Half of public support more immigration by highly skilled workers

A new Ipsos MORI/King’s College London survey asked whether more or fewer immigrants of various types and from various parts of the world should be allowed to come to Britain.

Half of public support more immigration by highly skilled workers

The author(s)

  • Kully Kaur-Ballagan Research Director
  • Roger Mortimore Director of Political Analysis
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  • Newly published Ipsos MORI/King’s College survey finds that half the British public would support an increase in immigration of highly skilled workers.
  • Support for other types of immigration including low-skilled jobs is lower.
  • Support for immigration is low among Leave voters but they would support the entry of more rather than fewer skilled workers.
  • Australia and New Zealand are slightly more welcome than the rest of the world.

A new Ipsos MORI/King’s College London survey asked whether more or fewer immigrants of various types and from various parts of the world should be allowed to come to Britain. It found that 52% of British adults think more immigrants coming to do highly skilled jobs should be admitted, compared to 12% who think fewer should be allowed to come, a net score of plus 40. By contrast, only 18% think more should be allowed to come to do routine manual jobs, and 44% that fewer should, a net score of minus 26. Opinions are more divided on, but on balance favourable towards, students coming to study in Britain (net +27) and refugees (net +12).

Immigrants coming to join relatives more welcome if family will support them

More people also believe that the number of immigrants coming to Britain to join family members should be reduced than that it should be increased, but it makes a significant difference if they are told that the immigrants will be supported by the family who are already here. As an experiment, half the sample were asked about “People coming to join family members who are already living in Britain, and who will support them” and the other half about “People coming to join family members who are already living in Britain”, with no mention of how they would be supported. In both cases, a third (33%) said fewer should be admitted.

However, 23% of those who were told the migrants would be supported by family members said more should be admitted, while only 16% said so if that assurance was omitted, cutting support by a third. The existence of this difference would seem to imply that many of the public assume that immigrants coming to Britain because they have family here may not be supported by that family, unless they are told otherwise.

Immigration less opposed from Australia and New Zealand than from the rest of the world:

Immigrants from Australia and New Zealand seem assured of more of a welcome than those from elsewhere round the globe. By almost two-to-one, 23% to 12%, the public said they would rather have more than fewer immigrants from those countries, although the majority said they thought the number should stay the same. But for every other geographical region mentioned, more would prefer to reduce immigration than increase it: only around one in ten think Britain should allow more immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Indian sub-continent, North Africa, the rest of Africa or the Middle East, while the numbers wanting to allow fewer ranged from 36% for the Indian sub-continent to 45% for North Africa.

Immigration from Western Europe, from Eastern and South-East Asia and from the U.S.A. is slightly less unpopular than from these other areas: in each case those who would reduce immigration clearly outnumber those who would increase it, but much the largest number would keep it at its current level (54% for the U.S.A., 51% for Western Europe and 48% for Eastern/South-East Asia).

Young people are the most positive about the impact of immigration while the 55 and overs remain divided:

The survey also asked about the impact of immigration in general. A little under half the public (48%) think that over the past few years it has been good for Britain, while a third (34%) think it has been bad. Those most likely to believe the impact of immigration over the last few years has been positive are younger participants, those from higher social grades and graduates, and these are also the groups most sympathetic towards increased immigration in each of the categories and least likely to support reduction in numbers. Three in five 18-34 year olds (60%) think recent immigration has been good for Britain, against a quarter (24%) who think it has been bad; but those aged 55-and-over are evenly split, 41% to 40%.

Similarly, belief in a beneficial effect is higher among ABs, those in professional and managerial occupations (62%) than among C2DEs, those in manual occupations (39%), and higher among graduates (67%) than among those with no qualifications (38%). It is also much higher than average in London (63%).

Immigration and the EU:

Support for immigration is also closely aligned with voting in the EU referendum. Those who say they voted “Remain” in the referendum think immigration has been good rather than for Britain by 68% to 16%; but those who say they voted “Leave” think it has been bad rather than good by 58% to 25%. This is in line with the importance of immigration and freedom of movement as issues in the referendum and in the political debate on implementing Brexit since the vote.

A similar division in opinion between Remain and Leave voters is evident in attitudes to all of the categories of immigrants, although the gap is smaller with regard to those coming to Britain to do skilled jobs than for other immigrants. Leave voters would support the entry of more rather than fewer skilled workers by two-to-one, 43% to 20%, the only category in which more Leave voters prefer to increase than to decrease the numbers; but their support is less emphatic than that of Remain voters, who advocate increasing rather than reducing the entry of skilled workers by 59% to 5%.

People who say immigration is beneficial would admit more refugees:

The difference in attitudes between those who take positive and negative views of the impact of immigration is biggest in attitudes to admitting refugees. Those viewing immigration as beneficial would admit more rather than fewer refugees by 59% to 12%; but those taking the opposite view would admit fewer by 53% to 14%. This would suggest that arguments that refugees are a special case, and should not be judged on the same basis as voluntary migrants, has not been successful in swaying those who are generally opposed to immigration. The difference between Remain and Leave voters in their attitudes to refugees is almost as great: 56% of Remain voters but only 19% of Leave voters would admit more refugees, while 12% of Remain voters but 48% of Leave voters would reduce the number.

The difference between the attitudes of Remain and Leave voters shows a similar pattern on immigration from all different parts of the world except from Australia and New Zealand and, to a lesser extent, from the US. For the other seven regions tested in the survey, support for increased immigration is higher and for decreased immigration much lower, among Remain than Leave voters.

Kully Kaur-Ballagan, Head of Race, Faith and Cohesion research said:

"A majority of Britons have wanted to see immigration reduced for many years, and it was a particular motivation for those voting for Brexit. However, our research has also shown that people’s views on immigration are more nuanced beyond the headline figures, and as Article 50 has been triggered our latest data reinforces this by showing the public view different types of immigration very differently and does not want a blanket reduction of all types of immigration.

There is clear backing to allow in more students and highly skilled migrants to Britain and for this latter group, there is clear support among both Leavers and Remainers. However, the public is much less supportive of allowing in lower skilled workers. Therefore, any new immigration controls will require a delicate balancing act between supporting the needs of industry that rely heavily on lower skilled migration and the public’s desire to see numbers reduced." 

Technical note:

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 998 GB adults by telephone on 10-14 February 2017. Data were weighted to match the profile of the population.

 The survey was conducted for the Polling Club at King’s College London. The Polling Club, run by Professor Roger Mortimore, allows students to increase their knowledge and understanding of survey research and public opinion by helping to design and analyse the results from a poll carried out by Ipsos MORI. For further details about the Polling Club, contact Professor Mortimore.

The author(s)

  • Kully Kaur-Ballagan Research Director
  • Roger Mortimore Director of Political Analysis

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