It’s now clear: UKIP and the Tories were wrong about Romanian and Bulgarian immigration

We are likely to see more migration from Bulgaria, Romania and Poland, but not the large numbers we saw in 2004 and certainly not the millions predicted by UKIP.

We are likely to see more migration from Bulgaria, Romania and Poland, but not the large numbers we saw in 2004 and certainly not the millions predicted by UKIP

Last night on Channel Four news, David Cameron repeated his party’s manifesto commitment that this government will reduce net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’ by the next election. While net migration is fairly steady, today’s immigration statistics show how far the government is from achieving its target.

When mainstream politicians make unachievable promises, then fail to deliver, this tends to reduce political trust, particularly on high profile issues such as immigration. This risks pushing the electorate into the arms of UKIP populists. But today’s statistics also discredit Nigel Farage, in that the anticipated flood of Bulgarians and Romanians has failed to materialise.

The net migration statistics are drawn from the International Passenger Survey, which has quite large boundaries of error. It shows that long-term net migration (immigration minus emigration) was 212,000 in 2013, up from 177,000 in the previous year, although this is not a statistically significant increase.

The government has a long way to go if it is to reach its target. In 2013 an estimated 526,000 people immigrated into the UK, of whom nearly half (201,000) were from the European Union.

Also released today were statistics on new National Insurance number registrations. Put alongside last week’s labour market statistics, they provide a more complete picture of EU migration.

In the year to March 2014 new National Insurance number registrations from nationals of EU member states are up by 14 per cent compared with the previous year. There were 46,890 new registrations from Romania in the year to March 2014 and 17,750 from Bulgarian nationals. Both National Insurance numbers and the labour market statistics show that the arrival of Romanians and Bulgarians has been steady over the last year. The predicted January 2014 flood has not materialised.

There has been a small drop in family migration from outside the EU, as well as in the numbers applying for permanent settlement. Work visa migration is up by 10 per cent, mostly as a consequence of a small increase in the numbers of entrepreneurs and investors and in Tier 2 migrants coming to vacant jobs that cannot be filled by UK residents.

Asylum applications are up very slightly, but this is mostly accounted by an increased number of Syrian and Eritrean arrivals. But numbers are small and there were just 23,731 asylum applications in the year to March 2014, far lower than in the early years of this century.

Today’s statistics highlight the inadequacies of both the Conservatives and UKIP on immigration. In the absence of any other social policy, UKIP only message has been about EU migration – leave the EU if you want control of your borders. The Conservatives have reiterated their unachievable net migration target and made policy proposals that are largely symbolic.

On Channel Four News Cameron talked about the need clamp down on EU benefit tourism. Over the last six months there have announcements about restricting job-seekers allowance to EU migrants, with no EU migrant able to claim this benefit for more than a six months unless they can prove that they have a genuine prospect of employment.

Yet few migrants from the new member states of the EU claim benefits – most come here to work. Additionally both EU Treaty regulations and existing Department for Work and Pension regulations already make it difficult for EU migrants to benefits in the UK. The 2004 Treaty on freedom of movement means that new migrants forfeit their European Economic Area (EEA) worker status – which gives them freedom of movement – if they lose their job.

Essentially, a new migrant must be in employment in the UK to secure EEA worker status. Already any protracted period of unemployment of an EEA national who does not have settlement rights in the UK is likely to disqualify that person from benefits and rights of residency in the UK. The rash of announcements on benefits is pure dog whistling: symbolic statements to deal with non-existent problems.

In the short and medium-term EU migration is likely to remain at present levels. We are likely to see more migration from Bulgaria, Romania and Poland, but not the large numbers we saw in 2004 and certainly not the millions predicted by UKIP. Mainstream political parties need to acknowledge this and not make false promises about things they cannot control. The emphasis of policy should be on making migration work for all communities and for everyone who lives in the UK.

Jill Rutter is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Her book on integration and social cohesion will be published by Policy Press in 2015

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