What is the problem?


1. The formation of the coalition government in 2010 changed the political context of the immigration debate. There is now a government which has a stated aim of reducing net migration to “tens of thousands” per year.

2. Labour figures such as the leader Ed Miliband and the Shadow Home Secretary continue to admit that their party lost peoples’ trust over the issue of immigration. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/nickrobinson/2011/04/ed_miliband_we.html. However, as yet Labour has only offered a few policies that amount to tinkering around the edges and has not set out its own immigration policy.

3. The essence of the problem remains - namely that governments have lost control over our borders during the past fifteen years. This has resulted in immigration on a scale that is placing huge strain on our public services, housing, environment, society and quality of life. This note outlines the problem with reference to relevant Briefing Papers.

4. In recent years the focus of attention, particularly by the BBC, has been on migrants from the new Eastern European members of the EU. There has indeed been a massive inflow of migrants from Eastern Europe; by 2012 the number of people born in Eastern Europe but resident in the UK had risen to 1 million.[1] (Briefing Paper 4.9). The economic incentives for migration to the UK from Poland are significant – Polish families are able to increase their living standard by as much as four times by moving to the UK. Families from Romania and Bulgaria can increase their incomes by eight and nine times respectively by taking a job at the minimum wage in the UK. (Briefing Paper 4.15 and 4.20). The lifting of transitional controls in January 2014 will open the labour market to Romanian and Bulgarian citizens and is a serious concern since it has the potential to undermine the government’s efforts to reach their net migration target. We estimate that immigration from Romania and Bulgaria together will be between 30,000 and 70,000 per year for the next five years, with a central estimate of 50,000 per year. (Briefing Paper 4.17) That said, migration from the whole of the EU accounted for only around one third of net migration under the Labour government. Net migration from countries outside the EU has averaged 200,000 a year for the past ten years. Net migration has fallen under the coalition government however it remains unsustainably high at 176,000 in 2012.

5. Asylum is periodically back in the news but the number of asylum claims is small compared to immigration as a whole. In 2012, just under 20,000 asylum claims were made to the Home Office –a tenth of net migration.[2]

6. The recession has had a modest impact on migration to the UK for the purpose of work. Work permits have dipped since 2008 but the high unemployment rate in Britain, particularly amongst the age group 16-24s, remains a concern. This reduction in demand for work permits is likely to be only a temporary phenomenon; after the last three recessions immigration resumed its strong upward trend. (Briefing Paper 1.21).

The scale of immigration

7. The 2011 Census has revealed the true extent of immigration under Labour. From mid-1997 to mid-2010 net foreign immigration was nearly 4 million rather than the 3.4 million previously recorded. (Briefing Paper 9.32) Despite the recession and the introduction of the “tough” new Points Based System, net foreign immigration has remained high and has only recently begun to fall. Net migration for 2012 was 176,000. This means that the coalition government has reduced net migration by a third from its peak of 252,000 in 2010 yet it remains far higher than at any time in our history. (Briefing Paper 6.1).

The impact of immigration

8. The major impact is on population. The independent Office for National Statistics (ONS) projects that the population of the UK will reach 70 million in 2027 compared to 63.7 today and that the population will increase by almost 10 million over the next 25 years. Nearly all of the increase will be in England. 60% will be due to immigration, either directly or indirectly[3]

9. The Census surprised even demographers by revealing that fewer than half – 45% - of Londoners were white British, down from 58% in 2001. This showed just how high immigration had been in the last decade and how rapidly communities were changing. The foreign born resident population of England and Wales had risen by 3 million to 7.5 million or one in eight in 2011.

10. The latest government household projections show that immigration will account for 36% of all new households in the next 20 years.[4]

11. Meanwhile, it has been estimated that in primary and secondary schools in England there are 702,000 pupils who spoke at least 300 different languages. See Briefing Paper 2.7.

12. The NHS budget will be put under further pressure by the opening up of the NHS to anyone in the UK, whether their stay is legal or not. The latest guidance issued in July 2012 opens up primary NHS care to visitors and illegal immigrants.(Briefing Paper 5.11) The government has introduced a Bill that will charge workers and students a health levy of a few hundred pounds to use the NHS. This however does nothing to protect the taxpayer from funding expensive secondary care for people not resident in the UK.

Economic benefit

13. Clearly some migrants bring economic benefit to the UK but, taken as a whole, what they add to production is counter balanced by their addition to the population. The only major inquiry ever conducted in the UK was carried out by the Select Committee on Economic Affairs of the House of Lords in 2007/08. In April 2008 they reported that "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." As regards the contribution of migrants to the Exchequer, they concluded that "The overall fiscal impact of immigration is likely to be small, though this masks significant variations across different immigrant groups." See http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldselect/ldeconaf/82/8202.htm

14. It is noteworthy that the House of Lords endorsed most of the arguments put forward by Migration Watch UK (Briefing Paper 1.18 and Briefing Paper 1.20).

15. The findings of the House of Lords Select Committee have recently been echoed by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) which found in its annual report that ‘estimates of the fiscal impact of immigration vary, although in most countries it tends to be small in terms of GDP and is around zero on average across OECD countries.’[5]

16. A report by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research stated in 2011 that it expected the medium term economic benefit of migration from the eight East European accession countries to be “negligible”.[6]

17. A report by UCL found that between 1995 and 2011 migrants in the UK received £95 billion more in services and benefits than they contributed in taxes. Breaking this figure down, EEA migrants contributed £9 billion more than they consumed whereas non-EEA migrants consumed £104 billion more than they contributed.[7]

The components of immigration

18. The major components are:

  1. Economic migration
    The Labour government trebled the number of work permits issued from 43,000 in 1997 to 124,000 in 2008. Dependants are additional. A total of 112,707 work permits were issued in 2009, falling to 113,914 in 2010 and 105,240 in 2011. In 2012, 102,900 work permits were issued. This dip in numbers coincides with the economic downturn, which historically affects migration patterns, suggesting that the Points Based System introduced in 2008 has had little effect in reducing immigration to the UK; indeed, that was not its purpose. The coalition government has now capped work permits but with the exclusion of Intra Company Transfers. Despite this cap work migration remains open with no numerical limits on the number of investors and entrepreneurs that can come to the UK. While the government seeks to reduce net migration it also seeks to attract the world’s brightest and best. (Briefing Paper 1.35)
  2. Family reunion
    The Labour government changed the rules in June 1997 so as, in effect, to permit marriage to be used as a means of immigration. The numbers rose by 50% to more than 40,000 per year between 2005 and 2007; they later fell but remained much higher than in the period prior to the abolition of the Primary Purpose Rule. In 2012 the government tightened up the rules on family reunion, including introducing a minimum income threshold of £18,600 per year to ensure that family reunion is not a burden on the taxpayer. In 2012 31,500 people were granted spouse visas.[8]
  3. Asylum
    The government have sought to tighten the system and have made a number of improvements. However, they are still not removing all those whose applications and appeals have failed so the pool of illegal immigrants continues to grow. In 2012 just under 22,000 applications for asylum were submitted, with a success rate of 36%. Removals remain worryingly low – in 2012 just 4,919 failed asylum seekers were removed from the UK, compared to 2009 when 6,432 were removed. It is not generally realised that the majority of cases are refused even after appeals have been taken into account. Cohort analysis shows that the percentage of claimants granted asylum or other forms of protection varied form 32% to 35% from 2005 to 2009. More recent data shows that in 2012 there were 19,140 asylum decisions, 36% of which were successful. In the same year, 27% of appeals were successful. It is not possible to calculate the total success rate of asylum applications in 2012.
  4. Students
    For many years students have comprised the largest group of entrants to the UK each year. In 2010 and 2011 non-EU students, non-EU student visitors (allowed to stay for up to eleven months) and their dependants totalled over half a million. Genuine students who come to study and return home upon completion of their courses do not contribute to net migration and hence to population increase but others will stay on legally through the marriage or work routes. The government has cracked down on bogus colleges and has introduced student interviews in high risk parts of the world, bringing the UK into line with its international competitors. Non-EU Student visa grants to have fallen considerably from 237,000 in 2011 to 193,000 in 2012 yet importantly this fall has occurred in the college sector rather than the university sector; this was expected given the abuse at further education establishments.. [9] Data has recently been made available which shows that just 49,000 non-EU students left the country in 2012; this is just 36% of the average inflow in each of the previous five years. This initial data suggests that students are not going home either because they are staying on legally to work or marry or are staying on illegally. (Briefing Paper 2.25)

Illegal immigration

19. There are three main sources of illegal immigration:

  1. Illegal Entrants
    Those who clandestinely cross the borders e.g. on the back of a lorry.
  2. Visa Overstayers
    People who stay on in the UK after their legal leave to remain has expired. These can be visitors, students or those on work visas. In the autumn of 2009 the press reported extensive exploitation of the student visa system, notably on the Indian sub-continent and, in February 2010, the government temporarily suspended applications from posts in China, India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Migration Watch UK has estimated that there are around 32,000 bogus students coming to the UK every year, at a cost to the taxpayer of between £326 million and £493 million. (Briefing Paper 2.10). The weaknesses of the student visa system are described in Briefing Paper 2.3.
  3. Failed Asylum Seekers
    Those whose claim of asylum has been rejected but who the authorities have failed to remove.

20. In June 2005, a government commissioned study gave a central estimate of the number of illegal immigrants of 430,000. Migration Watch updated this to 475,000. (Briefing Paper 11.6). In March 2009, a study by the London School of Economics suggested a central estimate of 618,000 of which 442,000 were thought to be in London. Migration Watch UK updated the UK estimate to 1.1 million. (Briefing Paper 11.22). The government continue to be opposed to an amnesty - for good reasons. (Briefing Paper 11.7 and Briefing Paper 11.28).

Policy of Previous Government

21. The massive increase in immigration since 1997 was not the result of "globalisation". It was the result of deliberate acts and omissions by the previous government. (Briefing Paper 9.22). Documents recently released by the Coalition government demonstrate that the Labour government decided not to publish research which they had commissioned which showed some negative effects of immigration. See http://www.communities.gov.uk/statements/corporate/legacyresearchimmigration.

22. The Labour government claimed, correctly, to be introducing the most far-reaching reforms to the immigration system for more than a generation. Unfortunately, they are neither "tough" nor "Australian style". The Australian immigration system starts with a limit and selects within it. The “Points based System” has no limits and was not intended to have any. (Briefing Paper 3.3). Migration Watch UK have made proposals for toughening this system. (Briefing Paper 3.5).

Coalition Policy

23. Although the coalition agreement makes no mention of an overall target range for net immigration, the government does, in practice, have a target of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament. At a joint press conference with Nick Clegg on 20 May 2010 launching the coalition policy document, the Prime Minister said:

"In terms of immigration, what you can see is that there's a cap going to be put in place and, yes, that is with the ambition of getting to levels of net migration that were prevalent in the 80s and 90s, which is tens of thousands not hundreds of thousands."

24. The Queen’s Speech included the following passage:

"The government has agreed that there should be an annual limit on the number of non-EU economic migrants admitted into the UK to live and work.  This is one of the ways we will reduce net migration back to the levels of the 1990s - tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands."

25. Theresa May, the Home Secretary has repeatedly reiterated the government’s promise to get net migration down to the tens of thousands by the end of the Parliament including during a speech delivered to the Conservative Party Conference in 2013 in which she set out the reasons why a robust immigration policy should be in place. [10] Some of her arguments reflected those which had previously been made by Migration Watch UK.

26. The coalition government has implemented an annual cap on some non-EU economic migration as a means of reducing net migration; this cap, set at 20,700 per year, limits the number of people who can be sponsored by their employer to come to work in the UK came into force on 6 April 2011. Only about half the quota has been issued.

27. The government has also introduced new measures to tackle widespread abuse of the student visa system, including ensuring that all colleges are ‘highly trusted’ and restricting the right to work of some students. The government has also rolled out an extensive system of student interviews to prevent abuse.

28. In 2012 the government introduced more stringent requirements for those wishing to bring in family members. Elderly parents can only enter the UK if no one is able to look after them in their own country. Sponsors of spouses now have to prove a minimum income of £18,600 to ensure that the spouse does not become a burden on the tax payer.

29. The almost automatic link between work permits and settlement that existed under Labour has now been broken. Only those earning over £35,500 will be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain.

30. The government has presented an Immigration Bill before Parliament that seeks to reduce illegal immigration by making it more difficult to rent a property, access a bank account and get a driving licence. The Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent in the spring of 2014.

What should be done?

31. The House of Lords Economic Committee recommended that the government should have an explicit and reasoned target range for net immigration and adjust its immigration policies in line with that broad objective. This is broadly what they are now seeking to do.

32. The broad objective should be to achieve "Balanced Migration" - that is to bring the level of immigration down towards the level of emigration. This is the objective of the Cross Party Group established in September 2008. A fuller account of their proposals can be found at www.balancedmigration.org.

33. See also “What can be done?” on this web site

Updated 14 April 2014

1 Annual Population Survey, ONS, http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/.../population-by-country-of-birth-and-nationality-tables-january-2012-to-december-2012.xls
2 https://www.gov.uk/...s/immigration-statistics-april-to-june-2013/immigration-statistics-april-to-june-2013
3 http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_334073.pdf
4 http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/statistics/pdf/1780763.pdf, p. 8. 5 OECD Reference, International Migration Outlook 2013, p. 125.
6 NIESR, ‘Labour mobility within in EU – The impact of enlargement and the functioning of the transitional arrangements’, April 2011, URL: http://www.niesr.ac.uk/pdf/270411_143310.pdf
7 Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration, ‘The Fiscal Effects of Immigration to the UK’, November 2013, URL: http://www.cream-migration.org/publ_uploads/CDP_22_13.pdf
8 Home Office Statistics, Quarter 4 2012, Table be.04.
9 NAO, ‘Immigration: The Points Based System – Student Route’, March 2012, URL: http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/1012/points_based_immigration.aspx and UKBA, ‘Overseas Students in the Immigration System: Types of Institution and Levels of Study’ December 2010, URL: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/.../pbs-tier-4/overseas-students-report.pdf
10 Theresa May, URL: http://www.conservativepartyconference.org.uk/Speeches/2013_Theresa_May.aspx

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