26 November 2015

Numbers up, target missed: time for a plan on net migration?

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Today’s new immigration statistics from the Office of National Statistics show another rise in net migration to 336,000 in the year to June 2015, with numbers of new arrivals rising from both within the EU (net 180,000) and outside the EU (net 201,000) . This leaves the government yet further away from the target of “tens of thousands” that both David Cameron and Theresa May have stuck to in the face of repeated failures, writes Steve Ballinger.

Yet unlike the last stats, released in August, these are far less likely to attract much media attention, overshadowed by the Prime Minister setting out his case for bombing attacks on ISIS in Syria, and the repercussions of yesterday’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

It’s worth looking at the new immigration statistics in the light of both of these events.

The horrific attacks in Paris on 13 November provided yet another reminder, if one was needed, of the evil of an organization like ISIS that will take innocent lives to further its twisted aims. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been at the sharp end of it’s advance through Iraq and Syria and have fled for their lives – causing neighbouring countries to play host to thousands of refugees in a crisis that has spilled over into Europe

Britain has agreed to resettle 20,000 Syrians directly from the region. Some have also made their way through Europe and today’s statistics show a modest increase in asylum applications made in the UK – many from Syria, Eritrea, Iran and Sudan.

The number of asylum applications, however, remains but a tiny percentage of the overall immigration figures. Just 29,000 applications were lodged in the year to September 2015. The overwhelming majority of people in today’s new immigration statistics are not  refugees – they are here from the EU, or from non-EU countries, to work because our economy is outperforming those of our neighbours.

The public is concerned about high immigration – they don’t think the Government has got a grip and the repeated failures to get anywhere near the Home Secretary’s self-imposed target just undermines trust further. But many still think we should do our bit for refugees fleeing from ISIS or other terrors around the world, who need our protection and still make up a very small proportion of people coming to Britain.

Offering protection to terrified civilians, many of them Muslims, who are fleeing from ISIS, also shows that the story peddled by these extremists – that Muslims and non-Muslims cannot live peacefully together – is simply wrong. Britain has offered a place of safety to those who most need it since the First World War and well before – and we will continue to do so today.

Getting ‘tough’ on asylum would run counter to who we are as a nation. On a practical level, it would also make almost no difference to the level of net migration to the UK.

What answer is there, then, for those who remain concerned about pressures that high migration can place on housing, schools and jobs? Perhaps Theresa May could learn something from her colleague (and rival for the Conservative leadership), Chancellor George Osborne. Yesterday he set out the results of his Comprehensive Spending Review – in which he looked at the issues our economy faces and the resources available, and set out a long term plan to handle them.

He had more money than expected. The forecast growth in the economy was, in fact, revised upwards because the net migration target has not been met – showing the net contribution of working migrants to our economy.  But it remains a difficult balancing act – one that requires the Chancellor to look at all the options available and plan his response.

Surely there are grounds for a similarly planned approach to immigration?

A Comprehensive Immigration Review – as proposed by British Future and the Institute of Directors – would look at the different flows of migration to the UK, the target the government has set, and the policy options for bringing the numbers down. It could also look at the impacts of those policies – on business, on the taxes that are paid by working migrants, staffing for services like the NHS, and international students that study at our world-class universities.

That might mean some hard choices. It might mean admitting that immigration is likely to remain higher than the Home Secretary’s target, unless we are willing to deal with some less-welcome impacts. But having a plan that the Government is working towards would, at least, bring some order to the process and help restore public trust on immigration.

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