($49,000), and a restriction on the entry of dependents by caregivers.

According to the government, this has resulted in a 79 percent decrease in applications for student dependents in the first four months of 2024, 30,000 fewer applications for student visas than in the same period the previous year, and a 58 percent decline in applications from dependents of workers in the health and care industry.
Experts claim that estimating the advantages and disadvantages of immigration is challenging. Increased migration raises the need for public services but also contributes to the economy by paying taxes and in other ways.

Proponents of increased immigration claim that it lowers wages and negatively affects society due to fast demographic change, which also makes integration nearly impossible. They cite a 2018 study that claimed, for the fiscal year 2016–17, the net cost of immigration exceeded 4 billion pounds.

However, a 2022 study from the University of Oxford's Migration Observatory said that, depending on the conditions of the migrants, the budgetary impact of migration to the UK was minimal.

Numerous business executives were troubled by Britain's severe lack of candidates to fill positions, and some studies have indicated that foreign workers had little to no effect on general salary or employment levels.

The head of the Confederation of British Industry, Rain Newton-Smith, stated on Tuesday that rather than focusing only on net migration statistics, the demands of the economy as a whole, including those related to skill shortages, needed to be taken into account.
If elected, Sunak promises to cap work and family visas at an annual rate set by parliament.

Prominent pro-Brexit activist Nigel Farage, who is currently leading the right-wing Reform Party and is suspected by pollsters of stealing votes from Sunak's Conservatives, believes that net migration should go to zero.

According to the opposition Labor Party, combating unscrupulous businesses, addressing the lack of skilled workers domestically, and lowering reliance on foreign labor will all help reduce net migration.
The politically divisive topic of preventing undocumented immigrants from crossing the English Channel in tiny boats to seek refuge in Britain is distinct from the debate over legal migration.

Before the election, Sunak's plan to send people entering in this manner to Rwanda failed to gain traction, and Labor has announced that it will abandon the program.

Following a record 45,775 arrivals on small boats in 2022, over 29,000 individuals landed on them last year. Over 10,000 people have crossed the Channel so far this year.

Over three billion pounds is spent annually by Britain on processing asylum claims; the daily cost of hosting migrants in hotels and other accommodations while they wait for a decision is over eight million pounds.

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