The EU Referendum: Immigration Issues


This note provides links to fuller Migration Watch UK papers on the main issues.

Key issues

  • The renegotiation will have little impact on the current high levels of immigration from the EU so our population will continue to climb rapidly.
  • Those now being accepted in the EU as refugees will be able to bring in their families and, in 5 or 6 years, will be able to become EU citizens entitled to free movement to the UK.
  • The process of Turkey’s membership of the European Union is being ‘re-energised’ in return for assistance in stemming the migrant and refugee flow into Greece. If Turkey joined the EU 79 million people would have the right to live and work in the UK and Turkey would become a significant power in the EU.

Migration Watch UK is not taking a position on the UK’s membership of the EU. It is for the public to make up their own minds on the many issues involved. That said, polling suggests immigration is likely to feature heavily in people’s decision on whether or not to remain. See here.

Our role is to provide the facts and this page is a one stop shop with links to further reading.

1. How many EU migrants come to the UK?

Net migration (the difference between those coming to the UK to live for more than a year and those leaving) is currently 323,000. Of this 172,000 came from the EU. Around half of Europeans come from the old EU15 countries (Western Europe) and the other half from the newer Member States that joined since 2004 (mainly Poland, Romania and Bulgaria).

Net migration from the EU has more than doubled in the last five years and has increased by over tenfold since the new Eastern European members joined in May 2004. See here.

2. What is the impact of EU migration on our population?

The UK population is projected to grow by 500,000 a year, or roughly a city the size of Liverpool every year. This is the fastest rate in nearly a century. Looking further ahead it is projected to grow by nearly 8 million over the next 15 years (if net migration continues at the present rate). Around 75% of this is due to future migrants and their future children, and of course half of all foreign immigration is from the EU. To read more about population growth see here.

3. Restricting immigration in the event of Brexit would lead to a fall in GDP.

This is quite misleading. Various studies, including one from the Treasury, have found that the UK economy is projected to grow considerably whether the UK leaves or remains a member of the EU. One study found that the economy would be between 25% and 28% larger under two ‘Brexit’ scenarios but would be around 29% larger if the UK remained a member. The Brexit scenarios both assume that low skilled migration will cease thus the studies show that growth in the UK economy simply does not rely on unrestricted immigration from elsewhere in the EU. See here.

4. How many EU citizens are working in the UK?

There are 2.1 million people born in the rest of the EU currently working in the UK. Of these 880,000 are from the EU15 and 977,000 from the EU8 (Poland etc) and 213,000 from Romania and Bulgaria. See here.

5. What jobs do they do in Britain?

Around 70% of EU15 workers are in skilled jobs however three quarters of workers from Eastern Europe are in low skilled jobs. Read a full paper here.

6. What is the impact on wages?

There is evidence that immigration, particularly of low paid workers, has placed a downward pressure on the wages of those already in low pay. See here. The Bank of England has noted many times in recent months that the availability of migrant workers has eased recruitment and employee retention pressures on employers.

7. What is the economic benefit of EU migration?

The majority of major studies, including a study by the OECD, on the economic impacts of migration generally find that it has a very small impact, sometimes positive and sometimes negative depending on the health of an economy at the time. The impact of migration on GDP per capita is negligible. See our overview of the economics of migration here.

8. Will GDP fall if the UK restricts migration from the EU in the event of Brexit?

In short, no; such headlines are completely misleading. Various studies, including one from the Treasury, have found that regardless of the outcome of the referendum the UK economy is projected to grow substantially. One study found that if the UK voted to leave the economy could be between 25% and 28% larger than it is today, assuming low skilled migration ceases. This compares to the growth of 29% if the UK votes to remain a member. See here.

9. Will the ‘emergency brake’ reduce EU immigration?

It is very unlikely that the emergency brake on in-work benefits will make any significant difference to EU migration to Britain. Our research has found that 75% of EU migrants are single or childless on arrival and are not therefore entitled to any significant amount of benefits. Withdrawal of these benefits is therefore unlikely to affect a person’s decision to move to Britain which is mainly driven by very high wage differentials (especially between Eastern Europe and the UK) and the prospect of employment (unemployment is very high in certain parts of the Eurozone such as Spain). To read the full assessment of the impact of the ‘brake’ on immigration see here.

10. Would leaving the EU reduce immigration?

We believe that, in the event of an exit, the government should introduce work permits for EU workers, restricted to those in higher skilled work. Movement for tourism, study and to live self-sufficiently could remain unaffected. The result of this would be to reduce immigration from the EU by as much as 100,000 a year. For more on this see here.

11. If we voted to leave would we be obliged to accept free movement in order to have free trade with the EU?

Not necessarily. Canada and the EU have recently agreed a free trade agreement which does not entail free movement of EU citizens to Canada. See here

12. What do the public think of the present scale of migration from the EU?

Recent polling suggests immigration is one of the issues most likely to affect how people will vote in the referendum. The majority of people - 75% - also want the present scale of overall net migration to be cut, and many want it cut by a lot. To read more public opinion see here.

13. How many British citizens live in the EU?

There are 1.2 million British citizens living in another EU member state. The majority live in Spain (310,000), Ireland (255,000), France (185,000) and Germany (105,000). Many are retired self-sufficient pensioners. For more see here.

14. What would happen to British citizens living in the EU if the UK voted to leave?

It is most likely that those already living in Europe, and EU citizens already living in the UK, would retain that right under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. This treaty releases parties from future obligations but does not affect rights already acquired. This means that British citizens living abroad and EU citizens living here would be unaffected. This is backed up by research by the House of Commons Library. For more on this see here.

In any case, collective expulsions are prohibited under Article 19 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

15. Will refugee camps appear on the South Coast in the event of a British exit?

Of course not. People would simply disappear and work in the black market. See here.

France could withdraw from the treaty but they have a strong interest in its continuation – they would not have signed it otherwise. They need this major route for trade and tourism to work effectively. They would be concerned that the numbers amassing at ports in France would grow further if it was believed that it had become easier to cross the Channel to England. They would also be concerned about the impact on Eurostar trains in which they have a major shareholding. That said, it is not impossible that a future French government might, under pressure from right-wing parties, withdraw from the Treaty whether or not the UK remained in the EU.

16. What would be the effect of Turkey joining the EU?

Turkey has been a candidate country for EU membership since 1999. The process of Accession has been extremely slow. However, as a result of the migrant crisis there has been talk of a ‘re-energised’ process for Turkey to join the EU.

The UK government supports Turkish membership of the European Union, as does Donald Tusk, the President of the European Commission, and Martin Schultz, the President of the European Parliament. In the last two years both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have publicly backed Turkish membership. That said, Turkey has a considerable way to go before meeting the criteria required for membership.

If Turkey was to join the EU, it would be one of the largest member states, with a current population of 79 million. Under Qualified majority Voting in the European Council Turkey would have about the same number of votes as the UK. It would also acquire seats in the European Parliament in relation to its size and, of course, its citizens would acquire the right of free movement, including to the UK. Meanwhile, they are being offered visa free access to the “Schengen” zone.

17. What will the impact of the ‘migration crisis’ be on the UK?

The UK has largely been shielded from the crisis. However, in 2015 around 1.3 million applications for asylum were lodged in the rest of the EU. The European Commission estimate that another three million will arrive by the end of 2017. Those granted asylum (currently around half) will, after between three and six years be able to become EU citizens and will then have the right to live and work in the UK.

18. What is the impact on housing?

If net migration continues at the present scale we will need to build 135,000 homes a year just to house new migrants and their families, that is 370 a day or one every four minutes. See here.

19. What is the effect of EU migration on schools?

There are almost 700,000 children of school age (aged 5-18) in the UK who have a parent who is a citizen of another EU country. (See here)

By 2018/19 (three academic years time) there will be a shortfall in primary school places in three out of every five local authorities. This means that many disappointed parents will not get their first choice of school for their children.

In addition to this, a quarter of all births in England and Wales are to non-UK born women and of these one third are to mothers born in the EU. In 2014 64,000 children were born to EU born mothers and these children will need school places in four to five years time. For more on this see here.

20. What is the impact of EU immigration on the NHS?

EU migrants are generally younger and therefore healthier than the average person but they will call on the NHS in terms of GP and accident and emergency care.

They also place particular pressure on maternity services, with 64,000 births to EU born women in 2014. Almost one in every ten babies born in the UK has a mother born in the EU. See here.

In addition, there is a considerable disparity between the amount that the NHS gets paid by other Member States for EU citizens accessing the NHS while visiting the UK and the amount paid by the government for healthcare of British citizens accessing healthcare in Europe. In 2014/15 other EU member states reimbursed the NHS £50 million however the UK government paid out £674 million for healthcare of British citizens overseas. See here.

9th May 2016

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