Stoking paranoia about migration

By Simon Barrow
August 26, 2010

The gap between the reality of the Office of National Statistics quarterly migration statistics and the knee-jerkery of much of the media (and not just the tabloids) is as predictable as it is disturbing.

Here are some condensed facts.

Estimated total long-term emigration from the UK in the year to December 2009 was 371,000. This is 13% lower than the final estimate of 427,000 in the year to December 2008, and along with a 35 per cent increase in student visas (362,015 issued), bringing millions of pounds into the country, explains the rise in net migration in the latest figures. Meanwhile, total long-term immigration to the UK in the year to December 2009 was 567,000 compared with the final estimate of 590,000 in the year to December 2008 and at a similar level to that seen since 2004, when the A8 countries of central and eastern Europe joined the EU. There have additionally been sharp falls in the number people coming to work in Britain under the points-based immigration system. The number of temporary employment visas fell by 17 per cent to 66,495. There were half the number of Eastern European arrivals as compared to 2008. And there was a further fall in the number of asylum seekers coming to Britain, down from 25,930 in 2008 to 24,485.

And here are some headlines that bypass or contort these facts.

"Immigration up by a fifth?" (Telegraph), "Net migration double the government's target" (BBC 10 O'Clock News), "Net immigration up 20% in year" (Sun), "Number of immigrants living in the UK long-term SOARS by 20%" (Mail), "UK Struggles With Net Increase In Immigration" (City News Post), "Rise in immigration adds 200,000 to British population" (This is London) and so on and so on...

Some of them don't even know the difference between net migration and immigration, it seems.

Thankfully, there have been one or two honourable exceptions. A particular hat-tip to the Financial Times for "Immigration falls to lowest level since 2005", and to the Guardian for their follow-up story: "Immigration cap will lead to skills shortages, say employers."

Because the real issues of migration are not primarily about 'the numbers game'. They are about global economic instability and change, multiple forced people movements, human rights abuses, war and displacement, massive income differentials, the denial of justice to Roma and other minorities, climate change refugees (which is set to be a huge concern) - and, of course, deep-seated prejudice and racism, as Vaughan Jones' perceptive paper 'Migration: Why a broader view is needed' ( makes clear.

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