Cameron: UK can hit 'tens of thousands' immigration target

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The UK's Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted that the UK can still reduce net immigration to below 100,000 a year by the time of the general election in May 2015. He said that this was 'perfectly feasible' but admitted that immigration has not yet come down as much as he would have liked.

In 2010, as leader of the opposition, Mr Cameron appeared on the BBC's Sunday morning politics show, The Andrew Marr Show. On the show, he pledged that, if he were to become Prime Minister after the 2010 general election, he would reduce immigration from its then rate of about 250,000 per year to 'tens of thousands' a year. This has always been taken to mean below 100,000 per year.

Mr Cameron's Conservative Party did not win the election outright but became the largest party in parliament. Mr Cameron is now the UK's Prime Minister at the head of a Coalition government formed by the Conservatives and the centrist Liberal Democrats.

Initial success

The Home Office, run by Conservative Theresa May, has introduced numerous changes to the UK's immigration system designed to cut immigration. Initially, it had some success. By September 2013, the annual net immigration figure had fallen from around 250,000 annually to about 150,000 annually.

Mr Cameron said, at that time, that the Coalition was on track to meet the 'tens of thousands' target. However, since then, the net immigration figure has been rising. Immigration in the year to March 2014 was up to 212,000 and some commentators have suggested that it may climb back to the 2010 level by the time of the election.

But Mr Cameron told the House of Commons Liaison Committee, 'We have brought net migration into the UK down by a fifth under this Government'. He said that this was 'not as much as I'd like' and gave the following explanation;

EU migrants

'The figures have been altered by the fact that in the last couple of years, because our economy has been growing more rapidly than the other European economies, we've seen an increase in the number of people coming from EU countries to the United Kingdom'.

Mr Cameron is correct. The latest employment figures from the UK's Office for National Statistics suggest that the number of foreign nationals from outside the EU fell very slightly in the year from March 2013 to March 2014.

But the number of foreign nationals from EU countries rose by 199,000 over the same period.

EU nationals have right to work in UK

Because the UK is a member of the EU, foreign nationals from other EU can easily work in the UK thanks to 'free movement of labour' in the EU.

It was for this reason that many migration experts have been predicting since 2010 that it was not within the prime minister's power to keep his promise.

They warned that, even if the government were to cut non-EU immigration to zero, hundreds of thousands of people could come to live in the UK from within the EU and these would increase the net-immigration figure.

Net immigration

The net immigration figure is calculated by taking the number finding the number of migrants arriving in the country over any given period (immigrants) and subtracting the number of migrants leaving the country over the same period (emigrants). (For the purpose of the net immigration figure 'migrant' means anyone who intends to stay in the UK for twelve months or longer).

For this reason, the net immigration figure is also affected by the number of people emigrating. If the number of people emigrating falls, then the net immigration figure will rise. And if the number of people emigrating rises, the net immigration figure will fall.

In November 2010, Mr Cameron claimed 'If you look at the big picture, actually immigration between Britain and the rest of the EU is pretty much in balance'. The recent figures show that, if this was ever the case, it is not anymore.

Cameron 'did not understand how immigration statistics are calculated'

Sanwar Ali of said 'I can only assume that Mr Cameron did not understand how immigration statistics are calculated when he made his promise in 2010.

'If he had realised how little power he would have over the total annual net immigration figure, it would have been a very strange promise to make'.

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