Statistical failures should not obscure the huge gulf between politicians and the public over immigration


By Alp Mehmet
Chairman of Migration Watch UK
Daily Telegraph, 22 August, 2019 

The public will rightly approach the new immigration figures, which estimate that 226,000 more long-term migrants moved here than departed in the year ending March 2019, with a healthy dose of scepticism.

That is only natural in the wake of an admission by the Office for National Statistics that they underestimated net arrivals from the EU by nearly a quarter of a million, while overestimating non-EU net migration by 170,000.

As Ministers make various announcements, for instance on ending free movement and bringing in an Australian points-based visa system, it is worth remembering that just 17 per cent of the public trust the government to tell them the truth on this issue either all or most of the time.

It is in everyone’s interest that the measurement of immigration be accurate, not least to allow for proper planning. For this reason, work by the ONS to use an array of sources (including tax records, NHS data, exit checks and visa records) to gain a more complete picture is very welcome.

But why is this only being done now? There have been doubts about the methods of capturing data at the border for some time.

The latest statistics (now labelled ‘experimental’) underline what the public already know anyway – that mass immigration continues unabated.

A net total of 226,000 people arriving in the space of a year is a figure that would have been considered astonishing prior to Labour’s loosening of immigration controls in the late 1990s.

It’s equal to the population of Portsmouth arriving in the course of twelve months. It means a continuation of rapid population growth in what has become the most crowded large country in Europe.

With net migration at this level, averaging about 250,000 per year over the past decade, the UK population is projected to rise by 7.7 million over the next 20 years. 6.6 million of that growth would be linked to immigration – equivalent to six cities the size of Birmingham.

Growth on this scale cannot but add hugely to pressure on housing, GP services, schools and worsen congestion on roads and trains. No wonder large tracts of green countryside are disappearing before our very eyes.

The ONS’s admission also means that overall net migration seems to have hit an even higher all-time record than was previously thought – 342,000 in 2015 (rather than the original record of 336,000 in the year to June 2016), even if net migration appears to have been slightly lower than originally thought since 2016.

Some suggest that the adjustments mean that previous government efforts to tighten the student visa system were made on the basis of inaccurate numbers. That may or may not be true. However, it overlooks the fact that such policies were implemented in the wake of massive abuse of the system by both bogus students and bogus colleges, 1,000 of which were closed down.

Meanwhile, new visa statistics confirm that highly-skilled non-EU workers continue to come to the UK in significant numbers. However, many people will want to know why the government and other employers have so mishandled and underfunded skills provision that the UK needs to recruit nurses, doctors, scientists and architects in such numbers from abroad, often from countries that need them more than we do.

Key questions are:

  • What plans do ministers have to double down on investing in UK talent as the Migration Advisory Committee said they should back in 2016?
  • And why isn’t more being done to encourage employers to raise wages and improve conditions and productivity rather than continuing to rely on hiring (often lower-paid) workers from abroad?

As these and other debates persist, mass immigration will continue to impact on people’s lives in a large variety of ways.

About three in five of the public wish to see immigration levels cut (see our paper: MW464 - Evidential basis for MWUK’s ‘30 Million’ claim). However, the new government appears (as yet) to have no plan to deliver on its own repeated promises to seriously curtail the level of net arrivals.

That has to change soon, or the government will find the electorate very unforgiving if it is let down yet again on promises to reduce migration levels.

For more on this, please read our paper, 'Possible undercounting of EU and overcounting of non-EU net migration'.



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