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We need better migration data for an effective immigration policy

16 May 2014

16 May 2014

Britain has a long and proud history of opening its doors to the vulnerable and oppressed; of welcoming workers, students and tourists from across the world. I believe that Britain is a tolerant and welcoming country.

But, right now, we have a big problem with immigration data. UK migration statistics are worryingly inadequate. Between 2001 and 2011, ‘official’ records were off by 350,000.

Without sound evidence it is difficult – if not impossible – to build a full picture of the scale and nature of inward migration to the UK. Policy suffers as a result. How can we plan for the future of schools and hospitals if we don’t know how many people might need to use them? Before we can judge where to spend or invest taxpayers’ money, we need to know where people are living, how long they might live there and whether it’s affordable.

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Our current immigration statistics are based on surveys taken by a tiny number of people – as few as 5,000 migrants a year, says the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) – before taking an informed stab in the dark. Unsurprisingly, these estimates haven’t been accurate. In fact, a report from the PASC concluded that “[m]igration estimates based on the International Passenger Survey are too uncertain for accurate measurement.”

But it gets worse. The EU has now told UK immigration officials to stop asking European migrants how long they’re going to stay in Britain. This is ludicrous. It will make it even harder to measure accurately migration flows. Now we won’t know whether someone is coming here for a week-long holiday, a three-year university degree or for life. And understanding the various categories of immigration is clearly vital if we’re to write effective policy. You don’t need to grasp the minutiae of global migration flows to know that there’s a big difference between someone who’s here for a city break and someone who plans to live in Britain forever.

So, I urge the Government to introduce a system of counting people in and out of the country. This will mean introducing universal exit checks. The e-Borders scheme, which was supposed to do the job, has now fallen by the wayside. In March Sir Charles Montgomery told the Home Affairs committee that the scheme had been “terminated”. This must be replaced as soon as possible. Fortunately, the Home Secretary has already included provisions to introduce exit checks in the Immigration Bill; when introduced, we must make sure these are effective.

The Government should find a way of collecting reliable migration data and resist any measures that prevent us from doing so. With the situation as it is, it is no wonder that the current debate is often confusing and fruitless; full of anger and conflict, and given to descending into shouting matches in which emotive words like ‘racist’ are slung around. Britain and its people deserve better migration data.

Adam Afriyie MP is former Shadow Minister for Science and Innovation. He is current Chairman of POST, although this article reflects his personal views.

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Show comments
  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Total immigration, net immigration or population turnover?
    HMG really have no idea how many Brits are “shaping up and shipping out”. On the occasions I`ve flown the UK coop, I was never asked if I was emigrating. Although I once volunteered this information as a plea for understanding over excess baggage weight. “Oh, you`re going to Tokyo for Christmas” was the response. “You got it, luv.” Normal for Norfolk. Who in their right senses would go to Tokyo for Christmas?

    • George Smiley

      Can you awfully please stop littering these boards with your endless, meaningless and mostly-purely-fictitious-and-imaginary personal stories and your other dross, piffle and tripe, pretty please dear?

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Spectator, surely by now you have realised that your policy of “keeping the nutter around for laughs” is counterproductive and compromises your reputation as a serious publication.

        • George Smiley

          And this is from someone who spells the word them as “um”, here on the (British) Spectator! Unbelievable!

  • zoid

    i was surprised to find out that there is no link between the ukba database and the police national computer, making it almost impossible to track visa overstayers and failed asylum seekers, yet the increasingly bonkers rspca does.

  • itdoesntaddup

    Perhaps we could start with something really crude and simple, like adding up the numbers of passengers coming into the country on boats, trains and planes, and subtracting the number who leave? This management information will surely be readily available from every transportation company, and destination/origin points on their tickets would also be also give some very broad hints on the composition of the flows. Such data could easily be aggregated monthly at very little cost to transportation companies and the ONS statisticians.

    No need to pay for lots more interviewers with clipboards. Why are we avoiding such an obvious and simple cross-check on the official numbers? Perhaps because just as with the scandal of failing to measure migration at airports used by budget airlines flying to A8 countries, the establishment wants to hide the truth for as long as possible – in that case the problem was identified in an official report dated 2006, and nothing was done about it until 2009 – hence the 350,000 “missing” immigrants recently confessed to.

  • DaHitman

    The majority of immigration is still from outside the EU (mostly third world) and the Lib-Lab-Con could stop this at any-time but wont. If you continue to vote for them you support the ethnic cleansing of the UK under another name, Multiculturalism

  • DaHitman

    “We need better migration data for an effective immigration policy”

    It’s called UKIP and this is why the Lib-Lab-Con have been working overtime for months with smears to stop them

  • Cooper1992

    Completely agree with you Mr Afriyie.

    Both the Border Agency, and the figures they give out are an absolute joke. It is an abomination that an island nation cannot count how many people are coming in out of the country in this day and age.

    The European Union’s draconian measure are a joke too. Perhaps yourself and Mr Miliband can have a word with that lovely Mr Schultz that you are both supporting (a vote for Labour is a vote for Schultz) and get him to repeal this law?

    Or perhaps both of you will quickly be silenced by Herr Schultz, thus forgetting about this entire immigration issue, before spending the rest of this year and the next banging on about Old Etonians, ‘same old Tories’ and the Bullingdon Club….

  • sarahsmith232

    Absolutely right. Anyone that believes the ONS on immigration is a member of the really very easily led. The 350,000 is only a guestimate in itself. Could be 750,000, could be 1.5 million for all anyone at the ONS knows.
    During the Nigerian girls coverage saw a Nigerian representative of this community state that there are 2million Nigerians living in this country. According to official stat’s there supposed to be less than 1 million Africans in total. On balance, i’m probably going to go with a Nigerian representative of Nigerians rather than the ONS on this. They massively under-count Somalians, the police and the ONS are at odds on this. They now admit they ‘forgot’ to count at least 350,000 white Europeans, so how many are they willing to admit to . . er… . ‘forgetting’ about that are non-white?
    The Left does not get to say that we all believe that the numbers are far higher ’cause we are all thick racists, more like ’cause we’re not a pack of pathetic, Guardian reading, very easily led, sheep.

    • Raw England

      I always take the official figures, then double them. That’s really the only way of getting closer to the genuine data.

      Figures say that there’s 2.7 million Muslims in Britain. The actual figure is twice that.

      • sarahsmith232

        Good comment. Agreed. Even on official stat’s the % of under 10’s that are non-white is 25%. So in just 15yrs the Brit born 20something population will be quarter non-white, add into that the non-white incoming 20something, mainly male and mainly from parts of the world with less than civilised views on women, then we’re are going to be into a society that is potentially 40% made of non-white and extremely misogynistic young people. For the Left to decree that the only reason why anyone would believe this might not exactly be such a great thing really, is ’cause we’re all thick racists is evidence that the Left is mainly made up of (think I got moderated, so i’d say – insert own description of the less than, well, can’t say, apparently).

    • Raw England

      I always take the official figures, then double them. That’s really the only way of getting closer to the genuine data.

      Figures say that there’s 2.7 million Muslims in Britain. The actual figure is twice that.

  • Blindsideflanker

    For a Conservative MP to plead for better data in order to get a better picture about immigration, when they were in part elected to get a grip on immigration, is a pretty damming indictment of the Government.

    The last election manifesto promise wasn’t ‘vote for us and after four years we will plead for better immigration statistics’ !

    • sarahsmith232

      LOL, spot on! Seen a few of the Tories doing this. Grant Shapps not that long ago slating Labour policy on the allocation of social housing that they still hadn’t altered, do they all really not get that 4yrs in and having made not the slightest bit of difference is not slating Labour now, is just telling people that the Tories are useless. And a pack of say anything that’ll get you elected, party of absolutely no substance and no noticeable conviction. Cameron is a joke.

  • telemachus

    The EU has now told UK immigration officials to stop asking European migrants how long they’re going to stay in Britain.
    I find this appalling
    That is that a Conservative publicises this the week before the election
    Have you defected to UKIP?

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