Frequently Asked Questions
What is the basis for your estimate of migration from Romania and Bulgaria from 2014?
We forecast that between 30,000 and 70,000 people from Romania and Bulgaria will move to the UK each year for the next five years, with a central estimate of 50,000 a year. The precedent of East European immigration from 2004 provides the basis of the estimate as well as the difference in living standards between the UK and Romania and Bulgaria which is similar to the difference between the UK and Poland in 2004. We have, of course, taken into account that the rest of Europe are also opening their labour markets at the same time whereas in 2004 just the UK, Ireland and Sweden allowed A8 migrants to enjoy full access to the labour market.
In 2003 the government forecast that between 5,000 and 13,000 migrants would come from the new EU members of Eastern Europe each year. We described this estimate at the time as ‘almost worthless’ and suggested that an estimate of 40,000 migrants a year would be more realistic. This time around the government has decided against forecasting numbers, lest they make the same mistake again. We believe that it is better to have an estimate than not. Thus far we are the only organisation to have attempted it.
Is there a serious prospect of a UK population of 70 million?
Yes unless the government reduce net migration. The latest 2012-based population projections from the Office for National Statistics show that our population will reach 70 million in 2027, of which 60% will be due directly and indirectly to immigration - (See here)
When the population projections were released in 2008 the last government claimed that this simply would not happen but there are substantial reasons to believe that it will. (Briefing paper 9.25).
This latest projection is based on the assumption that immigration will run at 165,000 a year. Official figures show net migration to be 176,000 in 2012. Even under the ONS’s low migration assumption – which projects the population based on net migration of 105,000 each year – the population will reach 70 million in 2031, delaying the increase by just four years. (See here)
Are the ONS projections often wrong?
That depends partly on how far ahead they look. There was a famous case in 1965 when they exaggerated the likely increase. Since then, at the 20 year range, they have been accurate to about 2.5% for the past 50 years. (Briefing Paper 9.24).
Surely the recession will reduce immigration?
Yes, but only temporarily. (Briefing Paper 1.21). Net migration dipped temporarily to a low of 163,000 in 2008 but seems to have recovered faster than the economy. Falling net migration is now a result of government efforts to reduce numbers.
Are economic migrants taking British jobs?
The UK labour market is large and complex with over 30 million in the work force and, of course, the total number of jobs is not fixed.
There is some anecdotal evidence of foreign workers being preferred as well as concrete evidence of job displacement. In January 2010 the independent Migration Advisory Committee found that between 1995 and 2010 160,000 British workers were displaced in the labour market by non-EU migrants. (See here)
Moreover, the labour market statistics, while not unambiguous, have shown some worrying signs. (Briefing Paper 1.22 and Briefing Paper 3.7). Official figures show that, of the increase in employment of people aged 16 and over during the period of the Labour government, 56% was accounted for by non-UK nationals and 76% by non UK born workers. (The difference is because a number of those born outside the UK will have acquired UK citizenship during the period). However in recent months, the reverse has happened. UK nationals accounted for 93% of the increase in employment between Quarter 3 2012 and Quarter 3 2013, suggesting that the measures being taken to reduce immigration are benefiting UK nationals in the labour market. (See here)
What is the point of immigration control if EU citizens are free to come and go?
Over the period 2000 – 2011 net migration from the EU accounted for only 24% of net foreign migration to the UK and this is mostly accounted for by the rise in immigration from the A8 countries of Eastern Europe after 2004. Immigration from the A8 countries is expected eventually to decline. Meanwhile, some of those already here will decide to go home. (Briefing Paper 4.8). When Spain, Portugal and Greece joined what was then the EC, net migration declined after a period. However, from 1 January 2014 Romanian and Bulgarian nationals will gain full access to the UK labour market and we estimate that 50,000 Romanian and Bulgarian nationals will migrate to the UK each year for the next five years as there is a considerable financial incentive to do so. (Briefing Paper 4.17 and Briefing Paper 4.20) The government could reduce the incentives for immigration by restricting access to benefits however this would require treaty change or a change to the benefits system that would also affect Britons. However, it is still the case at present that most net migration comes from outside the EU where, in certain parts of the world, populations are growing very rapidly but jobs are not.
Why hasn't Balanced Migration been proposed before?
For a generation people have avoided tackling the subject for fear of being thought to be racist. Now that we are having a proper debate, we can address the issues sensibly. The Government are putting in place a whole range of measures to try to get our borders back under control. The Prime Minister has declared the government's intention to get net migration down to "tens of thousands" by the end of this Parliament (in 2015). He has since repeated this in major speeches as has the Home Secretary Theresa May, including in her Conference Speech of 2013. (See here) The government are well aware that public opinion is extremely strong. Poll after poll confirms that the vast majority of people want net migration to be reduced. (See here) A poll carried out in November 2010 by YouGov on behalf of Migration Watch UK found that 70% of respondents believed that immigration of 50,000 or less would be best for Britain. Another poll carried out in November 2013 found that 80% of the public think that net migration at their current levels are too high.
Is "Balanced Migration" really feasible?
Yes - over a period of time, but not in the immediate future. The government is still working to reduce non-EU net migration and it is likely that, from January 2014, EU immigration will increase once Romanians and Bulgarians are granted free access to the labour market.
How can you know what will happen to emigration?
The Government has no control over emigration of British citizens which is a result of their free decisions. Net migration of British citizens has been negative for many years with an average of about 80,000 more people leaving the country than entering. In 2009 and 2010 this fell to around 40,000, perhaps reflecting the recession but it has since increased. Net emigration of British citizens was 63,000 in 2012. The broad trend rate of British emigration could be used in constructing an aiming mark for immigration policy.
However emigration is also made up of EU and non-EU citizens leaving the country. While EU citizens have free movement, non-EU citizens are bound by the terms of their visa. Emigration of non-EU nationals has remained low, at around 100,000 per year over the last six years, compared to immigration of non-EU nationals of on average 300,000. Non-EU citizens are therefore staying on in substantial numbers, legally or otherwise.
Surely immigrants benefit our economy?
Some do of course, but their economic performance is very mixed. The previous Government claimed that immigrants add £6 billion to our economy. What they did not say is that they also add to our population in almost exactly the same proportion as they add to production. Thus the benefit to the native population is very small - an outcome confirmed by major studies in the US, Canada and Holland and in the UK by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs. This finding was recently echoed by the OECD. (See here)
The conclusion of the House of Lords study was unambiguous:
“We have found no evidence for the argument, made by the Government, business and many others, that net immigration—immigration minus emigration—generates significant economic benefits for the existing UK population”. (Abstract)
Despite the claims of the immigration lobby there is no economic argument in favour of current levels of net migration.
Do migrants pay more in tax than they receive in benefits?
The House of Lords report found that “determining whether immigrants make a positive or negative fiscal contribution is highly dependent on what costs and benefits are included in the calculations… But even using the [Labour] Government’s preferred method, the fiscal impact is small compared to GDP and cannot be used to justify large-scale immigration”. (Para. 132) A recent study by academics at University College London found that while EU migrants as a whole contribute slightly more than they consume in public services, non-EU migrants do not, consuming £104 billion more in public services than they paid in taxed over the period 1995-2011. Indeed, it found that all those who have migrated since 1995 have cost the tax payer £95 billion, or about £15 million a day.
Surely London would collapse without immigrants?
This debate is not about existing immigrant communities. Nobody is remotely suggesting that they should leave. The issue is how many more people our island can sustain.
Do we need immigration to fill vacancies?
No - there are always about half a million vacancies as people move jobs (known as “frictional” unemployment).There are almost 2.5 million people in the UK registered as unemployed and there is, therefore, no shortage of labour.
Surely we need the skills that foreigners can bring?
Yes, there are skills gaps which foreigners could fill but they should do so only temporarily while British workers are trained up. The Migration Advisory Committee regularly reviews labour shortages and publishes an official list of skills gaps in the labour market. The government is moving in the right direction; a worker now has to have a salary of at least £35,000 a year to apply for permanent settlement ensuring that migrant labour is not treated as a permanent solution to skills shortages. The Confederation of British Industry themselves admit that immigration is not a long term solution to skills shortages.
Don't we need foreigners to do to the jobs that British people are unwilling to do?
No. The underlying issue is pay rates for the unskilled. (Briefing Paper 1.22). At present, the difference between unskilled pay and benefits is so narrow that, for some, it is hardly worth working. The notion that British people are unwilling to do certain jobs is not true but, for many, there is no incentive to work - in part because wages at the bottom of the scale have been held back by high levels of immigration.
Again, the House of Lords report was unambiguous:
“We do not doubt the great value of this (immigrant) workforce from overseas to UK businesses and public services. Nevertheless, the argument that sustained net immigration is needed to fill vacancies, and that immigrants do the jobs that locals cannot or will not do, is fundamentally flawed. It ignores the potential alternatives to immigration for responding to labour shortages, including the price adjustments of a competitive labour market and the associated increase in local labour supply that can be expected to occur in the absence of immigration”. (Para. 122)
Who will pick strawberries?
There is a need for seasonal unskilled labour, especially in agriculture and horticulture. This is now being met largely by workers from Romania and Bulgaria under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS), although there is no reason why unemployed British workers should not also take this work when this scheme ends at the end of 2013.
Surely there is no harm in migrants who work and pay taxes?
There is a developing view, supported by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs, that the effect of immigration on the budget is broadly neutral in the long term. As mentioned above, they reported that:
“Determining whether immigrants make a positive or negative fiscal contribution is highly dependent on what costs and benefits are included in the calculations. Government claims that the exchequer consistently benefits from immigration rely on the children of one UK-born parent and one immigrant parent being attributed to the UK-born population—a questionable approach. But even using the Government's preferred method, the fiscal impact is small compared to GDP and cannot be used to justify large-scale immigration”. (Para. 132)
In any case, large numbers add substantially to the pressure on housing and public services which take a long time to adjust. They also add, of course, to pressures on our environment.
Is it true that in order to get net migration down we will have to close the doors to overseas students?
No. So long as they go home at the end of their studies, they do not add to population growth. Those students who can find graduate level work at a salary of £20,000 or more can stay on. The problem has been bogus colleges and students and this is the area the government is tackling.
Don't we need migrants to help pay for our pensions?
This is false. Immigrants themselves grow older so the only effect, even of very large scale immigration, is to postpone by a few years the impact of an ageing population. The real answer is that, as people now live longer, they should work longer. The Turner Commission on pensions dismissed the argument that immigration would help with pensions saying that only high immigration can produce more than a trivial reduction in the projected dependency ratio over the next 50 years... and this would be only a temporary effect unless still higher levels of immigration continued in later years... This view was endorsed by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs in their report published in April 2008. They reported that:
“Arguments in favour of high immigration to defuse the "pensions time bomb" do not stand up to scrutiny as they are based on the unreasonable assumption of a static retirement age as people live longer, and ignore the fact that, in time, immigrants too will grow old and draw pensions. Increasing the official retirement age will significantly reduce the increase in the dependency ratio and is the only viable way to do so.” (Para. 158)
Surely this is a result of globalisation?
No. Globalisation of travel and communications has been occurring for some time yet countries such as Canada, Australia and the United States continue to impose a strict immigration policy. Globalisation does not preclude immigration control. Every country has the right to decide who can and cannot enter and recent high levels of net migration to the UK have been a result of conscious government decisions and/or incompetence. Net migration rose from just under 50,000 a year in 1997 to 250,000 a year in 2010; nearly four million foreign immigrants were admitted during the period of the Labour government.
Revised 29 November 2013