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UK misses immigration target again

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The UK's Office for National Statistics has released its latest immigration figures which show a rise of 15,000 in the UK's net annual immigration figure over the previous year. The net immigration figure is calculated by finding the number of people who immigrate over a certain period that is people who enter the UK on a long term basis, and then subtracting the number of people who emigrate that is leave the UK on a long term basis.

In the year to June 2013, 503,000 people came to live, study or work in the UK and 320,000 people left the UK to live elsewhere giving a net immigration figure of 182,000; up from 167,000 in the year to June 2012.

This will be a disappointment for the UK's Coalition government which has promised to cut immigration to 'tens of thousands' by 2015. The ONS has cautioned though that the rise is 'not statistically significant' because the figures are thought to be so inaccurate.

Fall in number emigrating has increased net immigration

The ONS says that the rise has been largely caused by two factors; a fall in the number of people leaving the UK and a rise in the number of people coming to the UK from within the EU. In the year to March 2013, 320,000 people left the UK; a fall of 29,000 on the 2012 figure.

At the same time, the ONS says, the number of people coming to the UK from within the EU has risen by 25,000 from 158,000 to 183,000. It is thought that this is because much of continental Europe continues to suffer from high levels of unemployment. The number of people coming from Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy increased sharply.

The number of people coming to the UK from outside the EU fell by a 'statistically significant' 40,000. The number of people coming to work with work visas such as the Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (Intra Company Transfer) visas and to study with Tier 4 visas has fell from 282,000 to 242,000.

Top five source countries

The top five countries from which people came to the UK were
  1. China
  2. India
  3. Poland
  4. US
  5. Australia
Immigration minister Mark Harper put a positive face on the news. He pointed out that the number of immigrants to the UK had actually fallen by 14,000 from 517,000 to 503,000.

He said 'we have tightened the immigration rules where abuse was rife but are still encouraging the brightest and the best to come here to study and work. Net migration has fallen by nearly a third since its peak in 2010 and across government we are working hard to bring it down further'.

Reducing immigration below 1000,000 remains government policy

A spokesman for the prime minister said that reducing the net immigration figure to below 100,000 remains government policy.

However, Sarah Mulley, of the Institute for Public Policy Research, has predicted that the government will find it extremely difficult to cut the current level of immigration any further without damaging the economy; many would say that there has already been damage to the economy.

Speaking in March 2013, she explained that the main way in which the government had managed to cut immigration from the 2010 level of 250,000 per year was by cutting the number of international students studying in the UK.

Students counted as permanent residents

Students are counted by the UK's Office for National Statistics as permanent immigrants for the purpose of immigration statistics. The Government says that this is following UN guidelines. While some students stay on at the end of their studies, most students complete their courses and then go home.

When they leave, because they were originally counted as permanent migrants, they are included in the emigration statistics.

Therefore, where you have a constant number of students arriving each year, they largely 'cancel each other out' as the number leaving is similar to the number leaving.

Cutting student numbers cuts net immigration for three years

Ms Murley explained that if you cut the number of students entering the country you will see an initial fall in the net immigration figure as the number of students leaving will be greater than the number arriving. However, after three years, the number of students leaving will also fall because fewer will be finishing their courses.

She explained that, for this reason, reducing the numbers of international students in the UK will not in the long term have much of an effect on the net immigration figure. Therefore, including students in the immigration figures is probably a bit misleading.

The UK government came to power in 2010, three years ago and immediately set about cutting the number of students entering the UK. One would expect to see a rise in the immigration figure around now if Ms Murley is correct.

'Massive gap between the rhetoric and the reality'

The Labour shadow immigration minister David Hanson MP told the BBC that the government had promised to reduce net immigration but had failed to do so. He said 'These figures expose the massive gap between the rhetoric and the reality'.

The leader of the anti-immigration UK Independence Party Nigel Farage said 'the fact that net migration going up, EU migration going up and immigration into the UK still running at over half a million per year is a damning indictment of this government's failed approach to immigration'.

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