Migration statistics

Written evidence submitted by Migration Advisory Committee (5STATS 05)

1. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is a non-departmental public body comprised of economists and labour market experts, set up to advise the Government on migration-related issues. We welcome this opportunity to provide feedback on migration statistics.

2. Summary:

· We are regular users of migration statistics, including the International Passenger Survey and Home Office Immigration Statistics (and National Insurance Number administrative data). These data are used to inform our analyses when making recommendations to the Government.

· In general, we are satisfied with the migration statistics produced and have had good engagement with those responsible for their production.

· It is important that the migration debate is based on evidence. However, as with all statistics, there is uncertainty involved. It should be the responsibility of users, as well as producers, of migration statistics to recognise these uncertainties when making inferences.

· A number of suggestions are made below that could help improve the quality of the data related to migration.

Do the published migration statistics – at the national, regional and local levels – meet the full range of their users’ needs, namely:

Are they easily discoverable?

Are they easy to understand?

Do they provide an appropriate level of detail?

Are they effectively summarised?

3. We use migration data at national, regional and local levels. We have not experienced any issues in locating the data we have required. One issue we have encountered has been in creating a time-series of some of the data where releases only include recent periods. We would urge producers of time series migration data to make these more readily available and extending over longer periods of time where this data exists in previous releases..

4. The data are understandable and the available guidance is sufficient for explaining any revisions to the data.

5. A data explorer tool would be useful for users to conduct their own 3-way cross-tabulation of the available data.

6. Summaries that accompany the migration statistics are usually effective and informative and have improved recently.

How well have producers of migration statistics engaged with users? How responsive have they been to feedback from users of statistics?

7. We responded to an Office for National Statistics consultation on migration statistics in July 2012. Some of the recommendations made in our response have been implemented in subsequent releases.

8. When we have made contact with the Office for National Statistics for information on the migration Statistics they produce, they have been willing to engage.

9. Producers of Home Office Immigration Statistics have engaged when contacted in relation to the statistics that they produce.

10. The Migration Statistics User Forum has proved very helpful and we understand the Migration Statistics Improvement Programme to be in the process of making a number of improvements to collection and dissemination of future migration data.

Do the migration statistics which are published enable members of the public to gain a better understanding of the issues?

Are the right migration statistics being collected?

11. Careful and transparent use of the migration statistics which are produced can enable the public to gain a better understanding of the issues.

12. We are aware of the recent debate regarding the inclusion of flows of international students in the net migration statistics. The figures currently available from the International Passenger Survey do not allow a mapping of outflows from the UK by reason for migration with the corresponding reason for initial entry to the UK. As a result it would be difficult to reliably estimate the net migration figure excluding flows of international students.

13. The Office for National Statistics, however, has included a new question in the International Passenger Survey to determine the main reason for initial entry to the UK. It may be possible in future for a reliable estimate of net migration flows excluding international students to be determined.

Is the degree of uncertainty surrounding estimates of migration properly reported and widely understood?

Is the degree of uncertainty surrounding estimates of migration acceptable or should it be reduced? If so, how could it be reduced?

14. Migration statistics are properly reported; however they are often not easily understood. The recent inclusion of standard errors in the International Passenger Survey has been a welcome development.

15. The uncertainty regarding the estimates of migration statistics is made clear by the producer of the statistics and when we use these data in our analyses, we are also transparent about these uncertainties.

16. The sample size of the International Passenger Survey is quite small, resulting in a greater degree of uncertainty. To reduce this uncertainty, the sample size would need to increase and this would result in a greater expense for the collectors of the data.

17. It would be useful for there to be greater clarity of the revisions made to historic data in the Home Office Immigration Statistics.

Are the migration statistics adequate for measuring the Government’s progress against its net migration target?

18. The Government has set a target for net migration in terms of net flows as measured by the International Passenger Survey (IPS). The role of our Committee is to provide advice to the Government in relation to specific questions set by the Government - it is not the role of our Committee to set Government policy. As such, the migration statistics produced as part of these releases are adequate for measuring the progress towards this target. However, although the target is set with reference to the IPS estimates, the policy-lever for the Government to achieve the target is through non-European Economic Area visas which, for a variety of reasons do not match the IPS data.

19. As discussed in paragraphs 11 and 12, we are aware of the current debate relating to international students and await the results of the new question from the International Passenger Survey.

What more could be done to improve the quality of migration statistics?

Should data from other sources, such as e-borders, be incorporated?

20. We have already made reference in earlier responses to the potential new question in the International Passenger Survey as one action which may improve the quality of evidence on migration.

21. Additional actions which would be useful to improve the quality of migration statistics and migration-related data more generally include:

· increased coverage of individuals living in non-residential accommodation in the Annual Population Surveys and Labour Force Surveys, for example caravans, communal establishments and farm out-buildings;

· increased cross-referencing with the wealth of existing information in complementary migration-related data sources such as the Labour Force Survey;

· occupational breakdown of immigration statistics to the 4-digit level of the Standard Occupational Classification; and

· a three-way cross tabulation tool for the International Passenger Survey allowing users to make their own ‘cut’ of the data.

22. Ideally, the richness of available data on the migrant population could be improved, possibly though the use of booster surveys of migrants and greater coverage of migrant employees and the earnings of self-employed migrants.

23. An improvement in the timeliness of migration-related data could help improve the quality of the debate.

24. We are content for this response to be made publicly available.

January 2013

Prepared 4th February 2013