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by Vanessa Ganguin

Poll tracking British attitudes to immigration reveals increasing public appreciation

11 October 2022

A UK Government divided over populist v pragmatic immigration measures might want to dwell on the trends in British public opinion published today.

The Ipsos UK / British Future tracker has polled the British public on their attitude to immigration since the year before the Brexit referendum.

Public support for reducing UK immigration has hit its lowest level since the tracker survey began in 2015. While 42% want immigration reduced, more prefer it not to be reduced – either staying at current levels (26%) or increasing (24%). This is more in line with current thinking in the Government as opposed to the Home Secretary Suella Braverman that has been giving recent interviews undermining their pragmatic approach to work visas by suggesting that the Conservative pledge to reduce net migration to tens of thousands should be revived – a target abandoned by Boris Johnson after nearly a decade of Conservative governments failed to meet it.

Over half the public would appreciate more overseas doctors and nurses; 44% more care workers and 45% want more farm labour from overseas. Fewer than one in five support reducing work visas for any of these shortage key roles, many of whom the British public applauded on their doorsteps during the worst of the Covid pandemic.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman says she wants to discourage foreign students despite a government target to grow education exports to £35 billion by 2030. However most Brits wouldn’t agree with her about reducing student visas. Only 21% want fewer international students. 42% are happy with current numbers, 25% happy for them to increase. Indeed only 29% of Conservative supporters support reducing student visas.

UK immigration (c) British Future
(c) British Future /Ipsos

Public attitudes have largely corresponded to the amount of media focus and its tone. Since the hysteria of the run-up to the EU referendum, the trend has been for more people to believe that immigration has had a positive effect on Britain (46% now) than a negative effect (now 29%). Though perhaps with immigration still all too often framed as a problem by some politicians and media outlets, it’s not surprising that only 10% of those polled were aware that the general public’s views on immigration have shifted to become more positive. 54% actually believe that people have become more negative about immigration.

The polling found the public very divided over the Government’s scheme to send refugees to Rwanda. Interestingly, most of the public – 52% of those polled, including 43% of Conservative supporters, do not think the Rwanda scheme is likely to succeed in reducing the number of people coming to the UK to seek asylum without permission. Only 25% and a minority of Conservative supporters too (38%) think the Rwanda scheme offers value for money.

You can read the full British Futures / Ipsos study here.