The latest quarterly statistics from the independent Office of National Statistics found net migration soaring to 212,000 by the year ending September 2013. The Home Office’s response was that it was cracking down on the abuse of ‘freedom of movement’.
The figures show a statistically significant increase in Western European (EU15) citizens arriving in the United Kingdom for the long-term, an estimated increase of 65,000 on the previous year. The sluggish economies across Europe are driving young EU15 migrants, in particular from Spain and Italy, to find work in the UK. This has damaged significantly the Coalition’s commitment to drive immigration down to ‘tens of thousands’ by 2015, a Conservative Party red-line in the 2010 general election, which now seems to have damaged David Cameron’s credibility in his perennial battle with the United Kingdom Independence Party. The Liberal Democrats immediately distanced themselves from the net migration target. Less people are leaving the UK as well.
24,000 Romanians and Bulgarians came to the UK, a three-fold increase on the previous year, with the majority of them working and the rest studying.
The income threshold on the family route and tough visa assessments for relatives of UK residents seems to have helped reduce net migration by 7,202. This is coupled with 25,000 Commonwealth citizens rejecting an opportunity to study in the UK, a significant drop on the previous year, although study visas were still up.
Refugees have also added to the increase in the statistics with Syrians, Eritreans and Albanians driving up asylum applications.
The figures are good reading for an economist who would put it down to the UK’s economic resilience attracting migrant workers from across Europe. It’s bad reading for David Cameron and Theresa May who are hell-bent on reducing net migration without hurting the economy. Nigel Farage, UKIP’s leader, has said he’d happily let the economy take a nosedive if it meant driving down immigration by pulling the UK out of the EU and introducing a moratorium on all immigration.
The fallout from the statistics and the unlikelihood of achieving the net migration target will very much give Farage a new platform to suck votes away from the Conservative Party with some knock on effects on Labour and Liberal Democrat voters. UKIP will stir up anger by claiming they are the only party able to control immigration, just the way the Conservatives backed Labour up against the wall in 2010, by promising greater measures to reduce immigration to the UK in order to bring numbers down or to a complete stop.
Economists, NGOs, and other experts have all said that the net migration target of 99,000 is impossible to achieve given the variable factors that determine why people migrate. But the Home Office’s response of ‘we’re tackling the abuse to freedom of movement’ is not aimed at a nervous public with unremitting anxieties about migration but potential Tory voters flirting with UKIP.
More often than not, public opinion about migration is multi-layered, so a message about stopping EU migrants from claiming benefits in the UK is less likely to resonate with the public when most of the economic migrants remain employed, as the statistics show. However, a debate about the labour market in general, wages, and conditions could start a series of discussions about the impact of migration, a position generally championed by the Labour Party and some Conservatives.
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This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.
*Awale Olad is the Public & Parliamentary Affairs Officer at MRN, coordinating the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, supporting parliamentarians and policy makers on establishing a cross-party consensus on immigration policy.