Sanwar Ali: additional reporting and comments
A new study claims that 100,000 more EU migrants arrived in the UK every year over the past 10 years than first thought. The latest figures also suggest that non-EU migrants were 54,000 a year lower than official estimates since 2012, according to the Migration Observatory based at Oxford University.
This is not surprising. There have been criticisms over some years that the migration figures are wrong. There have also been criticisms about who should be counted as migrants. For example there have been arguments in the past as to whether students should be considered to be long term migrants.
Overall, net UK immigration was 43,000 higher each year since 2012 – 15% more than official estimates. Meanwhile, the research seemingly indicates that government policy on immigration has been unreliable and inaccurate for a decade.
This includes former Prime Minister, David Cameron’s, much maligned effort to reduce net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’ as it was targeting non-EU migration, which turned out to be much lower than the government anticipated.
EU migration less than a third of all migration
In 2012, government data seemed to show that EU migration represented less than one-third of all immigration to the UK. In fact, EU migration accounted for more than two-thirds. Official government data on UK immigration continues to rely on the International Passenger Survey, which gets around 250,000 respondents arriving at airports every year.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) wanted to improve the way UK immigration data was collected, so instead starting using tax and benefit records.
The Migration Observatory discovered the discrepancy with EU and non-EU migration numbers by substituting the International Passenger Survey figures for the new data compiled by the ONS.
The new data shows that net EU migration was approximately 216,000 during the nine years ending March 2020. This represents a 76% rise or approximately 93,000 people.
Migration Observatory director, Madeleine Sumption, said: “This report should really boost our confidence that UK migration statistics are getting more accurate and more useful for informing the public debate. After all, data like this can have a real impact on how people think about policy.”
“After 2010 tight restrictions on non-EU migrants were significantly based on the premise that most net migration was from outside of the EU. The latest figures suggest that the real picture was quite different,” Sumption added.
Sumption also described the UK’s switch from positive to negative migration as ‘extraordinary’. She said: “The pandemic dramatically disrupted migration patterns in the UK and there has been a lot of speculation about a mass exodus of migrants from the UK.”
Migrant exodus overstated
Meanwhile, the Migration Observatory has said that claims of a COVID-driven migrant exodus from the UK have been massively overstated.
Sumption said: “There’s now a fair amount of evidence to suggest that emigration was lower than early data suggested. But what we saw in 2020 was still pretty extraordinary – after years of substantial net migration from EU countries to the UK, the trend appears to have gone into reverse.”
According to the ONS, around 50,000 people left Britain in the first three months after coronavirus struck. However, although lower than expected, the 2020 outflow of workers still represents what has been described as a ‘rare and sudden reversal in the usual influx of workers, students and travellers.
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