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This week the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) released its final report on the impact of migration from EEA countries into the UK. This follows on from a report published last week looking specifically at the impact of international students on the UK. The MAC has produced these pieces of work upon the request of the then Home Secretary in July 2017.

The headline feature of this week’s report is the proposal that there should be no favoured treatment for citizens from EU countries compared with citizens from countries outside the bloc once the Brexit process is completed. Although the Committee is very careful not to pre-empt the outcome of negotiations between the UK and the EU, it argues that “if the UK is in a position where it is deciding the main features of its immigration policy our recommendation is that there should be a less restrictive regime for higher-skilled workers than for lower-skilled workers in a system where there is no preference for EEA over non-EEA workers”.

The report identifies Canada, with its “open, welcoming approach” but one which  does not rely on blanket free movement agreements, as having developed an immigration system which the UK could model its own on.

One of the main findings of the latest report is that “EEA migration has neither the large negative effects claimed by some nor the clear benefits claimed by others”. This is in stark contrast to some of the hyperbole that has accompanied much of the migration debate in the past.

Bright Blue’s recommendation of expanding the Tier 5 (Youth Mobility) scheme has been taken up by the Committee. The MAC’s report states that “if there is to be a route for low-skilled migrant workers we recommend using an expanded youth mobility scheme rather than employer-led sector-based routes”. The Committee also maintains that this “expanded Youth Mobility scheme could potentially be open to EU citizens” but cautions that “any expanded Youth Mobility scheme should be closely monitored and overall numbers could be restricted if felt it was growing too large”.

The MAC have also proposed abolition of the cap on Tier 2 (General) visas because “it creates uncertainty among employers and it makes little sense for a migrant to be perceived as of value one day and not the next which is what inevitably happens when the cap binds.” The MAC has also advanced the idea of an extension of the scheme “to workers in medium-skilled jobs recognising that harmful skills shortages might otherwise occur”.

Coinciding with the release of the MAC’s conclusions, British Future in collaboration with Hope not Hate have also this week produced the final report of its National Conversation on Immigration project. This contains a number of interesting observations. It found that the majority of the British public are ‘balancers’, in that they “see both the pressures and gains of immigration”. Often these perceptions of immigration are viewed through ‘local lenses’, directly influencing how people see the ‘social contract’ between migrants and those born in the UK. The report also described the gulf between polarised online and more measured face-to-face discussion.

As Bright Blue has argued, although an informative and important addition to the immigration debate, the MAC’s report is a missed opportunity. Despite a wide-ranging exploration of the economic impact of EEA migration which builds to some sensible proposals, it does not directly address the issue of the failed net migration target nor recommend ways in which to make Britain’s migration setup more popular, effective and contributory-based. This is something discussed at length in Bright Blue’s Manifesto for immigration.

Moreover, the MAC report can be challenged for its limited discussion of the non-economic impacts on communities, for instance, the issue of social cohesion. Here, the MAC simply state that they found “a hint of a positive effect for those with more positive views of migrants and a negative effect for those with negative views”. The Committee’s point that the impact of migration on community bonds is too “subjective” to be effectively measured and addressed, although true to an extent, ignores this issue’s importance to the shaping of public attitudes toward immigration. Cursory reference to issues of integration and cohesion speaks of a lack of focus on these matters, something which was strongly criticised in the Casey Review.

Oscar Rocklin is a graduate intern at Bright Blue The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.