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Falling net migration: A trap for future governments?

28 February 2013

28 February 2013

Today’s migration statistics show a marked decline in net migration to the UK (down 34 per cent to 163,000 in the year to June 2012). Although this still leaves the Government some way off their target of reducing net migration to less than 100,000 by 2015, ministers will be pleased to be able to say that things are, in their terms, moving in the right direction.

But there is a catch, and the simple maths of net migration mean that the current Government may be, wittingly or unwittingly, laying a trap for themselves, or for a future one.

Net migration is the difference between immigration and emigration.  So net migration rises if immigration goes up, or if emigration goes down; and falls if immigration goes down, or if emigration goes up.

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The current falls in net migration are largely being driven by falling immigration, rather than rising emigration.  That falling immigration is, in turn, being driven in large part by a decline in student immigration (which accounted for more than half of the reduction shown in today’s statistics). More up-to-date Home Office figures show a decline in the number of student visas issued in 2012 of more than 20 per cent, which suggests that this trend will continue.

But most international students stay in the UK only for a short time, so they play an important role in driving emigration rates too. Reduced student immigration now will mean reduced student emigration in the future. This means that, although the short term impacts on net migration numbers are significant (because immigration falls before emigration), they are unlikely to be sustained. By 2015, this could halt, and even partially reverse, the falls we are seeing today.

This also means that even more drastic cuts to student numbers would be needed to make any further progress towards the Government’s target.  The Home Office’s own research suggests that only 18 per cent of student migrants are still in the UK after 5 years. That means that the 52,000 fall in student visas that we saw last year will only reduce net migration by a little over 9000 in the medium term. Given that the Government still need to reduce net migration by more than 60,000 in order to meet their target, it is clear that this cannot be achieved in the medium term without radical changes that go far beyond the student visa regime.

As a footnote, statistics released today by the Home Office suggest that international student numbers may not actually be falling as fast as the headline figures suggest. The number of student visitor visas issued rose by 11 per cent in 2012.  The Government has made more students eligible for these visas by allowing those coming to the UK to learn English to stay for up to 11 months as student visitors.  Although these short-term students don’t count as migrants in official definitions (and are thus, conveniently, excluded from the net migration target), they presumably have many of the same impacts (both positive and negative) as other international students. It is also noteworthy that the student visitor visa has less rigorous checks than the regular student visa route – for a government apparently so focused on reducing abuse of the student visa system, this might be expected to be a concern.

Sarah Mulley is Associate Director at IPPR.


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Show comments
  • James Strong

    My last comment didn’t get through moderation; it must have had a bad word in it.
    Let’s try again.
    The numbers are not as important as the type of emigrant and immigrant.
    I welcome immigrants who want to work hard, earn their own living and assimilate into British life andrespect our customs..
    I do not want immigrants who are members of the most recently founded of the Abrahamic faiths, but the first, and particularly the second, of those faiths are fine.

    • Newsbot9

      Ah yes, until you get round to the Jews.

      And of course you welcome your far right from anywhere.

  • fhfdjrgihtt

    All these figures show is the emigration is high so all the British
    people are leaving. 515,000 came to the UK in a year, how many do not
    work and live on benefits the UK cannot cope

    Sign this petition to restrict Bulgarian and Romanians from entering the UK:

    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/41492

  • itdoesntaddup

    There is a fallacy in your argument: it is not the case that “most students stay in the UK for a short time” – or at least, that hasn’t been so since the sham student route to immigration was opened up by Labour. In fact, the ONS statistics show only about 75,000 per year have been emigrating at the end of their courses – and some of those will be British choosing to pursue careers abroad.

    Student immigration (those coming for courses of over a year) has been running as high as 250,000, so net “student” immigration actually has accounted for the bulk of total net immigration: this of course excludes those who come on a student visitor basis and simply disappear from the radar. Control students properly, and a large element of the problem disappears permanently.

    • Newsbot9

      Ah yes, totalitarian monitoring of students, followed by the rest of the population.

      • itdoesntaddup

        There’s no need for monitoring of those who never come here in the first place. Idiot.

        • Newsbot9

          Not what you said. Oh, and you need to track the people trying to leave.

  • sarahsmith232

    the drop is nowhere near enough. it’s a joke. the number of asylum seekers dramatically rose as they started clamping down on bogus students. they stopped Labour’s practice of blithely allowing in any old joe from Pakistan in on a ‘student’ visa only for them to be allowed in to claim asylum.
    we need to pull out of the U.N Convention on Refugees, get rid of the Human Rights Act, otherwise we can dream if we think we’ll ever be able to control our borders ever again.

    • Newsbot9

      That’s right, gotta get rid of those workers rights and courts, how else will you get that totalitarian state. And of course you need to be able to stop the skilled workers fleeing abroad.

      Of course you view the existence of a University system as a Joke too.

  • Daniel Maris

    This is the figure they don’t publicise: 515,000 people immigrated to the UK in the year ending June 2012.

    Some 352,000 left the UK. We have to ask who is leaving, where are they going and why are they going.

    The net migration figure is meaningless and misleading – just as it’s meant to be.

    • http://owsblog.blogspot.com Span Ows

      I’m sure figures of the breakdown are there to be seen. Whatever, it is still a step in the right direction.

      • Newsbot9

        A step against the University system is “in the right direction”? Uh-huh.

    • Newsbot9

      Skilled workers fleeing a collapsing economy is indeed a huge issue.

      • gscott

        your right it is a huge issue, skilled but disgruntled people who happen to be be white europeans, replaced by , generally Asian / Indian low skilled kebbab or pizza sellers.

        • Newsbot9

          No, the racism and bigotry is yours, not mine. There’s no “replacement”, we’re simply losing jobs to other countries with sane economic policies.

  • HookesLaw

    still the complaints…. typical

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004981542519 Tom Tom

    It means nothing of the sort. You have no idea. The statistics are poorly presented. There was such abuse of Student Visas that it is unclear who was using them in the past and for what purpose. The whole checking of Immigration is full of loopholes and you have no idea how many EU nationals are not in fact EU nationals but can supply paperwork. It is like meat-labelling – you sit in your office and review statistics oblivious to the facts on the ground

    • huktra

      Amazing how the mere whiff of immigration brings out thr xenophobic tendency in some.
      You shoot the messenger rather than marshalling cogentargument.
      This drop is real and bad news for our academic institutions, economy and future prosperity.
      Thought out posts please.

      • Daniel Maris

        A thought out post:

        Our population has increased to over 60 million and is heading quickly for 75 million, with no end to the rise in sight.

        How exactly do you account for this sudden evidence of fecundity after years of population stagnation? Do you think it is a good thing?

        • huktra

          Yes I do. I had a nauseating sense of economic and social stagnation before the influx of the last decade. Much of our prosperity terminated by subprime owed itself to this.
          Have you ever seen a Polish plumber work?

          • Colonel Mustard

            I have a nauseating sense of cultural revolution. It started in 1968 but got especially puke-inducing from 1997. One of its propaganda lines is how stagnant England was before the “vibrancy”, “diversity”, “fresh infusion”, etc. You can always find cultists to testify to it. But not everyone is taken in.

            • Newsbot9

              No, that’s called your neoliberalism, and the damage you’re doing to the economy. But keep on viewing the existence of other views as eeeevil.

              • Colonel Mustard

                I’m not doing anything to the economy.

                • Newsbot9

                  Right right, the typical Corporatist screed.

          • Noa

            A shame you can’t fix a leak yourself, you could put the money you towards broadening your education.

          • Daniel Maris

            Yep, I had one. He took about 4 weeks on a 2 week job and the work was defective! I don’t believe in stereotypes for any ethnic group.

            And in case you hadn’t noticed, we haven’t exactly been getting richer since the influx of your “Polish plumbers”, have we?

      • Colonel Mustard

        Try thinking out your own posts by not conflating concern about immigration or cynicism about our border “controls” with xenophobia. Then I suggest you try on for size real xenophobia in many other countries to give you a little more perspective.

        • huktra

          You always wade in. I assume you are Wilhelm. Your views are no doubt formulated from your fathers tea plantation.

          • Colonel Mustard

            No, I am not Wilhelm and my father did not have a tea plantation.

            But your crass, abusive and ill-thought out response merely demonstrates your hypocrisy. Why should Tom Tom “think out” his posts when you don’t? You have not understand a word of what I wrote. You might as well have screamed “racist” at me, you sad sap.

            • huktra

              Thanks Wilhelm-please see reply to Davy12.

              • Colonel Mustard

                Another “thought out” post from you.

              • dalai guevara

                huktra
                you mention in particular our academic institutions. You have evidently never visited that spearmint peppermint hippo tea house place to reassure yourself of the benefits of the UK student visa system.
                Does this comment make me misogynist or an opposer of equal opportunities? Please think twice before you care to drop me a line – the Colonel will be monitoring your content 😉

        • Newsbot9

          No, your xenophobia is very much the real thing, as is the damage being done to redbrick universities finances.

          • Colonel Mustard

            Says another socialist troll.

            • Newsbot9

              Nope, you’re not a socialist troll, you’re a corperatist troll.

      • Davy12

        According to the Tories we need to build on over 1000 square miles of land in England to fix the housing shortage left by Labour. Check it out,,

        As for the academic institutions that abused the position knowing it was being used it as a back door immigration route. I would not let a single student into this country.We only need colleges for teaching our own kids.. That dose include ethnic minorities. If the loony left teachers want to teach foreign kids go to the foreign countries and teach them. The teaching unions and lecturers are scum.

        • huktra

          We should not let prejudice get in the way of what is best.
          Far better that we educate the immigrant students than leave it to the US, France and Germany.
          We will benefit in 2 ways.
          First the elite of the foreign students may stay and enrich us.
          Second those that return will look favourably on Britain for evermore.
          Sadly the xenophobia of some posters lets the Spectator down.

          • Noa

            You want them, you pay for them.

            With 25% youth unemployment cultural enrichment begins at home.

            • Newsbot9

              That’s right, you see it as far too low. Gotta shut down the Universities getting students an education and thus enhancing their prospects! Your workfare for them awaits!

          • Colonel Mustard

            No, your ignorance lets you down. I’m tired of morons like you screaming “racist” and “xenophobia” every time this subject comes up and you find, wonder of wonders, that not everyone agrees with you.

            I’m also tired of the pompous presumption that the English need “enriching”, peddled by you and a few other predictable trolls here. You sound just like telemachus.

            • Newsbot9

              You’re the one trying to “enrich” the discussion with your manure. You keep inventing labels for others while whining about the nature of your views.

              • Colonel Mustard

                You will find it is “huktra” who is creating labels – as are you. Check your own posts.

                • Newsbot9

                  How dare I use cause and effect.

        • Newsbot9

          Ah yes, keep blaming Labour for not fixing a Tory policy of ending council house building. There’s plenty of brownfield land, and a program of council house building could and should use it – but the Tories want to build mansions on the green belt.

          Of course you would attack the University system, and end the UK’s role in the international scientific community. And of course you view the poor as scum who don’t need teachers.

      • itdoesntaddup

        The drop is excellent news for our academic institutions, who were starting to become tarred with the brush of issuing worthless cardboard degrees. It’s also will be very good news for the economy and our future prosperity that there will be fewer sham students acting as a burden on our welfare system and our other resources.

        • Newsbot9

          Ah yes, shutting down redbricks is “excellent news” for you.

          And the students who can’t claim welfare. But hey, don’t let that stop your Jihad against the economy!

          • itdoesntaddup

            As overseas student numbers at universities have increased you have no point at all.

            • Newsbot9

              Increased? Nope, fallen sharply in this academic year, and are set to plummet. You haven’t even read the article!

  • Smithersjones2013

    All this seems rather trivial. When the Rumanians and Hungarians start turning up no one will give a toss about such pedantry…….

    At least net immigration is falling for the moment…..

    • papyrus_maximus

      It’s actually Romanians (notice the spelling) and Bulgarians (notice the nationality), and since they’ve been free to travel to the UK since 2007 I don’t think there’s anything to be scared off.

      The least savoury types who wanted to be in the UK weren’t stopped by the work permit, for sure.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004981542519 Tom Tom

        Yes the British love the paperwork – you can’t eat horse if it says beef on the wrapper

      • HookesLaw

        They are also free to travel to Norway

        • papyrus_maximus

          As far as I know Romanians have emigrated en-masse mostly to Italy and Spain. Good weather, right to work from the EU accession (although I think that Spain might have restricted it since), similar Latin language.

          I can’t imagine any reason for employment-seeking Romanians to come to the UK – because, remember, those who weren’t seeking employment or were valuable and interested enough to get work permits are already here.

          What can the UK offer? Contrary to public opinion, one cannot get housing and JSE just by walking off the plane. What they’d really get is bad weather, poor schools, sub-mediocre healthcare, gouging taxes, an unfamiliar language, all in the furthest away country in Europe. No upside I can think of, including pay or work conditions.

          • Newsbot9

            You’re getting facts in their bigotry. Careful, you’ll be down-voted.

            • Sun

              Can’t you move to Roma? You aren’t a bigot are you?

              • Newsbot9

                Thanks for your interjection of wild-eyed raving there.

                • Sun

                  Nice way avert the question. Surely a bot like you can think of something more clever. *wild eyes*

                • Newsbot9

                  You didn’t ask a question, you ranted at me. And no, I don’t see the need to be “clever” to racism.

  • Simon Mason

    84,000 fall in net immigration. A stark reminder of Osborne’s failure

    • Fergus Pickering

      Failure to do what?

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