Immigration Cap - Home Affairs Committee Contents

3  Whom will the cap affect?

20. As set out in the previous chapter, in 2009 net long-term international immigration totalled 196,000, and gross inward migration was 567,000. In the same year a total of 97,265 visas were issued to long term non-EEA immigrants under Tiers 1 and 2 (55,270 main applicants and 41,995 dependants).[20]

Inflow and outflow

21. Professor David Metcalf, Chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, explained that, in terms of the migration figures "you've got three routes in: you've got work, study and family. You've got three groups: British, EU, non-EU. So you've got nine cells and we're only dealing with one of those cells".[21] He told us that, in addition to measures to reduce numbers in these nine 'cells' of immigrants entering the country, changes could also be made to increase the 'outflow'—the number of migrants leaving the country—to contribute to a reduction in net immigration. This would involve changing the duration of time immigrants are able to stay in the country, for instance by "weakening the link between work and settlement; possibly on the post study work route-making that more selective, for example".[22] However, he explained that, any such changes, even if introduced now, would not take effect until 2013-14. He acknowledged that in order to reach the Government's proposed goals, there would need to be some limits on immigration through the economic route.[23]

Cap will not affect EEA immigrants

22. As can be seen from Table 2, in 2008 non-EEA nationals accounted for 52% of overall gross long-term immigration, whilst EEA nationals accounted for 33% and British citizens for 15%. Under EU law, any limits on immigration can only apply to non-EEA nationals since the Government has no control over the immigration of British and EEA nationals. However, the Government's target figure for reducing net immigration also includes British and EEA citizens. The Minister explained that it was vital to control "the rate of change of population so that our public services and attitudes can cope with a controlled change in population".[24] He also made the point that, as British and EEA citizens returning after long periods away also contributed to increased pressure on public services, it was reasonable to include them in the net immigration figure the Government was trying to reduce.

23. During our inquiry a media report emerged claiming that three EU countries were issuing passports to individuals outside the EU, highlighting the importance of the issue of transitional controls in any future EU enlargements. The media report stated that Romania had issued 120,000 passports to Moldovans with ethnic Romanian backgrounds, with a further 800,000 eligible to apply, Bulgaria had issued around 60,000 to Macedonians, and Hungary had implemented a similar policy regarding hundreds of thousands of ethnic Hungarians across Eastern Europe.[25] The Minister pointed out that two of the stated countries, Romania and Bulgaria, were still subject to transitional arrangements and those transitional arrangements, which currently run until 2011, could be extended until 2013. The Minister stated a range of factors would need to be taken into account before the Government decided whether or not to relax them in 2011.[26]

Proportion of immigrants affected by cap

24. International Passenger Survey data show that non-EEA economic immigrants—the only immigrants covered by the cap—accounted for 12% of gross long-term immigration in 2008, and in 2009 the number of visas issued to non-EEA economic immigrants and their dependants under the Points Based System accounted for 17% of gross long-term immigration (see Tables 2 and 3).

25. Professor Metcalf considered that, given the relatively small proportion of immigrants accounted for by non-EEA economic immigrants, to successfully reduce net immigration to the tens of thousands the Government would have to significantly reduce numbers of immigrants in the other routes:

    On the assumption that the Coalition Government agreement is to go for the tens of thousands, then work has to play its part in this. But I would have to emphasise that so has students, and so has family as well, because if students and family don't take their proportionate share then work, which is itself the smallest of the three fractions, will have to take a more than proportionate share.[27]

26. The Minister stated that a limit on non-EEA economic immigration was only the first step to limiting overall immigration:

    What I want to see is steady downward pressure on the net immigration level. I cannot emphasise enough that the economic route and the limit on it is only one part of that. There are many other routes of immigration and we shall be looking at all of them. This is a vital part of it and a first step but that is what it is.[28]

27. The net immigration figure—which the Government intends to reduce to 'tens of thousands'—is affected by inflows and outflows of British, EEA and non-EEA citizens. In 2008, British citizens accounted for 15% of gross long-term immigrants, EEA citizens for 33% and non-EEA citizens for 52%. Under EU law the Government cannot limit numbers of British or EEA citizens entering the UK, and consequently can only influence the numbers of non-EEA migrants entering and leaving the country, whilst expecting that natural patterns of British and EEA migration will stabilise over the long term as we have seen with patterns of migration from and back to Spain and Portugal when they joined the EU,[29] and as we are now observing with the A8.[30] The Minister further stated that the impact of any future EU enlargement would be mitigated by transitional arrangements.[31] We recommend that the Government commissions a programme of research better to understand the likely path of British and EEA migration.

28. As the Government pursues its aim to reduce overall immigration to the UK, it is important that it does not underestimate the impact of immigration routes which it cannot control. We urge the Government not to treat the routes it can control too stringently in order to compensate for the routes it cannot control.

29. It is possible the Government will need to act to increase the outflow of non-EEA citizens as well as the inflow, probably through policy changes to break the link between certain immigration routes and settlement. However, we note Professor Metcalf's comments that any changes to length of stay, to influence the outflow, would not take effect until 2013-14, and so for the Government to make an immediate impact the inflow is key.

30. Two different, albeit imperfect, measures of immigration suggest that non-EEA economic immigrants account for less than 20% of overall gross immigration. International Passenger Survey data show that they accounted for 12% of gross long-term immigrants in 2008, and in 2009 the number of visas issued to Tier 1 and 2 immigrants and their dependants under the Points Based System accounted for 17% of the gross long-term immigration total. If Tiers 1 and 2 were to be suspended altogether, this would reduce gross immigration by 17%; and if the cap were implemented at the 5% reduction rate introduced in the temporary cap, the reduction in overall gross immigration would amount to 0.9%.

31. It is therefore clear from the figures that the proposed cap—unless it is set close to 100%—will have little significant impact on overall immigration levels. Our witnesses, including the Minister himself, acknowledged that the current measures were only a first step in achieving the reduction in overall immigration sought by the Government, and that other immigration routes would also need to be examined.

20   See Table 3. Back

21   Q 142 Back

22   Q 146 Back

23   Q 145 Back

24   Q 31 Back

25   'Romania opens back door for thousands of Moldovans to claim benefits in Britain', Daily Telegraph, 18 July 2010  Back

26   Q 44 Back

27   Q 145 Back

28   Q 33 Back

29   Q 43 Back

30   Q 244 Back

31   Q 42 Back

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