Migration statistics – the hidden stories

Quarterly migration statistics were issued today and the data show few surprises.

Jill Rutter writes on migration and is about to publish a book on integration in the UK

Quarterly migration statistics were issued today and the data show few surprises. The statistics that were released include quarterly figures from the Home Office giving numbers of visas, asylum applications and removals and other administrative data.

Today’s release also included DWP data on National Insurance numbers, birth statistics on parents’ countries of birth as well as estimates from the International Passenger Survey which are used to calculate net migration.

Some 26 per cent of live births are now from mothers born outside the UK, up a little from the previous year. Overall, net migration has increased slightly in the year to 31 December 2012 – from 176,000 to 215,000.

This change was not caused by an increase in immigration – the number of arrivals actually fell. Rather, the increase in net migration was caused by a fall in the numbers of migrants leaving Britain: 30,000 fewer left in the year to December 2012 compared to the previous year.

Again this illustrates the arbitrary nature of the government’s net migration target. Despite this not being a statistically significant increase, most newspapers and the BBC reported that net migration was up.

When broken down work visa, student and family migration have all fallen, as have the numbers of people arriving from the countries that joined the EU in 2004, with an estimated 58,000 arrivals, mostly from Poland in the year to December 2012, compared with 77,000 the previous year.

When broken down further, student migration in the university sector has increased by 4 per cent over the last year, with the decreased being born by the further education and English language colleges.

Asylum applications, although a small proportion of total immigration, have increased a little, up 15 per cent in the quarter to June 2013, compared with the same quarter in the previous year. But it is unlikely that more than 30,000 asylum applications will be lodged this year, barring a worsening crisis in the Middle East, although Syria is now one of the main asylum producing countries, with 372 applications lodged in the quarter to June 213.

Almost all Syrian asylum seekers (99 per cent) are presently  granted full refugee status, ensuring they get a UN refugee passport and the right to remain in the UK for an initial five years.

Buried deeper in today’s statistics is some interesting data, some of which is good news for the government and some of which highlights problems.

Bad news first: the numbers of highly skilled migrants coming through the reformed Tier One work visa schemes has shrunk dramatically.

The Tier One scheme was originally designed to attract highly skilled migrants, simplifying and replacing varies schemes for this group from 2008. Generally those who came or stayed in the UK with Tier One visas were young post-graduates. Many migrants working in the IT and biotechnology sectors or post-graduate researchers in universities used this route for example.

In the second quarter of 2009, 4,792 Tier One entry visas were issued, while in the second quarter of 2013 this figure was 433. Post-graduate Tier One visas fell from 1,014 to 1 over the same period. This is a worrying loss of talent.

And some good news at a time when public concerns about undocumented migration have grown: the numbers of people opting for voluntary departure has increased dramatically in the last decade from 3,506 people in 2004 to 29,663 today.

This group includes people who return without assistance, but also asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants who have been enrolled on a number of assisted return schemes operated by charities such as Refugee Action.

Here those at the end of the asylum process or who are in the UK as an undocumented migrant receive advice and help to return. They receive air tickets and onward travel and some schemes for asylum-seekers also offer a small resettlement grant. The cost of operating such schemes is small compared with the costs of apprehending, detaining and removing an undocumented migrant (typically about £25,000 per head).

Rather than mobile billboards, the Home Office should be focusing its efforts on voluntary return.

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