Frequently Asked Questions

Please note that this page dates from August 2015 and is currently in the process of being updated.

Does the government still intend to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands?

The government was unsuccessful in reducing net migration to the tens of thousands in the last Parliament, mainly because EU migration (over which they have no direct control) more than doubled during that time. Net migration is currently over 300,000 a year so there remains a considerable distance to go. That said, the government has said that it still intends to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, although this has been downgraded from a promise to an ambition.

Is net migration in the tens of thousands really feasible?

Yes - over a period of time, but not in the immediate future and certainly not by the end of this Parliament. EU net migration of 130,000 a year is likely in the medium term and non-EU net migration is nearly 200,000. Meanwhile, British emigration has been around 60,000 a year in recent years. Over the longer term, however, net migration of the order experienced during the 1990s could be achievable provided that the government succeeds in renegotiating certain aspects of European free movement.

What is the point of a net migration target if the government cannot control EU migration?

The government has no means of controlling the number of EU citizens who come to the UK to live, work or study because they have the right to free movement throughout the EU.

That said, a net migration target is extremely important for focusing immigration policy migrants from from outside the EU, which over the period of 2000-2010 accounted for approximately 70% of net foreign migration. While EU migration is now around half of net foreign migration, this is by no means a reason to abandon attempts to control its overall level.

Retaining a target also ensures that the debate continues on the level of migration that the UK can cope with.

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 56,000 in 2014. 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.

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 would move to the UK in 2014 and in each year to 2019, with a central estimate of 50,000 a year. (See here) The precedent of East European immigration from 2004 provides the basis for the estimate, including 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 opened 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 round the government 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.

Preliminary statistics suggest that our estimate is correct with the net migration statistics showing that net migration from Romania and Bulgaria was 46,000 in 2014.

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 2028, of which 60% will be due directly and indirectly to this future immigration - (See here)

While the latest projections are based on the assumption that immigration will run at 165,000 a year, the official figures show net migration now to be almost double that.

Over the last ten years net migration has averaged 240,000 per year. If it continues at this rate then the population will reach 70 million in around 2023.

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. (See 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. (See here and here) 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).

These trends have continued. Over the last Parliament the number of UK born people in employment rose by 908,000, while the number of non-UK born people in employment rose by 976,000, 51% of the total rise in employment.

Surely immigrants benefit our economy?

Some do, of course, but their economic performance is very mixed. Some groups of migrants perform particularly well in the labour market compared to the British born workers whereas some perform less well. (See here)

In the 2000s the then Labour 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 was 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 all migrants had received between £115 billion and £160 billion more in public services than they had paid in tax over the period 1995-2011. This amounts to between £18.5 and £26 billion a year. Claims that recent EU migrants had paid more than they had received underestimate 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 1.8 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 in the labour market and companies can recruit from outside of Europe if the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has identified a skills shortage. The MAC regularly reviews shortages and publishes the official labour market shortage list.

In recent years there has not been enough focus on the training of existing workers to fill skills shortages. Bringing in labour from outside should be a temporary solution. 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. (See here) It used to be the case that the difference between low skilled pay and benefits was so narrow that, for some, it was hardly worth working. This is starting to change as the government withdraws benefits, so as to encourage people back into work.

The notion that British people are unwilling to do certain jobs is not true but, for many, there has been 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 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)

Academics at UCL found the the fiscal impact of immigration between 1995-2011 was negative and that all migrants had consumed between £115 and £160 billion more in public services than they had paid in taxes (between £18.5 and £26 million a day). So while immigrants pay income tax and national insurance, they also consume public services such as the NHS and benefits.

Moreover, 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. They have, for example, closed 750 bogus colleges. 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 and healthier lives, 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 that ‘this would be only a temporary effect unless still higher levels of immigration continued in later years’. (See here)

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 may and may not enter; recent high levels of net migration to the UK have been a result of conscious government decisions and a measure of 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 21st August 2015

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