• Thursday, July 25, 2024
businessday logo


What Starmer’s election victory means for japa


The United Kingdom has a new leader. After more than a decade of Conservative rule, Labour Party’s Keir Starmer has been named the new British prime minister following a landslide victory at the general elections on Friday.

“The work for change begins immediately,” Starmer said in his first speech outside of 10 Downing Street. “We will rebuild Britain…Brick by brick we will rebuild the infrastructure of opportunity.”

But Starmer’s vision for a new Britain poses implications for the country’s international appeal and raises eyebrows on Labour’s immigration policy plan, particularly among Nigerians, who make up a large percentage of its migrant population.

Starmer’s net migration plan

Since last year, the Labour party has made clear its intentions to slash net migration numbers and build the country from within.

“The overall [immigration] level must be properly controlled and managed. So, Labour will reduce net migration,” Starmer stated.

“We will reform the points-based immigration system so that it is fair and properly managed, with appropriate restrictions on visas, and by linking immigration and skills policy.”

Though Labour has not set a specific target, it has said it will reduce net migration to “a couple of hundred thousand a year.” This comes after the Conservative Party under Rishi Sunak had tightened its visa restrictions to stop up to 300,000 people from coming to the UK yearly.

The Office for Budget Responsibility’s most recent forecast from March 2024 suggests that net migration should settle at around 350,000 per year from 685,000 in the next five years.

“We will end the long-term reliance on overseas workers in some parts of the economy by bringing in workforce and training plans for sectors,” said the prime minister, who plans to reform the apprenticeship levy to upskill resident workers in its construction, IT and engineering industry.

Read also: UK PM Keir Starmer announces scrapping of Rwanda deportation plan

“The days of a sector languishing endlessly on immigration shortage lists with no action to train up workers will come to an end.”

Salaries, dependants and minimum income

Last year, the UK raised tensions in the country and across the world after announcing unprecedented major changes to its migration policies, including increases in minimum income requirement for family visas from £18,600 to £29,000.

Starmer said he will ask the Migration Advisory Committee to review the effectiveness of these policies in achieving its migration goals, but has asserted that he will retain the ban on care workers’ bringing dependants into the UK.

Read also: Meet the six Nigerians elected into UK parliament

In 2023, the UK, under Sunak, implemented increases to UK immigration fees by 35 percent to £490, and the Immigration Health Surcharge from £15 to £115.

Starmer is yet to decide on these fees, but it is expected he will make one in line with his party’s migration goals.

Implications for the UK

If the Labour Party is to implement its proposed decisions on immigration, it will come at a cost.

Notably, a high proportion of the UK’s net migration figure are international students, and Nigeria and India account for the most increases in student or sponsored study visas granted by the UK in the past five years, according to official immigration data.

BusinessDay reported that the majority of the increase in main applicants between 2019 and 2023 were from India (an addition of 85,849) and Nigerian (35,366) nationals.

The Migration Advisory Committee has observed that the tuition fees paid by these students subsidise that of domestic students and help to expand the range of courses offered while making up for financial losses on domestic students and research, increasingly participating as a short-term labour supply for UK businesses, both as students and graduate route participants.

Since the ban on bringing families, the United Kingdom has already witnessed a decline in the number of international students, including Nigerians applying for study visas, with only 40,700 applications for study visas between January and March 2024, marking a 79 percent decrease compared to the same period in 2023 when the UK received 72,800 study visa applications.

At least 15 universities in the UK have announced job cuts following a substantial drop in enrollment from foreign students, especially Nigerians.

Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) had earlier reported a 46 percent decline in undergraduate study applications from Nigeria in February 2024, spotlighting the significance of residency and the presence of family and other dependents to international students during and after their studies.

High tuition fees, coupled with inflationary pressures on Nigeria’s naira, has forced Nigerians to boycott UK universities.

If matters persist, about 71 percent of applications from Nigerian students will be lost and hundreds of dozens of university staff are at risk of losing their jobs as higher institutions scramble to save money.

Notably, the number of Nigerians working in the NHS has already declined in one year since the UK announced care workers will no longer be able to sponsor dependants. The NHS’ record says there were 10,494 Nigerians in its workforce in 2023, fewer than over 18,000 in the previous year.

Nothing to worry about

Despite the Labour Party’s proposed decisions, experts are confident.

“From my childhood till today, Labour Party has been very open, very close to Nigeria. With the labour, I don’t think we have any problem,” said John Ojikutu, an aviation security expert with a vast experience in mobility. “If they’re going to reduce migration, they will reduce migration from the Middle East where they have problems,” he noted.

Ojikutu said Nigeria has nothing to worry about and is assured of favourable policies under Labour than the Conservative Party which he said “have not been very kind to Nigeria when it comes to issues of allowing Nigerians to come in.”

An immigration expert, John Obua, said he will rather wait and see what will happen to Nigerians, even though it does not look good for Nigerians who will seek greener pastures in the UK.