Lord Green is Chairman of MigrationWatch UK.
Earlier this week, Bright Blue published a manifesto on immigration. Their main point was to call for the net migration target to be abandoned by the Conservatives and replaced by an annual target on gross migration from non-EU countries – a target which would exclude international students. This, and a couple of dozen other proposals which they had hoovered up from the immigration and asylum lobbies, would simply destroy any effective immigration policy.
It seems that the authors are divorced from reality. The plain fact is that immigration has averaged just over 240,000 a year over the past 10 years, reaching nearly 300,000 in the year ending last September. If immigration is allowed to continue at the current rate we would have to build three cities the size of Birmingham in the course of the next Parliament.
The report waved such matters aside with the claim that “on the whole, immigration boosts the national economy”. In fact, no study has ever found that immigration adds significantly to GDP per capita. The OECD are quoted as finding a net fiscal benefit but no mention is made of the UCL report last November which found that all migrants between 1995 and 2011 had cost the Treasury about £20 million a day.
Whatever the economic arguments, continued immigration on anything like the present scale is simply not feasible and the public know it. They realise that our present infrastructure and public services will simply get more and more overloaded. That is why 76 per cent want immigration reduced, including the majority of our ethnic communities. Bright Blue accuse the Conservative Party of “fixating in recent years on trying to appease a minority of voters who are attracted to UKIP’s prominent position on immigration”. It might be more accurate to say that the former are dismissive of firmly held and well justified public opinion.
The manifesto they propose needs to be judged against the outcome of sustained Government efforts over the past five years to reduce net migration. The immigration system has been tightened and some progress has been made on the numbers. Our own estimate is that net migration would have been substantially higher had the Coalition Government not taken the actions that it did. They were undone, of course, by a doubling of net migration from the EU and by an increase in economic migration from outside the EU as our economy strengthened.
Easing up on all fronts, as Bright Blue propose, would see the numbers rapidly running out of control. A target for gross, rather than net, migration from outside the European Union would lose sight of the scale of departures. It is, after all, net migration which adds to the strain on our public services.
Worst still, the exclusion of international students from the target would take out 60 per cent of the inflow, tearing its credibility to shreds. Indeed, there is reason to believe that international students are one of the main drivers of net migration. In recent years they have been arriving at the rate of about 150,000 a year but only 50,000 a year have been recorded as leaving. Much greater focus on the departure of students when their visas expire is probably the most effective course that the next government might take.
The report is silent on the key issue of EU migration, which may soon overtake that from outside Europe.
To be fair, not all the other ideas are unhelpful. An annual report on immigration from the Migration Advisory Committee is a good idea so, perhaps, is the idea of an annual Parliamentary debate. There is also a case for their recommendation that migrants should demonstrate that they can speak English or be on course to do so before they can receive any form of benefits.
The problem is with the main proposals which are divorced from reality, almost contemptuous of public opinion and, sadly, irresponsible.