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Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch: The Government now has a chance of hitting its migration target. But it must act on in-work benefits.

Sir Andrew Green is Chairman of Migrationwatch UK

Screen shot 2013-05-24 at 20.24.31Readers of Conservative Home should be greatly encouraged by this week’s news that net migration is down by over a third.  It now stands at 153,000 for the year ending September 2012.  This gives the Government a fighting chance of getting close to their target of tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament.

Public opinion demands no less.  The latest census reveals that four million immigrants arrived in a ten year period.  This doubled our foreign-born population and leaves us with a massive task of integration.  Looking ahead, the official population projections show that if the inflow is allowed to continue at its present average rate of 200,000 a year, the population of the UK will be driven up from 63 million to 70 million in 14 years.  Five million of that total would be the result of immigration. That would be the equivalent of the cities of Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Bradford, Leeds, Glasgow and Bristol.  Where on earth will we find the money to pay for that?

It is surely obvious that the Coalition took over an immigration system that was a complete shambles.  Over the past three years they have taken the right measures to tighten up the various routes into the UK.  Transfers between international companies are unlimited, but there is now a cap on the number of skilled workers admitted every year.  Those who do come can only settle if they are earning more than £35,000 a year.  As for students, 500 bogus colleges have been closed down and the system has been tightened to try to ensure that only genuine students are admitted.  There have also been reforms to the family route to ensure that spouses have sufficient income to support a partner brought in from abroad. 

All this is at last starting to yield results and at no significant cost to the economy.  The number of skilled workers admitted was up by 7% on the year.  I hope that, as the new arrangements settle down, business organisations will calm down.  There is, of course, work to be done in smoothing the rough edges of the new system; in particular, we must simplify the application process for business visitors and ensure that firms are not discouraged from recruiting essential staff from overseas.  Thereafter, the time for heated protests from business should be over and the public’s very strong views given their due respect. 

The really big numbers, however, are the students who arrive from outside the EU at the rate of nearly a quarter of a million a year.  Cries of alarm from the university sector have turned out to be premature; applications last year were up by 5% on the previous year.  Despite this, the reduction in net migration is largely accounted for by a fall in students – but these are in further education (rather than higher education), and mainly from the Indian sub-continent where the evidence suggests that there has been substantial abuse for some years.  For example, the National Audit Office estimated that, in the first year of Labour’s Points-Based System, 40 – 50,000 “students” came to the UK in order to work rather than study.  The present Government’s measures have bitten on them and rightly so as the graph below illustrates.

Screen shot 2013-05-24 at 23.35.57
When it comes to immigration, the BBC like to focus on the Poles, but migrants from the whole of the EU comprise only about 30% of the net migration which we have experienced since 1997.  Indeed, it is still the case that British emigration worldwide approximately cancels out EU migration into Britain.  The reason that we have had such substantial net migration is that the inflow from outside the EU has been almost 300,000 a year for the past ten years, while outflows have averaged only 100,000.  Many have stayed on legally by applying for settlement or by marrying a British citizen, but many others have overstayed their visas. It follows that the next priority must be to ensure that people leave the country when their visa expires. This must become the focus of the Government’s efforts and it might well need  considerable additional resources.

The main risk to the Government’s immigration policy is now the possibility of a significant further inflow from Romania and Bulgaria. That cannot be prevented without challenging the fundamental principle of free movement within the EU.  What does need to be addressed, however, is the substantial level of in-work benefits which become immediately available to workers from very poor EU countries.  We have blundered into a situation in which workers from Eastern Europe can earn here a multiple of their salaries at home and also find that their take home pay is beefed up enormously by our tax credits system, especially for those who are married with children.

It must, therefore, be a key objective of the Government’s renegotiation of our arrangements with the European Union that no worker should receive benefits until he or she has worked for five years in this country.  That would bring EU citizens more closely into line with migrants from the rest of the world.   It would also both reduce the current massive financial advantage to move to the UK and make the system much fairer to British tax payers who have contributed all their working lives.

It need hardly be said that the Government’s achievement of their immigration target would be a massive political bonus.  It would also be a bonus for the British people whose amazing patience cannot be expected to last for ever. 


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