The latest immigration statistics from the Government are awful, from their point of view.
When they came to power, net migration (numbers arriving minus numbers leaving) was around 250,000 per year. They promised to cut it to less than 100,000 per year.
Of course, you can debate whether that is a good thing. That is not the purpose of this post. The fact is that they made that pledge.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that net migration in the year to September 2014 rose from 210,000 to 298,000. In other words, David Cameron’s pledge is “in tatters”, as Labour’s Yvette Cooper noted.
The government claim it is not their fault.
Home Office Minister James Brokenshire said: “We have been blown off course by net migration from within the EU, which has more than doubled since 2010.
“That’s why we need to continue to crack down on the abuse of EU free movement and continue our reforms to make our welfare system fairer and less open to abuse.
“We have also been constrained in government by Liberal Democrats who don’t have that same aim and focus on reducing net migration.”
To paraphrase, “the government have been doing the right thing and it’s the Liberal Democrats’ fault that we haven’t been doing the right thing”.
Beyond that panicky contradiction from Mr Broken-promise, are his comments right?
Looking at the detail of the ONS figures, immigration to the UK rose from 530,000 to 624,000.
Within those figures, immigration of non-EU citizens rose by 49,000 to 292,000. Immigration of EU citizens rose by 43,000 to 251,000. Immigration of UK citizens was 82,000. In the same period, emigration was 327,000, leaving the headline net figure at 298,000.
Therefore certainly, over the last year at least, about half the increase in immigration was accounted for by EU migration.
More importantly, though, all those figures are completely, totally, fictional anyway. Let me explain.
Over the same period, National Insurance number registrations to overseas nationals went up 24% to 768,000.
Of course, some of those NI numbers will have been granted to people who migrated into the UK in previous years. However, since immigration has been rising and not falling, it seems a little strange (to put it mildly) that NI number issues exceeded total gross immigration by 23% (768,000 NI numbers and 624,000 immigrants). Especially when you consider that the immigration figures include children.
Why this discrepancy? Has there been a sudden flood of people who migrated in previous years, and are now applying for NI numbers in order to work? Well, perhaps a few, with the economic recovery under way. Is it credible that the discrepancy is so large?
Let me say bluntly: the official migration figures are wrong. Naturally, they do not include illegal immigration. That much is widely understood. But even just talking about legal immigration, they are still wrong.
To understand why, you need to look at the way the ONS measures migration.
Start on page 4:
There is no single, all-inclusive system in place to measure all movements of people into and out of the UK. Therefore it is necessary to use a combination of data from different sources, which have different characteristics and attributes, in order to produce estimates of international migration.
In short, the Government does not count people in and out of the UK, so actually does not know how many are arriving. The ONS figures are only estimates, based on a range of sources.
Page 5 makes it clear that the figures are fundamentally based on the International Passenger Survey. This is a random survey of passengers that is carried out by the ONS at UK airports, sea ports and the Channel Tunnel.
The document explains that the methodology was changed in 2009 “to increase its coverage of regional airports”. The reason is that many immigrants arrive on cheap flights, which usually arrive at regional airports. So the figures, before that, had understated immigration.
The document then explains that the raw survey data is grossed up to cover total numbers travelling.
A detailed description of how the IPS raw data is grossed is available in Travel Trends – A Report on the International Passenger Survey.
The link provided is to a page about the “Travel Trends” report. That page explains the IPS method.
The known passenger traffic information is provided to the IPS team by CAA, Department for Transport, Eurostar, Eurotunnel, BAA and a number of airports themselves.
Do you believe all that information is accurate? Of course the figures are grossed up to the total number of people travelling, based on that “known passenger traffic information”.
But that is only the start. The sample data is then weighted “for each port/route and direction of travel combination”, according to a 7 stage weighting system:
Stage 1 – grosses up from the number of surveying shifts to the total number of shifts at the port in question (thus removing the bias that some ports are covered more thoroughly than others)
Stage 2 – grosses up for non-response (people refusing to participate and people who could not subsequently be contacted), complete with different weightings for weekday versus weekend
Stage 3 – a further grossing “relating to the sub-sampling of non-migrants”, meaning – search me what.
Stage 4 – a weight factor for minimal survey responses (which are discarded), for example because the respondent is unable to speak English
Stage 5 – a weight factor for total traffic at the port in question
Stage 6 – a weighting for hours that are not covered, e.g. night-time, on the basis that, for example, flights from certain parts of the world are more likely to arrive in those hours
Stage 7 – a “fudge factor” to take account of “an observed imbalance between the number of non-migrants entering and leaving the UK”.
They then apply a seasonal adjustment. Then they add more figures derived from:
- UK residents on cruises departing from or arriving at UK shores,
- Channel Islands expenditure and receipts from tourism,
- Rail fares purchased by overseas visitors to the UK and UK visitors abroad before the start of their visit, and
- Estimates of travel across the land border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, from the Irish Central Statistical Office.
Really. I kid you not. This tortuous process of figure-massaging is the basis for those headline migration figures.
Consider how reliable opinion polls are. Not very, eh? The typical opinion poll is based, like those ONS migration figures, on a sample. The methodology for a typical opinion poll will be much less tortuous than the one the ONS uses for those migration figures.
In other words, the official migration figures are less reliable than a typical opinion poll.
This is not a criticism of the ONS. It is doing its best to estimate figures that simply are not available, but should be. Like I said, the Government does not count people in and out of the UK, so actually does not know how many are arriving. What is more, it has absolutely no intention of doing so.
Those figures for NI number issues are real, measured figures. The ONS migration statistics are an estimate. No surprise, then, that they are not consistent with each other.
Using the NI figures, for example, you could say that 768,000 NI numbers were issued, multiply them by say 1.3, to account for dependants of those arriving, and produce a figure of 1 million for gross immigration – almost double the ONS figure.
That figure would be more reliable than the ONS figure. Or not. Who knows?
How on earth can we have a reasonable debate in this country about immigration control, if we do not have any reliable figures at all upon which to base the debate?