This pre-election guide outlines some of the bogus arguments often presented in favour of mass immigration and provides the facts on each.
For many years the government claimed that immigration added £6 billion a year to GDP. However, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, reporting in April 2008, said that what mattered was GDP per head. They concluded that:
“We have found no evidence for the argument, made by the government, business and many others, that net immigration generates significant economic benefits for the existing UK population”.
In January 2012 the Migration Advisory Committee went further. They said that even GDP per head exaggerated the benefit of immigration because:
“It is the immigrants themselves rather than the extant residents who are the main gainers”.
They suggested that the GDP of residents should be the main focus.
They recognised that the resident population would gain via any “dynamic effects” of skilled immigration on productivity and innovation – these “exist and may be large, but they are elusive to measure”.
In their annual Fiscal Sustainability Report, the Office for Budgetary Responsibility concluded in August 2013:
“In our attempt to summarise the vast literature on the impact of immigration on the labour market and productivity we have not found definitive evidence on the impact of immigrants on productivity and GDP. Most of the literature seems to indicate that immigrants have a positive, although not significant, impact on productivity and GDP”.
As regards EU migration, a study by the NIESR in 2011 found that the potential long-run impact of EU8 migration (Poland et al) on GDP per head was expected to be “negligible” ranging from 0.17% to -0.17%. However, this result relied upon an upward ‘age adjustment’ on the assumption that migrants tended to be of working age and thus to be “net contributors to the government coffers”. Subsequent research on the fiscal contribution of migrants to the UK suggests that this assumption may well be unsound (see 3. below)
Some of the limited research in this area had found that there might be a small positive fiscal impact to immigration. Nonetheless, according to the House of Lords Economic Committee “the fiscal impact [of immigration] is small compared to GDP and cannot be used to justify large-scale immigration”.
However, the presumption of even a small fiscal benefit has been comprehensively overturned since then by a UCL-based study released as a discussion paper in November 2013 which found the fiscal impact of migrants in the UK between 1995 and 2011 was in fact a net cost of £96bn. Even this was based on a number of questionable assumptions and an assessment of these by Migration Watch UK suggests that the actual cost might well have been closer to £148bn. A revised UCL study released in November 2014 included ‘robustness checks’ and found that between 1995 and 2011 migrants in the UK cost between £115bn and 159bn. The Migration Watch UK analysis therefore sits within the range recalculated by UCL academics.
Figures from the DWP show that migrants to the UK are less likely to claim out-of-work benefits. But large amounts of the total benefits bill are paid to people in work, in particular tax credits and housing benefit. Research shows that migrants can be much more likely to be claiming these key benefits than the general population.
93% of immigrants go to England so England is what matters in this context. England is the second most densely populated country in the EU, after the Netherlands and excluding islands such as Malta and is the seventh most densely populated country in the world if you exclude islands and city states.
The British Social Attitudes Survey has found that 77% of the public wish to see immigration reduced, 56% by a lot. The majority of first and second generation migrants agree, with 60% answering that migration to the UK should be reduced. The public are not opposed to immigrants, but they are opposed to immigration on the current scale. Public opinion is exceptionally clear on this issue.
Projections become less reliable as the length of the projection period increases. However, over the last 50 years, the ONS have been accurate to +/- 2½% in their projections over a 25 year period.
In 2012 the UK population was recorded at 64.1 million. The principal population projections project that this will increase by 5.9 million to 70 million by 2028 and will grow by 10 million in 25 years (mid-2037).
This population increase – 10 million over 25 years - is equivalent to the more than the entire population of London or nine more cities the size of Birmingham. Indeed, at current levels of net migration, that 10 million would be added in 20 years.
Officially, the ONS calculate that 60% of this increase, or 5.8 million, is due to immigration either directly or indirectly i.e. immigrants and the children of future migrants. They also accept that, if net migration continues at about 225,000 a year, the contribution of immigration will be 66%. However, these proportions seriously underestimate the impact of immigration as they ignore the future children born to immigrants already resident in the UK.
Between 2001 and 2012 inclusive, 57% of population growth has been described as due to net migration, 43% to natural increase (the excess of births over deaths). But, much of that natural increase came from immigrant parents. If that immigrant contribution to natural increase is included, then the total contribution of migration to UK population growth over the period from 2001 to 2012 was between 83% and 85%. 
The last immigration statistics before the election have been released and confirm that the government has failed to meet its target of bringing net migration down to the tens of thousands. Net migration now stands at 298,000, largely due to EU migration doubling since 2010 and because outflow of non-EU migrants remains low. That said, the net migration target has been a useful tool for focusing government policy without which net migration today would arguably be far higher. It may be that the target will have to be refined and only apply to non-EU migration. However, without a reduction in EU migration the public are unlikely to be satisfied. Thus it is imperative that the government seeks some practical solution in any future renegotiation with EU partners.
The government has not reached its target set out in 2010 to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. However, there is no reason to abandon a reasonable policy simply on the grounds that it has not yet been achieved. The existence of the target has been a valuable focus for policy. There may be a case for the target to be refined, for example to cover non-EU migration or to exclude British migration.
On the contrary, immigration on this scale would simply postpone the population reaching 70 million by 4 years to 2031, after which the population would continue to rise very rapidly.
This is absurd. No one is suggesting that they should be expelled. In fact, even at the peak of arrivals, medical staff were never more than 5% of immigration and in 2014 over 7,000 applications for a Tier 2 visa were submitted for health related professionals, compared to a non-EU inflow for work of 66,000 and total non-EU inflow of 267,000. The reason these workers are needed is that we have failed to train our own staff. Other major countries in Europe have only about 5 or 6% of foreign qualified doctors, whereas we have more like 30%.
It is often said that migrants do not occupy social housing. However, priority for social housing is given to those considered most in 'need'. So whilst most migrants do live in private rentals, official data shows almost 10% of social housing in England is occupied by non-UK nationals. In London this figure is around 20%. These are migrants who have not been here long enough to become British citizens or who have chosen not to do so.
This is a ludicrous argument which even the Labour government dropped. The reality is that immigrants themselves grow older so that there would have to be a continuing and increasing inflow of immigrants to have any long-term effect. The Turner Commission on pensions put it like this:
“Only high immigration can produce more than a trivial reduction in the projected dependency ratio over the next 50 years”
They calculated that even net migration of 300,000 a year would produce only a temporary effect unless still higher levels of immigration continued in later years.
The claim is that without immigration public sector net debt will rise to 187% of GDP by the middle of the century, up from 74% today. This is based on the misleading Office for Budget Responsibility’s Fiscal Sustainability Report of 2013 in which they compare the impossible scenario of ‘natural change’ (which would require no movement in or out of the country), against more reasonable estimates of net migration over time. Net migration of the order of 140,000 a year would lead to a ratio of around 100% yet also adds 15 million to our population by mid-century. This also fails to take into account the cost of additional infrastructure spending for the larger population and, in any case, only delays the problem of debt since immigrants also grow old. It is well recognised that immigration is not a sustainable solution to an ageing society unless immigration is allowed to continue indefinitely and, indeed, increase continuously.
The Migration Advisory Committee reported in January 2012 that 100 additional non-EU migrants might be associated with a reduction in employment of 23 native workers over the period 1995-2010. (This faded over 5 years; for EU workers the coefficients were similar but the results were not statistically significant). There is considerable anecdotal evidence of job displacement in key sectors such as construction, hospitality and retail.
According to the Migration Advisory Committee the majority of studies estimate that migrants have little impact on average wages but there is an impact on wage distribution in the UK. The majority of studies find that migrants increased wages at the top of the wage distribution but reduced them at the bottom.The impact on wages continues to be felt by those impacted as new waves of immigration place further downward pressure.
Census data shows that in 1851 the UK had a very small foreign born population, with just 100,000 people (1.5% of the population) born overseas. By 1951 this figure had reached 4.3% of the population.
Then, in just ten years from 2001 to 2011, the foreign born population of England and Wales increased by nearly three million to 7.5 million or from 9% to 13% of the population.
There is no evidence to back this up. The first Nobel prizes were awarded in 1901 with the first Nobel Prize being awarded to a Briton the following year. Since the inception of the Nobel Prize, there have been 97 winners from Britain. Of those 97, 20 were born abroad, of which 7 had British heritage i.e. their parents were British. Of the remaining 13, 5 came to the UK as refugees and the remaining 8 came to the UK to continue with their academic careers with the exception of one who came to study his undergraduate degree in the UK. Therefore, not one Nobel Laureate would have conceivably have been prevented from coming to the UK as a result of the kind of immigration controls now proposed.
Yes. But this need not conflict with immigration control. International companies are free to post senior staff in and out of Britain as they choose. Companies can also apply for work permits for skilled workers. These are “capped” at 20,700 a year but, so far, only about half of this number have been taken up. Nor are there any limits on recruitment from about 500 million citizens of the EU. The government has also opened up routes specially for investors and entrepreneurs to invest in or develop a business in the UK.
Yes, provided they are genuine. They will usually go home at the end of their course and will not add to net migration. Bogus students do not, of course, go home. That is why strong measures are being taken to tighten up the issue of student visas. The latest immigration figures suggest that the number of non-EU students leaving Britain is only about one third of the average number who arrived in the previous five years.This means that students are staying on either legally for further study, work or marriage, or illegally. Either way they are adding to net migration and therefore cannot continue to be called temporary migrants.
Applications for study at University have increased by 17% since 2010. What has fallen is the number coming to study at below degree level. This is to be expected since the government has cracked down on widespread abuse, largely in this sector. Interviews have been rolled out, deterring bogus applicants, 750 bogus colleges have so far been closed down and the government is currently investigating fraudulently obtained English Language certificates that may have allowed as many as 48,000 ‘students’ extend their stay in Britain. EU students have fallen but these students are not subject to immigration control, rather they have been deterred by an increase in tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000 per year.
The British Council, a UK organisation that seeks to create cultural and educational links between the UK and the rest of the world, has recently suggested that the massive growth in international students which occurred after 2009 may represent unsustainable growth and that the slight fall in the rate of growth of students is the sector returning to normality. This would suggest that government policy is not deterring students from studying in the UK.
Updated 19 March, 2015