27 August 2011

UK Immigration

The latest report from the UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows immigration figures for 2010 at much the same as 2009, but a 21% increase in net immigration because of a significant reduction in emigration. All the national papers covered this story, but the ones I looked at all misrepresented the data to a greater or lesser extent. This is the norm for newspapers I find, so I usually try to go back to the original data. Surprisingly, and despite the fact that it is a major story in all the newspapers, the data is difficult to find on the ONS web site. When you do find it, the figures show that immigration for the last seven years shows no overall trend. The actual figures in thousands are 589, 567, 596, 574, 590, 567, 575; the last two show an increase in 2010 over 2009 of 1.4%.

Unfortunately coverage of immigration in some newspapers is coloured by an unattractive xenophobic agenda, which invariably leads to widespread misrepresentation of the data. The Daily Express, for example, claimed the 21% increase was on immigration rather than net immigration. To be fair both the Express and the Mail quoted the correct figures in the bodies of their articles, but how many of their readers would have noticed this?

The Coalition may be regretting targetting a reduction in net immigration as they have no real control over emigration. I believe that in practice it will be difficult to make significant reductions in immigration levels because so many people have legitimate cases. The Government cannot do anything about EU immigration, so it is concentrating on capping non-EU immigration. Despite what many tabloid newspapers claim, immigration controls are very tight in the UK, and potential immigrants, who are not coming to study or for family reasons (for example marriage visas), have to show they have a job or can otherwise support themselves. It is likely that capping non-EU numbers will simply result in increased immigration from the EU.

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