The recent increase in migration from the EU is likely to continue into the medium term throwing the government’s immigration policy off course and creating tension between the UK’s continued membership of the EU and control of our borders. That is the conclusion of a paper issued today by Migration Watch UK.
The paper, the first estimate of its kind, finds that net EU migration is now likely to run at over 100,000, perhaps 130,000 a year over the medium term. The latter is roughly the population of Manchester every four years. Meanwhile, the government’s policy has brought non EU migration down significantly from 217,000 a year to 140,000 and further falls could be achieved, especially if firm steps are taken to ensure that non EU students leave at the end of their studies. However, allowing for British emigration that has averaged 70,000 a year for many years, the resultant overall net migration is likely to be of the order of 160-200,000 a year. Immigration on such a scale would add around five million of the eight million that would be the projected increase to the population of the UK in 20 years.
One possible approach would be to negotiate with our EU partners a closure of the benefit system until a migrant had contributed for five years. The report points out that workers from Eastern Europe are on low wages which are subsidised by the British tax payer in the form of tax credits and housing benefit. As a result, a single worker from Romania or Bulgaria working on the minimum wage in the UK would earn four and a half times what he or she would earn at home. A worker with a dependant spouse and two children would earn almost nine times as much as at home. Without these in work benefits, a single worker would still be three times better off and a family two and a half times.
Such a renegotiation would be hard to achieve and would still not eliminate the incentives for workers to come from countries with a much lower standard of living. If substantial flows were to continue, there would be growing tension between continued membership of the EU and our ability to control the level of immigration.
Commenting, Sir Andrew Green, Chairman of Migration Watch UK said “The good news is that immigration from outside the EU is coming down steadily as the government have promised. The bad news is that migrants from the EU have driven the policy off course. It was crazy to have opened up our labour market and our benefit system to one hundred million people from countries with a standard of living less than a quarter of our own. There must now be a determined renegotiation”.