Migration Statistics - Public Administration Committee Contents

4  Home Office migration statistics

46. Home Office migration statistics record events and processes within the administration of immigration control, such as grants of visas, applications for asylum, admissions at ports, grants of settlement and citizenship, enforced removals and voluntary departures, and detentions under Immigration Act powers. They categorise people by their route of entry, whether as workers, students, or family members. They only record people leaving the UK where those people have breached the immigration rules in some way.

47. The Home Office increased the range of statistics it publishes on immigration in August 2011, when it stopped producing the annual "Control of Immigration" figures and replaced them with more detailed quarterly statistical releases online. The new releases provide annual and quarterly data in much more detail than was previously available.

48. However, Home Office immigration statistics provide only limited information on migration. Nationals of countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland are not subject to migration control, so Home Office data covers only a subset of people moving into and out of the UK. Furthermore, the Home Office does not currently record the exit of most visa holders.[42] This means there are no statistics showing the number of visa holders with valid leave to remain in the UK, or the number of those that overstay their leave to remain.

49. The Home Office does publish some data on the pathways taken by migrants through the immigration system in a research series called "The Migrant Journey".[43] However, the analyses in this series examine the pathways taken by cohorts of migrants over a five year period and each analysis is typically published a year after the end of this period for the most recent cohort, so the data relates to immigration flows from several years in the past. Furthermore, this research compares migrants' outcomes based on their immigration status as recorded by the Home Office, which does not necessarily reflect the geographical location of the migrant. For this reason, the research does not provide information on the number of controlled migrants actually resident in the UK, or the extent of their compliance with the Immigration Rules.

50. There are no official estimates of the number of people who are living in the UK illegitimately, known as "irregular migrants". The most recent figures, produced by researchers from the London School of Economics for the Greater London Authority in 2009, estimated that there were between 373,000 and 719,000 irregular migrants living in the UK at the end of 2007, not including children born to irregular migrants after they moved to the UK.[44]

51. In their evidence to this Committee, several users of migration statistics expressed concern that there was no clear relationship between ONS migration estimates and Home Office statistics on migration control.[45] The two sources of data are incompatible in several respects.

52. Firstly, ONS migration estimates do not record the immigration status of migrants, so it is not possible to identify which migrants within the ONS estimates are subject to particular categories of migration control. It is not possible to tell how many of the immigrants identified by the ONS entered the UK in particular visa categories, for example. It is possible to match loosely some very broad categories of migration in the ONS estimates with those used in control of immigration (for example, nationals of non-EU countries whose main reason for coming to the UK is to study), but the reasons for migration recorded in the International Passenger Survey do not fully correspond with Home Office visa categories and may not in practice indicate a migrant's visa status.

53. Secondly, ONS migration estimates measure migration by people changing their country of residence for a period of at least a year, while Home Office data does not distinguish between immigrants based on their length of stay (except indirectly, in those visa categories which explicitly restrict leave to remain in the UK to a fixed period).

54. Finally, the geographies used by the ONS and the Home Office do not match. The ONS separates migrants based on nationality, country of birth, and country of last or next residence into EU and non-EU countries, while Home Office immigration controls apply to nationals of countries outside the EEA and Switzerland.

55. In its evidence, the Oxford Migration Observatory said the lack of information on migrants' immigration status in ONS migration estimates gave rise to at least three problems in the evaluation of immigration policy:

  • We do not know the numbers and characteristics of migrants with different types of immigration status;
  • We do not know how different types of immigration status affect the economic and social outcomes of migrants in the UK; and
  • We cannot systematically assess the impact of migrants with different types of immigration status on the UK labour market, economy and society.[46]

56. In both written and oral evidence, producers and users of migration statistics said that international passenger data collected as part of the e-Borders programme could potentially address some of the weaknesses of Home Office migration statistics and strengthen their relationship with ONS migration estimates.[47]

57. The e-Borders programme captures only limited information about each passenger: their name, sex, date of birth, nationality, and passport number. For this reason, the ONS said the main benefit to migration statistics of using e-Borders data would be more accurate measures of total immigration, emigration, and net migration.[48] In principle, these figures could be broken down by the variables recorded in travel document information: age, sex, and nationality.

58. The Home Office told us that in future it would be possible to link e-Borders data on people entering and leaving the UK with information on the visas they hold.[49] This not only has the potential to provide information on the immigration status of migrants and their compliance with the Immigration Rules, it also offers an opportunity to gather detailed information on the characteristics of migrants subject to visa control. In written evidence Migration Watch wrote:

    A medium term goal for the Home Office could be to develop their systems in conjunction with e-borders so that they can report how many migrants are in the country, their nationality, the immigration category through which they entered the country and their current immigration status.[50]

59. However, in their oral evidence both the Home Office and ONS indicated that there were obstacles to making full use of e-Borders data for statistical purposes.[51] The e-Borders programme does not yet provide full coverage of all passengers travelling to and from UK ports, and it is not always possible to correctly match passengers' entries and exits.[52] Furthermore, the Home Office suggested it may be several years before e-Borders and visa data could be fully linked.[53] The Home Office attributed the difficulty of integrating the various data they collect to weaknesses in its IT systems, which it told us "are not where we want them to be".[54]

60. On 26 March 2013, the Home Secretary Theresa May announced that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) would be abolished and its functions transferred to the Home Office. In her statement to the House of Commons about the abolition, the Home Secretary acknowledged the weaknesses of Home Office IT systems for managing immigration and announced they will be modernised under a new plan:

    UKBA's IT systems are often incompatible and are not reliable enough. They require manual data entry instead of automated data collection, and they often involve paper files instead of modem electronic case management. So I have asked the permanent secretary and Home Office board to produce a new plan, building on the work done by Rob Whiteman, UKBA's chief executive, to modernise IT across the whole immigration system.[55]

This presents an opportunity for the Home Office to produce much better administrative data on migration, which UKSA identified as vital to improving migration statistics:

    The key step, without which other steps will have only limited benefit, will be the introduction of better administrative data, particularly that from the e-Borders system. Ideally this would be joined up with IPS data, as well as from other sources, such as National Insurance Number allocations and higher education student data, to give a more complete picture. Only then would government statisticians be in a position to make major improvements.[56]

However, as UKSA also acknowledged, while better administrative data would lead to more accurate headline migration estimates, and more detailed information on migrants subject to visa control, it would not provide information on migrants' reasons for migration or on their origins and destinations within the UK.[57] There would still be a need for an additional source of data on migration even if Home Office administrative data were fully exploited.

61. We welcome improvements in the breadth of migration data published by the Home Office since 2011. The Home Office and ONS should use e-Borders data to produce more accurate measures of immigration, emigration and net migration by age, sex and nationality at the national level as soon as possible.

62. The Home Office should move as rapidly as possible towards integrating visa information with e-Borders data, with the aim of measuring immigration, emigration and net migration by people in different visa categories. This would also provide data on the number of people in different visa categories currently living in the UK, and would enable the Home Office to gather detailed information on the characteristics of migrants subject to migration control. The Government should formulate and publish a plan for integrating UKBA's IT, which sets out its objectives, how they will be achieved, and in what time.

63. The Home Office's programme to modernise IT across the immigration system provides an opportunity to improve significantly official migration statistics. It is vital that ONS and other government statistical needs are fully understood and incorporated into new IT specifications. The Home Office and ONS should together develop a coherent strategy for better migration statistics.

42   The EEA comprises the countries of the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Back

43   Most recently, Home Office, The Migrant Journey: Third Report, Feb 2013 Back

44   Gordon, I and Scanlon, K and Travers, T and Whitehead, C M E, Economic impact on the London and UK economy of an earned regularisation of irregular migrants to the UK, GLA Economics, GLA, 2009 Back

45   Ev w8, Ev w8, Ev w10 Back

46   Ev w10 Back

47   Ev w1, Ev w2, Ev w8, Ev w10, Ev w13, Ev w18, Q 40, Q 44, Q 63, Q 94, Q 97 Back

48   Q 94 [Mr G Goodwin, ONS] Back

49   Q 94 [Mr J Simmons, Home Office] Back

50   Ev w8 Back

51   Qq 91-96 Back

52   Q 96 Back

53   Q 94 [Mr J Simmons, Home Office] Back

54   Q 90 [Mr J Simmons, Home Office] Back

55   HC Deb, 26 March 2013 col 1501 Back

56   Ev w31 Back

57   Ev w31 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 28 July 2013