Net migration to the UK rose by more than 20 per cent last year, according to official figures.
The Office for National Statistics annual bulletin showed that net long-term immigration was 196,000, up by 33,000 from 2008. This brings immigration close to record levels.
The number of people arriving in the UK actually fell slightly, by 4 per cent, taking the number from 590,000 to 567,000. However, this was offset by the number of people leaving — both foreign nationals and British citizens — which dropped even further, by 13 per cent.
Why are so many more people choosing to remain in Britain? It’s possible that foreign nationals living and working in the UK are concerned about the coalition’s cap on immigration. Those with UK work permits or other forms of legal status, but not citizenship or “indefinite leave to remain”, might be concerned that if they leave the UK re-entry will be problematic.
UK citizens also stayed put, with long-term emigration falling to 371,000 last year from 427,000 in 2008. Why could this be? Difficult economic times are usually a push factor for people to leave the country. Perhaps, in the recession, fewer people are willing to take the risk, or are keen to hang on to their jobs — it’s all speculation.
What is certain, however, is that this highlights a fundamental flaw in the notion of the immigration cap, which David Cameron claimed would bring immigration down into the “tens of thousands”.
Fundamentally, limiting the number of people who can come to the UK does not necessarily translate to a drop in net migration. Quite apart from the issue of EU immigration (which will not be included in the cap), we can see that there are numerous other factors, such as people choosing not to leave.
The number of people granted settlement in the UK between June 2009 and June 2010 also rose by 37 per cent. Of these people, 68 per cent were dependants of those already living in the country.
While the coalition plans to tighten rules on English testing for spouses applying for visas, it is difficult to see how it could feasibly (and humanely) limit the number of dependants coming to the UK. There is an ongoing debate about student visas, too; the number granted in the same period went up by 35 per cent, to 362,015.
It’s a complex picture, and one that is difficult to decipher. But these figures certainly demonstrate that arbitrarily limiting immigration will, in itself, do nothing to solve the perceived problems. The consultation on how to put the cap into action ends on 17 September — it will be interesting to see what the report comes up with.