All entries for Monday 10 January 2011

January 10, 2011

Confusing immigration statistics

updated: 11 January 2011

Like many other countries today, immigration is a very sensitive issue here in the UK. Apparently a lot of people seem to agree that there are too many immigrants in the UK and people are now openly saying it out loud.

However, what makes it very confusing are the numbers quoted by various organisations and individuals. I am not going to quote who said what but identify some issues and some questions for researchers to look at.

First of all, which numbers should be quoted? Do you look at the estimate migrant flows (International Passenger Survey, IPS) or the the foreign resident population (Annual Population Survey, APS). I think that it is essential to look at both and deeper.

According to Migration Watch UK, the net immigration in 2009 "was 196,000. 3 million immigrants have arrived since 1997". What they failed to mention was that "among those classed as immigrants to the UK in 2009, many were actually Britons returning from overseas." (Source: BBC). Plus the net increase might also be due to the fact that fewer British people are moving overseas.

As the UK is part of the EU, it can't do much about people from other EU states moving into the UK so the focus in on the citizens from non-EU countries who are now subject to much tougher rules. The question is why does most immigration numbers quoted always include all foreigners without differentiating between EU + non-EU foreigners? Is it to beef up the numbers?

Next issue relates to students. 362,015 student visas were issued between June 2009 and June 2010. This number is of course included in the total number of immigrants but I would like to argue that most students are not long term migrants but are instead customers of British education planing to stay in the UK for only between 1 to 5 years (sometimes a bit more for some who continue from undergraduate to post graduate studies). I think it would not be wrong to consider them as long term tourists. 

Another issue is the number of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, the numbers are altogether very hazy. I have no idea whether they are being included in the net immigration statistics at all.

To get a better picture, I recommend that all organisations and individuals quoting statistics about the net immigration into the UK should always include

1. the EU and Non-EU numbers.

2. the number of Britons returning from overseas

3. the number of students (EU and Non-EU again).

4. Clarify whether the number includes refugees and illegal immigrants.

This would give a better idea of the net immigration into this country and help make better policy decisions.


Dilip Mutum

This blog records some of the thoughts and experiences of Dilip Mutum at the University of Warwick. He has been blogging since 2003 and this is but one of his many blogs.

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