New Migration Watch report misses opportunity for balanced debate on migration

As we anticipate the next round of quarterly immigration figures from the Office of National Statistics this Thursday, a new Migration Watch UK report has been released amid a wave of media hyperbole.

Ruth Grove-White (@RuthGWhite) is a policy officer at the Migrants’ Rights Network (MRN)

As we anticipate the next round of quarterly immigration figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) this Thursday, a new Migration Watch UK report (pdf) has been released amid a wave of media hyperbole. Migration Watch UK (MWUK) bills the report, entitled ‘Mass Immigration: Labour’s enduring legacy to Britain’, as a ‘forensic’ analysis of immigration trends.

It appears to have the explicit aim of convincing the public that immigration has been the object of ‘leftie’ political conspiracy since 1997, and that in the process it has generated overtly negative consequences for the UK.

But this report, which runs to just eight pages, seems designed to generate more heat than light about recent immigration trends and political handling of this issue.

Rather than opening up debate by presenting clear information to back up its overarching messages this report muddies the waters, apparently relying on readers’ belief in the general thrust of the argument rather than helping them to understand immigration trends over the last 14 years.

The Migration Watch UK report brings together data from different government datasets and sources with confusing results.

A graph claiming to represent the ‘Sources of Net Migration’ between 1997 and 2009, for example, appears to attribute all net migration for this period to non-EU sources, whilst accompanying text tells us that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of foreign immigrants derive from non-EU sources. The ONS tells us, however, that in 2009 non-British citizens accounted for 83% of all long-term immigrants to the UK, but that a third of these migrants were from EU countries.

Other statistics within this report should also be closely examined.

MWUK claims that international student numbers ‘rose sharply’ over the past five years, but this is far from clear. Rather, researchers report that home office management data shows student immigration to have been relatively stable over recent years.

Migration Watch UK claims that:

“…illegal immigrants could number almost one million.”

A figure not borne out by independent research from the London School of Economics, which has drawn on available evidence to pitch this figure at approximately 625,000 – significantly less than the MWUK estimate.

The projection that the UK population is set to rise to 70 million over the course of the next 20 years are based on past statistics for 2000-2009 – a period in which there was a historic influx of European migrants making these trends far from certain to continue into the future.

This short report aims to generate an overarching picture of immigration at a crisis point as a result of Labour’s lax, or even deliberate, policy of ‘multiculturalism’. As the coalition government seeks to develop further reforms within the immigration system in order to reduce net immigration, there are certainly important questions that should be asked about government handling of immigration in recent years.

But accounts from Labour advisors and ministers indicate that Labour’s biggest problem was the lack of a comprehensive immigration policy at the point when it came to power. Labour spent the back half of its time in government attempting to regain lost ground by flexing its muscles on immigration with the aim of restoring public confidence – an approach that opinion polls indicate was far from successful.

Rather than inflaming concern about population growth, we should be seeking to better understand how the UK economy has become increasingly dependent upon immigration over recent decades, particularly in relation to the growth of the service sector and consumer markets – arguably bringing costs for some immigrants and native workers.

The most damaging outcome for the coalition government would be to make big promises about reducing immigration on which it cannot deliver.

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