Frequently Asked Questions
Will the government meet their target of net migration in the tens of thousands by 2015?
It is very unlikely that the government will successfully reach their target by the end of this Parliament. Net migration is currently 212,000 a year so there remains a long way to go. That said, on the parts of migration that the government can control there has been some success. Net migration from outside the EU is now at its lowest level since 1998. The reason why net migration remains high is because EU migration has increased rapidly over the last year, fuelled by an increase in migrants from the economically troubles parts of Southern Europe such as Spain and Greece, as well as a resurgence in migration from the eight eastern European countries. Furthermore on 1st January 2014 Romanian and Bulgarian citizens were granted full access to the labour market and while it remains too early to measure the impact on net migration, early indications such as National Insurance Number allocations suggest that this flow will increase.
What is the point in a net migration target that the government cannot meet?
It is essential that any future government retains a net migration target of some kind because it has been hugely beneficial in focusing government policy. It may be that the target will have to be refined and relate to just those parts that the government can control, non-EU for example. Abandoning a target will prevent any debate taking place on the appropriate level of migration that the UK can cope with.
What is the basis for your estimate of migration from Romania and Bulgaria from 2014?
We forecast that between 30,000 and 70,000 people from Romania and Bulgaria will move to the UK in 2014 and in each of the following four years, with a central estimate of 50,000 a year. (See here) The precedent of East European immigration from 2004 provides the basis of the estimate as well as the difference in living standards between the UK and Romania and Bulgaria which is similar to the difference between the UK and Poland in 2004. We have, of course, taken into account that the rest of Europe are also opening their labour markets at the same time whereas in 2004 just the UK, Ireland and Sweden allowed A8 migrants to enjoy full access to the labour market.
In 2003 the government forecast that between 5,000 and 13,000 migrants would come from the new EU members of Eastern Europe each year. We described this estimate at the time as ‘almost worthless’ and suggested that an estimate of 40,000 migrants a year would be more realistic. This time around the government has decided against forecasting numbers, lest they make the same mistake again. We believe that it is better to have an estimate than not. We remain the only organisation to have attempted it.
Is there a serious prospect of a UK population of 70 million?
Yes, unless the government make a substantial reduction in net migration. The latest 2012-based population projections from the Office for National Statistics based on net migration continuing at a rate of 165,000 a year, show that our population will reach 70 million in 2027, of which 60% will be due directly and indirectly to this future immigration - (See here)
When the population projections were released in 2008 the last government claimed that this simply would not happen but there are substantial reasons to believe that it will. (Briefing paper 9.25).
This latest projection is based on the assumption that immigration will run at 165,000 a year. Official figures show net migration to be 212,000 in 2013. This means that if net migration continues at the present rate the population increase will be closer to the projected increase under the high migration scenario of 225,000 per year. Under this scenario the UK population is projected to reach 70 million by 2026.
Even under the ONS’s low migration assumption – which projects the population based on net migration of 105,000 each year – the population will reach 70 million in 2031, delaying the increase by just three years. (See here)
Are the ONS projections often wrong?
That depends partly on how far ahead they look. There was a famous case in 1965 when they exaggerated the likely increase. Since then, at the 20 year range, they have been accurate to about 2.5% for the past 50 years. (Briefing Paper 9.24).
Surely the recession reduced immigration?
Yes, but only temporarily. (Briefing Paper 1.21). Net migration dipped temporarily in 2008 and 2009 from the level in 2007 but seems to have recovered faster than the economy. Now EU migrants from weaker economies in Southern and Eastern Europe are arriving in the UK in larger numbers to benefit from the growing economy here.
Are economic migrants taking British jobs?
The UK labour market is large and complex with over 30 million in the work force and, of course, the total number of jobs is not fixed.
There is some anecdotal evidence of foreign workers being preferred as well as concrete evidence of job displacement. In January 2010 the independent Migration Advisory Committee found that between 1995 and 2010 160,000 British workers were displaced in the labour market by non-EU migrants. (See here)
Moreover, the labour market statistics, while not unambiguous, have shown some worrying signs. (Briefing Paper 1.22 and Briefing Paper 3.7). Official figures show that, of the increase in employment of people aged 16 and over during the period of the Labour government, 56% was accounted for by non-UK nationals and 76% by non-UK born workers. (The difference is because a number of those born outside the UK will have acquired UK citizenship during the period).
However, these trends have improved in favour of British workers. Since the coalition came to power there has been an increase in employment of 1.4 million people. Of this increase 74% is accounted for by British nationals and 50% by British born workers. (See here)
What is the point of immigration control if EU citizens are free to come and go?
According to the official statistics over the period 2000 – 2010 net migration from the EU accounted for only 20% of net foreign migration to the UK. However, this is an underestimate since the ONS have admitted that they undercounted migration from the A8 countries after Eastern European Accession in 2004 by 250,000. (See here) The figure is more likely to be around 27% and this is mostly accounted for by the rise in immigration from the A8 countries. Immigration from the A8 countries has not yet begun to decline; when Spain, Portugal and Greece joined what was then the EC, net migration declined after a period. Moreover there has been a rise in migration from the Eurozone crisis hit countries of Southern Europe and on 1 January 2014 Romanian and Bulgarian nationals gained full access to the UK labour market. We estimate that 50,000 Romanian and Bulgarian nationals will migrate to the UK each year for the next five years as there is a considerable financial incentive to do so. (Briefing Paper 4.17 and Briefing Paper 4.20)This combined with ongoing EU15 and EU8 migration is likely to mean that EU net migration will remain at around 130,000 per year for the medium term. The government therefore must look to reduce the incentives for immigration by restricting access to benefits however this would require treaty change or a change to the benefits system that would also affect Britons. It remains the case that 54% of present net migration comes from outside the EU which can be controlled.
Is net migration in the tens of thousands really feasible?
Yes - over a period of time, but not in the immediate future. EU net migration of 130,000 a year is likely in the medium term and non-EU net migration remains above 100,000. Meanwhile, British emigration has been around 60,000 a year in recent years. Thus, over the longer term net migration of the order experienced during the 1990s could be achieved if the government was to be successful in renegotiating certain aspects of European free movement.
How can you know what will happen to emigration?
The Government has no control over emigration of British citizens which is a result of their free decisions. Net migration of British citizens has been negative for many years with an average of about 80,000 more people leaving the country than entering. In 2009 and 2010 this fell to around 40,000, perhaps reflecting the recession but it has since increased. Net emigration of British citizens was 57,000 in 2013. The broad trend rate of British emigration could be used in constructing an aiming mark for immigration policy.
However emigration is also made up of EU and non-EU citizens leaving the country. While EU citizens have free movement, non-EU citizens are bound by the terms of their visa. Emigration of non-EU nationals has remained low, at around 100,000 per year over the last six years, compared to immigration of non-EU nationals of on average 300,000. Non-EU students are currently departing at just a third of the rate that they have arrived. Non-EU citizens are therefore staying on in substantial numbers, legally or otherwise.
Surely immigrants benefit our economy?
Some do of course, but their economic performance is very mixed. The previous Government claimed that immigrants add £6 billion to our economy. What they did not say is that they also add to our population in almost exactly the same proportion as they add to production. Thus the benefit to the native population is very small - an outcome confirmed by major studies in the US, Canada and Holland and in the UK by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs. This finding was recently echoed by the OECD. (See here)
The conclusion of the House of Lords study was unambiguous:
“We have found no evidence for the argument, made by the Government, business and many others, that net immigration—immigration minus emigration—generates significant economic benefits for the existing UK population”. (Abstract) Despite the claims of the immigration lobby there is no economic argument in favour of current levels of net migration.
Do migrants pay more in tax than they receive in benefits?
The House of Lords report found that “determining whether immigrants make a positive or negative fiscal contribution is highly dependent on what costs and benefits are included in the calculations… But even using the [Labour] Government’s preferred method, the fiscal impact is small compared to GDP and cannot be used to justify large-scale immigration”. (Para. 132) A recent study by academics at University College London found that while EU migrants as a whole contribute slightly more than they consume in public services, non-EU migrants do not, consuming £104 billion more in public services than they paid in taxed over the period 1995-2011. Indeed, it found that all those who have migrated since 1995 have cost the tax payer £95 billion, or about £15 million a day. We have examined this paper and have found that in fact the EU migrants’ contribution is likely to be zero since academics at UCL underestimated the level of benefits received by recent migrants. (See here)
Surely London would collapse without immigrants?
This debate is not about existing immigrant communities. Nobody is remotely suggesting that they should leave. The issue is how many more people our island can sustain.
Do we need immigration to fill vacancies?
No - there are always about half a million vacancies as people move jobs (known as “frictional” unemployment).There are about two million people in the UK registered as unemployed and there is, therefore, no shortage of labour.
Surely we need the skills that foreigners can bring?
Yes, there are skills gaps which foreigners could fill but they should do so only temporarily while British workers are trained up. The Migration Advisory Committee regularly reviews labour shortages and publishes an official list of skills gaps in the labour market. The government is moving in the right direction; a worker now has to have a salary of at least £35,000 a year to apply for permanent settlement ensuring that migrant labour is not treated as a permanent solution to skills shortages. The Confederation of British Industry themselves admit that immigration is not a long term solution to skills shortages.
Don't we need foreigners to do to the jobs that British people are unwilling to do?
No. The underlying issue is pay rates for the unskilled. (Briefing Paper 1.22). At present, the difference between unskilled pay and benefits is so narrow that, for some, it is hardly worth working. The notion that British people are unwilling to do certain jobs is not true but, for many, there is no incentive to work - in part because wages at the bottom of the scale have been held back by high levels of immigration.
Again, the House of Lords report was unambiguous:
“We do not doubt the great value of this (immigrant) workforce from overseas to UK businesses and public services. Nevertheless, the argument that sustained net immigration is needed to fill vacancies, and that immigrants do the jobs that locals cannot or will not do, is fundamentally flawed. It ignores the potential alternatives to immigration for responding to labour shortages, including the price adjustments of a competitive labour market and the associated increase in local labour supply that can be expected to occur in the absence of immigration”. (Para. 122)
Who will pick strawberries?
There is a need for seasonal unskilled labour, especially in agriculture and horticulture. However there are well over 300 million people of working age in the European Union from which the industry can recruit, although there is no reason why unemployed British workers should not and cannot also take this work.
Surely there is no harm in migrants who work and pay taxes?
There is a developing view, supported by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs, that the effect of immigration on the budget is broadly neutral in the long term. As mentioned above, they reported that:
“Determining whether immigrants make a positive or negative fiscal contribution is highly dependent on what costs and benefits are included in the calculations. Government claims that the exchequer consistently benefits from immigration rely on the children of one UK-born parent and one immigrant parent being attributed to the UK-born population—a questionable approach. But even using the Government's preferred method, the fiscal impact is small compared to GDP and cannot be used to justify large-scale immigration”. (Para. 132)
In any case, large numbers add substantially to the pressure on housing and public services which take a long time to adjust. They also add, of course, to pressures on our environment.
Is it true that in order to get net migration down we will have to close the doors to overseas students?
No. So long as they go home at the end of their studies, they do not add to population growth. Those students who can find graduate level work at a salary of £20,000 or more can stay on. The problem has been bogus colleges and students and this is the area the government is tackling. Meanwhile, it appears from the International Passenger Survey (IPS) that non-EU students are arriving at a rate of about 150,000 a year but are only leaving at 50,000 a year.
Don't we need migrants to help pay for our pensions?
This is false. Immigrants themselves grow older so the only effect, even of very large scale immigration, is to postpone by a few years the impact of an ageing population. The real answer is that, as people now live longer, they should work longer. The Turner Commission on pensions dismissed the argument that immigration would help with pensions saying that only high immigration can produce more than a trivial reduction in the projected dependency ratio over the next 50 years... and this would be only a temporary effect unless still higher levels of immigration continued in later years... This view was endorsed by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs in their report published in April 2008. They reported that:
“Arguments in favour of high immigration to defuse the "pensions time bomb" do not stand up to scrutiny as they are based on the unreasonable assumption of a static retirement age as people live longer, and ignore the fact that, in time, immigrants too will grow old and draw pensions. Increasing the official retirement age will significantly reduce the increase in the dependency ratio and is the only viable way to do so.” (Para. 158)
Surely this is a result of globalisation?
No. Globalisation of travel and communications has been occurring for some time yet countries such as Canada, Australia and the United States continue to impose a strict immigration policy. Globalisation does not preclude immigration control. Every country has the right to decide who can and cannot enter and recent high levels of net migration to the UK have been a result of conscious government decisions and/or incompetence. Net migration rose from just under 50,000 a year in 1997 to over 250,000 a year in the middle of the last decade; nearly four million foreign immigrants were admitted during the period of the Labour government.
Revised 10th July 2014