Migration Watch are plain wrong to suggest that the introduction of the Points-Based System for managing immigration has led to an increase in the number of economic migrants entering the UK. A number of papers – including the Daily Mail – report the publication of a Migration Watch briefing that purports to show that migration to the UK from outside the EU for work has increased by 20 per cent since the introduction of the Points-Based System in 2008.
But this claim is false. In fact, the Home Office statistics that Migration Watch cite show that the total number of visas issued through the parts of the Points-Based System that deal with migration for work (Tiers 1 and 2) was 97,280 in 2009 (including dependents). This is 15 per cent fewer than the 114,850 visas issued (including dependents) in 2007 through the Work Permit and Highly Skilled Migrant routes that the PBS replaced. This downward trend is continuing – visas (including dependents) granted through Tiers 1 and 2 were down 15 per cent in the first quarter of 2010 compared to the first quarter of 2009.
Migration Watch can claim an ‘increase’ in economic migration from outside the EU only by including in their figures not only new arrivals but also extensions of leave to remain for those who have already come to the UK through Tier 1 and 2 or predecessor schemes in previous years. It is misleading to describe this as immigration. It is also difficult to compare these numbers over time – changes in the immigration rules can mean that more or fewer people need to apply for extensions in any given year, regardless of the underlying levels of immigration (individuals can also make more than one application for extension in a year, so there is some double counting).
In fact, it seems likely that the change to the Points-Based system in 2008 might well explain part of the increase in the number of extensions issued between 2007 and 2009 as people already in the UK ‘transitioned’ from one scheme to another. The increase is also in part a lagged result of high levels of immigration for work before 2007 (well before the introduction of the PBS). That there is no upward trend in these grants of extension is borne out by more recent figures showing that employment-related grants of an extension of leave to remain fell by 15 per cent from 122,105 in the year to March 2008 to 103,500 in the year to March 2009.
Migration Watch are right when they claim that there was a significant increase in the number of student visas issued between 2007 and 2009 (and indeed student numbers continue to rise). However, it is wrong to infer from this that the introduction of the PBS for managing student immigration has meant a loosening of the rules. While there is no doubt some abuse of the student visa regime, the introduction of the PBS (and further changes planned by the last government) mean that the system is being significantly tightened up.
The increase in the numbers of foreign students in the UK is a reflection of a range of other factors, not least the success of the UK higher education sector and the weakening of sterling (which has made study in the UK more affordable). It is also important to note that student visas do not confer a right to settle in the UK, and that most student migration is temporary – increases in student migration have only a limited impact on the long-term rate of net migration to the UK.
Migration Watch are desperate to show that immigration is increasing in order to pressure the Government into imposing restrictions on immigration that could damage the UK economy and public services.
In fact, net immigration to the UK (the surplus of people immigrating over people emigrating) in the year to September 2009 was 11 per cent lower than in the year to September 2008. Declining net emigration by British citizens included in the total figure disguises an even more dramatic fall in net non-British immigration, which was down almost 27 per cent in the year to September 2009 compared to the year to 2008. Net migration from the EU fell by a massive 66 per cent in this period, but net migration from outside the EU is also falling – down 10 per cent in the year to September 2009 compared with the year to September 2008.
David Cameron has said repeatedly that he wants annual net immigration down to ‘tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands’. The economic crisis, the natural cycles of migration flows and the tougher polices of the last government have already turned the tide – and at this rate we will see net immigration fall below 100,000 without the introduction for the much trumpeted cap on immigration.
• Ippr yesterday published a full briefing which analyses last week’s migration statistics.