UK migration: Six myths about immigration debunked as latest figures show fall in non-EU arrivals

The Office for National Statistics said a rise in net migration was mostly caused by dropping emigration

Lizzie Dearden
Thursday 25 February 2016 15:19 GMT
Claims that the refugee crisis would spark a huge rise in UK immigration have not been realised
Claims that the refugee crisis would spark a huge rise in UK immigration have not been realised (PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

New figures showing an annual rise in net migration to the UK have provoked fierce debate but many myths persist about the effects of immigration.

Here are some of the most common misconceptions:

'Migration is higher than ever before '

Annual net migration actually dipped in the year to September compared to the record-setting figures on the 12 months to June, from 336,000 to 323,000.

Although the latest number is still a rise on 2014, only 2,000 more people immigrated to the UK in the latest period analysed.

“The latest increase in net migration was not statistically significant compared with 2014,” a spokesperson for the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Migration has fallen from record levels recorded in the year to June 2015
Migration has fallen from record levels recorded in the year to June 2015 (Getty Images)

“This net increase was the result of a decrease in emigration…and immigration being at a similar level to the previous year.”

Net migration from the EU, 172,000, saw a slight increase on 2014 and the figure for non-EU citizens was also slightly up at 191,000.

In real terms, EU immigration was up from 246,000 to 257,000, while non-EU immigration was down from 289,000 to 273,000.

The ONS said the changes were “not statistically significant” for either group, although a 15,000 jump in immigration from EU2 countries – Romania and Bulgaria – was notable.

'The refugee crisis is pushing immigration out of control'

As stated above, the main cause of the rise in net migration is not immigration itself but a drop in emigration.

Asylum applications also rose for the fifth successive year in the UK according to the ONS, but the increase is negligible in light of the arrival of more than 1 million refugees in Europe.

The number of applications lodged in the year to September 38,878, an annual increase of 20 per cent, the figure is nowhere near the UK’s 2002 peak of 103,000.

Germany, by contrast, had taken more than 353,000 applications in the year to October, while Hungary was on 204,000 and Sweden on 94,000.

The rate of asylum seekers per million people in the UK was 185, lower than Ireland, Iceland and Switzerland.

Most refugees arriving in Britain last year came from Eritrea, followed by Iran, Pakistan, Sudan and Syria.

An additional 1,200 Syrians granted humanitarian protection under the Government’s resettlement scheme, which was introduced after David Cameron refused to sign up to EU quotas, were not counted in the figure.

Rates for granting applications varied widely across different nationals, with almost 90 per cent of Syrians being accepted as refugees compared to just a fifth of Pakistani nationals.

'Immigrants are coming here for benefits'

One of the most frequently raised allegations about immigrants entering the UK is that they aim to exploit the national welfare system, despite numerous studies showing European migrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits.

David Cameron once called public concern about benefits tourism “widespread and understandable” but research has not found a statistical foundation for the fears.

Recent immigrants have made a net contribution of £20 billion to the UK over the last ten years, according to a UCL study, and foreigners are barred from several types of benefits without having permanent residency in the UK, unlike those on work visas, students and asylum seekers don't qualify.

In 2013, a spokesperson for the European Employment Commissioner said the British Government had “completely failed to come up with any specific evidence” to show that its welfare system was being abused and that EU nationals pay more in tax and other contributions than they receive in benefits.

In that same year, a European Commission report showed that unemployed EU migrants made up less than 5 per cent of migrant claimants across the bloc and that fewer than 38,000 were claiming Jobseeker's Allowance.

A leaked Home Office document later admitted that the Government keeps no figures on how many EU nationals claim welfare payments.

A study by University College London estimated that migrants coming to the UK since 2000 have been 43 per cent less likely to claim benefits or tax credits compared to the British-born workforce. “Immigrants, especially in recent years, tend to be younger and better educated than the UK-born and less likely to be unemployed,” the Centre for Economic Performance at LSE concluded in a separate report.

EU migrants not after benefits

'Immigrants are taking our jobs'

The latest ONS statistics show that employment rates for arriving migrants are high.

Of the 290,000 people who immigrated for work in the year to September 2015, almost 60 per cent had already secured a job and the share rose to two thirds for Romanians and Bulgarians.

Around 165,000 EU citizens came to the UK for work-related reasons, with 96,000 arriving to a “definite job” and 69,000 looking for work.

Around two million non-British EU nationals are currently working in the UK, as well as 1.2 million non-EU nationals and 28.3 million Brits, according to the latest statistics from the Labour Force Survey.

Visas granted for skilled work and other working visas were on the rise but those for study fell slightly following policy restrictions brought in by the Conservative government.

But the figures do not necessarily mean new arrivals are “taking British jobs”, experts have cautioned.

In its 2015 General Election briefing, the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics observed: “There is still no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs, wages, housing or the crowding out of public services.

“Any negative impacts on wages of less skilled groups are small. One of the largest impacts of immigration seems to be on public perceptions.”

Its research found that immigrants tend to be better educated and younger than their UK-born counterparts, while their share of the market for new jobs has remained “broadly the same”.

Jonathan Portes, Principle Research Fellow at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, suggested employment fears may stem from the fact that areas with high immigration, such as London, also tend to be where the job market moves more quickly

“It’s fairly obvious that wages are generally higher and jobs easier to come by in areas of high immigration like London, while many low migration areas have relatively depressed labour markets,” he added.

“It’strue that, if an immigrant takes a job, then a British worker can’t take that job – but it doesn’t meant he or she won’t find another one that may have been created, directly or indirectly, as a result of immigration.”

UK unemployment fell to its lowest rate in almost a decade in December
UK unemployment fell to its lowest rate in almost a decade in December (Getty)

'Migration causes crime'

Anti-immigration groups have used fears of criminality as a key focus, particularly following the sex attacks in Cologne and reports of increased crime rates in areas of Europe being directly affected by the refugee crisis.

A report by LSE in 2013 found that crime actually fell significantly in areas that had experienced mass immigration from eastern Europe, with rates of burglary, vandalism and car theft down since 2004.

The research concluded that there was “no causal impact of immigration on crime…contrary to the ‘immigration causes crime’ populist view expressed in some media and political debate”.

Brian Bell, a LSE research fellow, told the Guardian: “The view that foreigners commit more crime is not true. The truth is that immigrants are just like natives: if they have a good job and a good income they don't commit crime.”

A 2008 report for the Association of Chief Police Officers found that national crime rates have continued to fall despite rising net migration over a number of years.

The research found that offending rates among Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian communities were in line with the general population.

(Getty Images)

'It puts a strain on public services, hospitals and schools'

UCL’s Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration at University College London found that European immigrants to the UK pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits, effectively subsiding public services.

“A key concern in the public debate on migration is whether immigrants contribute their fair share to the tax and welfare systems”, co-author Professor Christian Dustmann wrote.

“Our new analysis draws a positive picture of the overall fiscal contribution made by recent immigrant cohorts, particularly of immigrants arriving from the EU.”

While school places and hospital beds are under pressure in many areas, much of the change arises from rising birth rates, the effects of an ageing population and other factors that local and national government has failed to respond to by expanding provision.

Additionally, figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed that 11 per cent of NHS staff are not British, including more than a quarter of doctors.

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