More than a decade of growth, then in 2008, sudden decline. Sound familiar? Yes, the latest figures on migration seem to be mirroring the economy. The statistics show that the net migration rate in 2008 was down to 118,000 – a 44 per cent drop on the previous year. Dramatic though it is, this decline is not surprising. Migration responds to economic conditions – people come when jobs are plentiful, go when jobs are scarce.
A large part of this new trend in migration to the UK is explained by rapidly-increasing emigration of non-British citizens – up 50 per cent in 2008. This trend is marked in Eastern Europeans – largely Poles – who arrived in such numbers when their countries joined the EU in 2004. The migration rate from these countries was 14,000 in 2008 – the peak was 80,000 in 2007.
At the same time these figures demonstrate that our population is growing, partly because of recent strong levels of immigration. This is good in many ways. Immigrants are mostly young so their arrival helps avert negative effects of an ageing population. Some migrants have integrated and started families. Since this takes a few years, it is unsurprising that the population figures show growth when the migration figures show a drop.
Because overall migration to the UK is now declining, those who use high levels of immigration to scaremonger about population growth may have to revise their predictions. They have falsely assumed that migrants want to stay forever. An Institute for Public Policy Research study published last month showed that increasing numbers of migrants are only staying for short periods. Young, skilled, hard working migrants have lots of countries that want them – so the UK may have to work harder to attract and retain such people.
Tim Finch is Head of Migration at the Institute for Public Policy Research