PM insists UK is' working towards' 'tens of thousands' immigration target

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The Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron, says that he is 'working towards' his target of reducing net immigration into the UK to 'tens of thousands' a year by the 2015 general election.

Mr Cameron was interviewed on satellite TV news channel Sky News by journalist Dermot Murnaghan on 18th May 2014. Mr Murnaghan asked him if he believed that the UK would meet the target on five occasions. Mr Cameron failed to answer the question.

He said that 'we are working towards it and we're doing everything we can to deliver it'.

Tens of thousands

The 'tens of thousands' figure was first raised by Mr Cameron in January 2010 when he was leader of the opposition. He told BBC interviewer Andrew Marr that he wanted to see net immigration reduced from the then level of some 250,000 per year to 'tens of thousands a year' by the time of the next election.

Critics of the 'tens of thousands' target, have said that the UK prime minister would never be able to meet it because the UK cannot control immigration from within the EU. One of the fundamental precepts of the EU is the 'free movement of labour' which confers on EU nationals the right to live and work in any country in the EU.

Net immigration

The UK's net immigration figure is calculated by counting the number of migrants who enter the country in any given year and subtracting the number of migrants who leave. A migrant is defined by the United Nations as anyone who moves to another country intending to stay for at least a year.

Increasing number of immigrants arriving in the UK is not the only reason why net immigration could increase. If fewer UK nationals choose to leave the country, the net immigration figure could rise; Net immigration could rise even if the Government has been able to reduce immigration into the UK.

Nonetheless, Mr Cameron has stuck with the 'tens of thousands' target since 2010. He failed to win an outright majority at the general election in 2010 but the Conservatives were the largest party.


Mr Cameron became prime minister after the election at the head of a Coalition involving the Conservatives and the centrist Liberal Democrat Party. The Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May has introduced several measures to reduce immigration.

She has

  • Closed the Tier 1 (General) visa stream. This visa allowed skilled professionals to work freely in the UK for any employer. Mrs May said that at least one third of Tier 1 (General) visa holders were working in non-skilled occupations such as taxi driver and security guard.
  • Closed of the Tier 1 (Post Study Work) visa stream. This visa allowed foreign graduates of UK universities to work in the UK for any employer for two years after graduation. If during that time, they found a job they could then transfer to a Tier 2 skilled worker visa
  • Imposed a cap of 20,700 on the number of Tier 2 (General) skilled worker visas. The government says that the cap has never been reached so no visa applications have ever been refused because of the cap. However, immigration specialists report that UK immigration has made it much harder to qualify for a Tier 2 (General ) visa
  • Closed 700 'bogus' colleges which were, the government said, 'selling immigration not education'. The government removed the sponsorship licences of these colleges thereby preventing them from teaching anyone from outside the European Union.
  • Introduced a minimum income requirement for any British national or permanent resident wishing to bring their spouse to live with them in the UK. Britons must earn at least £18,600 before they can do so.

Initial fall

These measures did, initially, reduce the UK's level of immigration. By September 2013, the UK's net immigration level had fallen by about 40% from the 2010 level to about 150,000 per year.

Since then, however, the level has risen again. By March 2014, the level had climbed to 212,000. The next figures are due to be released on 22nd May. These are expected to show a further rise back towards the 2010 figure.

Much of this increase has been caused by immigration from within the EU, which is beyond Mr Cameron's control.

Growing economy

Mr Cameron said 'Obviously, as a growing economy, we have seen, with the weakness of the eurozone, quite a lot of people coming from France, Spain and Italy into the UK'.

Mr Murnaghan replied 'That's the reason you're not going to get [immigration] down to tens of thousands'.

Mr Cameron said 'But the point of having this target is that it's what I want and what the British people want'.

'It's not going to happen'

Mr Murnaghan said 'but it's not going to happen' and asked whether Mr Cameron would revise it.

Mr Cameron said 'We're working towards it. We're doing everything we can to deliver it'.

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