18 Bogus Arguments for Mass Immigration

Key Facts 12.4

  1. Introduction
  2. Immigration provides great economic benefit
  3. Immigrants are no problem as they work hard and pay taxes
  4. Britain is only the 39th most crowded country in the world.
  5. The public are not really as opposed to immigration as they seem.
  6. Population projections are unreliable
  7. The government’s immigration target is unachievable because EU and British migration cannot be controlled
  8. Net migration of 150,000 per year would be satisfactory
  9. The NHS would collapse without immigrants
  10. Migrants do not take social housing
  11. Immigrants are needed to pay our pensions
  12. Immigration will help pay off Britain’s debt
  13. Immigration has no effect on jobs
  14. Immigration makes no different to wages
  15. Britain is a nation of immigrants
  16. Curbing immigration would prevent the Nobel winners of the future migrating to the UK
  17. Immigration is vital for our economic recovery
  18. Foreign students are an important sector of the economy

1. Introduction

This paper outlines the many myths that are put forward by the mass immigration lobby in support of the current levels of immigration and dispels each myth in turn.

2. ‘Immigration provides great economic benefit’

For many years the government claimed that immigration added £6 billion a year to GDP. However, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee[1], reporting in April 2008, said that what mattered was GDP per head. They concluded that:

“We have found no evidence for the argument, made by the government, business and many others, that net immigration generates significant economic benefits for the existing UK population”.

In January 2012 the Migration Advisory Committee[2] went further. They said that even GDP per head exaggerated the benefit of immigration because:

“It is the immigrants themselves rather than the extant residents who are the main gainers”.

They suggested that the GDP of residents should be the main focus.

They recognised that the resident population would gain via any “dynamic effects” of skilled immigration on productivity and innovation – these “exist and may be large, but they are elusive to measure”.

In their annual Fiscal Sustainability Report, the Office for Budgetary Responsibility concluded in August 2013:

“In our attempt to summarise the vast literature on the impact of immigration on the labour market and productivity we have not found definitive evidence on the impact of immigrants on productivity and GDP. Most of the literature seems to indicate that immigrants have a positive, although not significant, impact on productivity and GDP”.[3]

As regards EU migration, a study by the NIESR in 2011 found that the medium term impact of A8 migration (Poland et al) was expected to be “negligible”[4]

3. ‘Immigrants are no problem as they work hard and pay taxes’

Many do work hard but the impact on the budget is very small. According to the House of Lords Economic Committee “the fiscal impact [of immigration] is small compared to GDP and cannot be used to justify large-scale immigration”.

It should also be noted that many immigrants pay very little tax. The MAC calculated that a worker with a partner who was not working and who had no children would have to earn more than £25,700 a year to pay net tax. (MAC, Para 5.6[5])

A recent study 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.[6] Their press release, however, focussed on a £22 billion fiscal contribution by EU migrants between 2001 and 2011. This works out at a benefit to the resident population of about 66p per head per week.

4. ‘Britain is only the 39th most crowded country in the world’

93% of immigrants go to England so England is what matters in this context. Together with Holland, England is the sixth most crowded country in the world if you exclude islands and city states.

5. ‘The public are not really as opposed to immigration as they seem’

The British Social Attitudes Survey has found that 77% of the public wish to see immigration reduced, 56% by a lot. The majority of first and second generation migrants agree, with 60% answering that migration to the UK should be reduced.[7] The public are not opposed to immigrants, but they are opposed to immigration on the current scale. Public opinion is very clear on this issue.

6. ‘Population projections are unreliable’

Projections become less reliable as the length of the projection period increases. However, over the last 50 years, the ONS have been accurate to +/- 2½% in their projections over a 25 year period.[8]

The UK population is projected to increase from 63.7 million today to 73.2 million in 2037. Some 4.2 million of this increase will be directly due to immigration and 1.6 million of this is indirectly the result of immigration, i.e. the children of future migrants. In percentage terms 60% of projected population growth is attributable to future immigration, directly (43%) or indirectly (16%).[9]

Of the overall population increase of 9.5 million over the next 25 years, some 5.8 million will be directly or indirectly due to immigration. This number is equivalent to the current populations of Birmingham, Leeds. Glasgow, Sheffield, Bradford, Liverpool, Manchester, Cardiff, Leicester, Belfast, Southampton and Oxford.

7. ‘The government’s immigration target is unachievable because EU and British migration cannot be controlled’

Net foreign migration was nearly 4 million between mid-1997 and mid-2011, two thirds of which came from outside the EU and can therefore be controlled. Over the decade to 2010, British emigration and EU immigration broadly cancelled each other out. Non EU net migration has averaged about 200,000 over the same period – hence the target. Looking ahead, non EU net migration is falling steadily in response to government policy while net migration from the EU is increasing. It remains to be seen what happens to net migration from the EU. Meanwhile, there is no doubt that the existence of the target has provided a very valuable focus for government policy.

8. ‘Net migration of 150,000 per year would be satisfactory’

On the contrary, immigration on this scale would simply postpone the population reaching 70 million by 4 years to 2031, after which the population would continue to rise very rapidly.[10]

9. ‘The NHS would collapse without immigrants’

Probably but, obviously, no one is suggesting that they should be expelled. In fact, even at the peak of arrivals, medical staff were never more than 5% of immigration. The reason they were needed is that we failed to train our own staff. Other major countries in Europe have only about 5 or 6% of foreign qualified doctors, whereas we have more like 30%.[11]

10. ‘Migrants do not take social housing’

It is often said that migrants do not occupy social housing. While most do live in private rentals, official data shows that in 2010-11, 8.4 percent of social housing in England is occupied by non-UK nationals.[12] These are migrants who have not been here long enough to become British citizens or who have not bothered to do so. In London at least one in ten new social housing properties is allocated to a foreign national and in some boroughs the figure is far higher.[13]

11. ‘Immigrants are needed to pay our pensions’

This is a ludicrous argument which even the Labour government dropped. The reality is that immigrants themselves grow older so that there would have to be a continuing and increasing inflow of immigrants to have any long-term effect. The Turner Commission[14] on pensions put it like this:

“Only high immigration can produce more than a trivial reduction in the projected dependency ratio over the next 50 years”

They calculated that even net migration of 300,000 a year would produce only a temporary effect unless still higher levels of immigration continued in later years.

12. ‘Immigration will help pay off Britain’s debt’

The claim is that without immigration public sector net debt will rise to 187% of GDP by the middle of the century, up from 74% today.[15] This is based on the misleading Office for Budget Responsibility’s Fiscal Sustainability Report[16] of 2013 in which they compare the impossible scenario of ‘natural change’ (which would require no movement in or out of the country), against more reasonable estimates of net migration over time. Net migration of the order of 140,000 a year would lead to a ratio of around 100% yet also adds 15 million to our population by mid-century. This also fails to take into account the cost of additional infrastructure spending for the larger population and, in any case, only delays the problem of debt since immigrants also grow old.[17] It is well recognised that immigration is not a sustainable solution to an ageing society unless immigration is allowed to continue indefinitely and, indeed, increase continuously.[18]

13. ‘Immigration has no effect on jobs’

The Migration Advisory Committee reported in January 2012 that 100 additional non-EU migrants might be associated with a reduction in employment of 23 native workers over the period 1995-2010.[19] (This faded over 5 years and did not apply to EU workers). There is considerable anecdotal evidence of job displacement in key sectors such as construction, hospitality and retail.

14. ‘Immigration makes no different to wages’

According to the Migration Advisory Committee the majority of studies estimate that migrants have little impact on average wages but there is an impact on wage distribution in the UK. The majority of studies find that migrants increased wages at the top of the wage distribution but reduced them at the bottom.[20]

15. ‘Britain is a nation of immigrants’

Census data shows that in 1851 the UK had a very small foreign born population, with just 100,000 people (1.5% of the population) born overseas. By 1951 this figure had reached 4.3% of the population.

Then, in just ten years from 2001 to 2011, the foreign born population of England and Wales increased by nearly three million to 7.5 million or from 9% to 13% of the population.[21]

16. ‘Curbing immigration would prevent the Nobel winners of the future migrating to the UK’

There is no evidence to back this up. The first Nobel prizes were awarded in 1901 with the first Nobel Prize being awarded to a Briton the following year. Since the inception of the Nobel Prize, there have been 97 winners from Britain. Of those 97, 20 were born abroad, of which 7 had British heritage i.e. their parents were British. Of the remaining 13, 5 came to the UK as refugees and the remaining 8 came to the UK to continue with their academic careers with the exception of one who came to study his undergraduate degree in the UK. Therefore, not one Nobel Laureate would have conceivably have been prevented from coming to the UK as a result of the kind of immigration controls now proposed.

17. ‘Immigration is vital for our economic recovery’

Yes. But this need not conflict with immigration control.[22] International companies are free to post senior staff in and out of Britain as they choose. Companies can also apply for work permits for skilled workers. These are “capped” at 20,700 a year but, so far only about half this number have been taken up. Nor are there any limits on recruitment from about 500 million citizens of the EU.

18. ‘Foreign students are an important sector of the economy’

Yes, provided they are genuine. They will usually go home at the end of their course and will not add to net migration. Bogus students do not, of course, go home. That is why strong measures are being taken to tighten up the issue of student visas.[23] The latest immigration figures suggest that the number of non-EU students leaving Britain is only about one third of the average number who arrived in the previous five years.[24]

Updated 28 January, 2014


  1. House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs, The Economic Impact of Immigration, April 2008, URL: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldselect/ldeconaf/82/82.pdf
  2. Migration Advisory Committee, Analysis of the Impacts of Migration, January 2012,URL: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/.../01-analysis-report/analysis-of-the-impacts
  3. Office for Budget Responsibility, Fiscal Sustainability Report, July 2013, URL: http://budgetresponsibility.org.uk/wordpress/docs/2013-FSR_OBR_web.pdf, p. 148.
  4. NIESR, Labour Mobility within the EU – The impact of enlargement and the functioning of the transitional arrangements, NIESR Discussion Paper No. 379, April 2011, URL: http://www.niesr.ac.uk/pdf/270411_143310.pdf
  5. Migration Advisory Committee, Review of the minimum income requirement for sponsorship under the family migration route, November 2011, URL: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/.../family-migration-route/family-migration-route.pdf
  6. Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration, ‘The Fiscal Effects of Immigration to the UK’, CDP No 22/13, November 2013, URL: http://www.cream-migration.org/publ_uploads/CDP_22_13.pdf
  7. British Social Attitudes 2013, Attitudes to Immigration, January 2014, URL: http://www.natcen.ac.uk/media/205569/immigration-bsa31.pdf
  8. ONS, Population Trends, Summer 2007, No 128, URL: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/.../no--128--summer-2007/population-trends.pdf
  9. Office for National Statistics, Summary Results 2012-based National Population Projections, November 2013, URL: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_334073.pdf p. 10-11
  10. Migration Watch UK, Briefing Paper 9.31, UK Population Projections – How to stay below 70 million, January 2012, URL: http://migrationwatch.co.uk/briefingPaper/document/243
  11. World Health Organisation, Migration of health personnel in the WHO European Region, 2009, URL: http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/95689/E93039.pdf
  12. Migration Watch UK, Press Release - One in Twelve Social Houses Occupied by Foreign Nationals, October 2010, URL: http://migrationwatch.co.uk/pressReleases/27-Oct-2010#251
  13. Migration Watch UK, Briefing Paper No 7.14, ‘Who is being allocated social housing in London’, April 2012, URL: http://www.migrationwatchuk.org/briefing-paper/7.14
  14. Pensions Commission, Pensions: Challenges and Choices, The First Report of the Pensions Commission, 2004, URL: http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Money/documents/2005/05/17/fullreport.pdf
  15. Polly Toynbee, ‘Britain’s booming population is a blessing, not a curse’, Guardian, 8 August 2013, URL: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/08/booming-population-birth-rate-great-opportunity
  16. OBR, Fiscal Sustainability Report, July 2013, URL: http://budgetresponsibility.org.uk/wordpress/docs/2013-FSR_OBR_web.pdf
  17. Migration Watch UK, Immigration and Public Debt – Comment on the OBR’s Sustainability Report 2013, August 2013, URL: http://www.migrationwatchuk.co.uk/briefing-paper/1.36
  18. Migration Watch UK, Briefing Paper 1.32, Office for Budget Responsibility: Immigration and Public Debt, 19 July 2012, URL: http://www.migrationwatchuk.org/briefingPaper/document/272
  19. Migration Advisory Committee, Analysis of the Impacts of Migration, January 2012, URL: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/.../01-analysis-report/analysis-of-the-impacts
  20. MAC, Analysis of the Impacts of Migration, January 2012, URL: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/.../01-analysis-report/analysis-of-the-impacts, p. 64
  21. ONS Infographic, 2011 Census shows non-UK born population of England and Wales continues to rise, December 2012, URL: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census/key-statistics-for-local-authorities-in-england-and-wales/sty-non-uk-born-population.html
  22. Migration Watch UK, Briefing Paper No 1.35, ‘Britain is open for Business’, October 2013, URL: http://www.migrationwatchuk.org/briefing-paper/1.35.
  23. Migration Watch UK, Briefing Paper 2.19, ‘Students: Genuine or Bogus?’, July 2012, URL: http://www.migrationwatchuk.org/briefingPaper/document/273
  24. ONS, Provisional LTIM Statistics, June 2013, URL: http://www.ons.gov.uk/.../migration-statistics-quarterly-report/november-2013/provisional-long-term-international-migration--ltim--estimates-jun-2013.xls

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