Twelve things the government shouldn't do: funding for foreign nationals

By: Callum McGoldrick, researcher


In the third of a series of blogs looking at 12 things the government shouldn’t be doing, we take a look at some of the funding for foreign nationals. The primary responsibility of a state is to its own citizens, but with rising levels of immigration to the UK it is likely that a smaller proportion of government spending will be on UK nationals over time. While there are plenty of situations in which it is appropriate for the government to spend money on foreign nationals, the UK should not be a welfare system for the whole world and should prioritise British citizens where possible.

Below we consider three examples of where the government fund services for foreign nationals which could be better spent on supporting taxpayers during the cost of living crisis.

Teacher relocation schemes

The UK government funds international teachers of some subjects up to £10,000 to move to the UK and teach their subject – the grant is paid at the end of the first term of either training or working in England. It is contingent on the teacher having a contract of at least a year and working as either a physics, combined science or language teacher (excluding English), however nothing prevents them leaving after the first term.

According to the Department for Education, the scheme is expected to provide between 300 to 400 payments during the current academic year. Given the grant is worth £10,000, this means up to £4 million could be spent on the scheme and will likely be higher after administration costs are added. If the scheme must stay in place for the short term to meet staffing needs, then it should be made much stricter, at least requiring the teachers to stay for an entire school year. 

The minister who instigated the scheme, Nadhim Zahawi, said that the scheme was in place to make Britain the most attractive country in the world for teachers. Given that there is a shortage of UK nationals becoming teachers, the government should shift its focus to this problem, rather than huge tax-free lump sum grants to foreign nationals under a scheme that is not available to UK citizens.

Social housing for foreign nationals

Foreign nationals become eligible for social housing when they meet any of a number of requirements, such as having settled status or being a worker from the European Economic Area (EEA). A larger proportion of foreign-born than UK-born residents live in social housing, and among these residents the rate of unemployment is higher than those born in the UK. To be clear, this is not referring to those who have been granted refugee status or exceptional leave, rather those that have come to the UK for economic reasons. 

Immigration may provide many benefits to the UK, but the government should not subsidise unproductive foreign nationals occupying housing in some of the most desirable and expensive parts of the country. The UK has the fourth highest level of social housing in the OECD yet suffers from a housing shortage. The state should not be paying for non-UK citizens to be living in social housing when the housing situation is so dire. 

Asylum Seeker Hotel Accommodation 

The UK should absolutely be a place of refuge for those fleeing war and persecution, this is a role the UK has played for decades. However, the current system for processing and validating asylum seeker claims is costly, inefficient and easily exploited. The largest of the costs incurred from inefficiency is the cost of hotels, totalling £2.3 billion in 2022-23. This cost is increased by the Home Office maintaining a “buffer” of 5,000 beds as the situation could continue to worsen. Other solutions have been offered, one being large, purpose built facilities, akin to a large block of flats. In the case of the Bibby Stockholm, accommodation was more expensive there, at £205 per day per person compared with a hotel, which is estimated to be around £140 per night per person.

The government has explored other means to reduce the cost of housing asylum seekers. The most prominent of these alternative solutions has been with the Rwanda Plan, which was prevented from taking effect by the Supreme Court. The scheme had cost over £240 million in payments to Rwanda and further millions in legal costs by the end of 2023.

Both the current system of using a hybrid of hotels and specialised facilities, as well as possible alternatives such as Rwanda, are incredibly expensive and inefficient. Both also fail to address any root causes of the crisis, meaning future cost reductions are unlikely. The government must find a way to stop the crisis that means value for taxpayers and does not endanger the asylum seekers. 

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