Immigration policy: basis for building consensus Contents

2Immigration policy should be informed by honest and open debate and supported by evidence

12.In their National Conversation British Future identified that a lack of trust in immigration facts and figures and lack of say in policy were undermining public confidence in the system. They found considerable willingness among the public to engage with the detail of immigration policy but also considerable scepticism about the current system, as predictions and targets of successive governments have diverged from reality.4 As we will set out, there are significant limitations in data and analysis, and public consultation on policy-making has been weaker than in other areas. To build greater consensus, there therefore needs to be an overhaul of the way data is gathered and published, and important changes to the way the public are involved in planning and setting immigration policy.

Targets and forecasts

13.Government targets and forecasts of migration have been a source of common complaint during our inquiry. We heard how the Labour Government’s under-estimate of migration flows of EU nationals from eastern European countries and the current Conservative Government’s net migration target have both contributed to diminishing the public’s faith in immigration policy and the data meant to underpin it.

14.In 2004 the then Labour Government lifted the transitional restrictions on immigration from eastern European Member States (known as the A8 countries) while many other EU countries left them in place for a further seven years. The Government estimated that its action would result in between 5,000 and 13,000 people moving to the UK each year.5 This quickly proved to be a huge under-estimate. In 2005, 68,000 nationals from the A8 countries moved to the UK, rising to a peak of 103,000 in 2007.6 In addition to problems with government forecasts, official statistics based on survey data have also underestimated the number of people arriving in the UK. As the Migration Observatory at Oxford has noted, “total net-migration between 2001 and 2011 was underestimated by 346,000” due to an underestimation by the Office for National Statistics “predominantly driven by an undercount of migration from the A8 Eastern European countries”.7

15.In 2010 the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government introduced a net long-term migration target of “tens of thousands” of people per year. It does not differentiate between different types of migration and is affected almost as much by changes in emigration, over which the Government has very limited control, as it is by changes in immigration. The Government has never hit the net migration target since its inception, and the latest figures showed net inward migration to be 230,000.8 Net migration of non-EU migrants alone, which the Government can control regardless of whether the UK is in the EU or not, has consistently exceeded 100,000 since 2010.

16.During our inquiry, we heard that the Government’s net migration target undermined public confidence because it acted as a quarterly reminder that the Government was unable to control immigration in the way it had promised.9 Witnesses before our predecessor Committee described it as “a very crude measure” that created “a one-dimensional way of thinking about our immigration system”.10 The Institute of Directors described it to us as a “completely random number which is not based on any empirical understanding of the needs of UK employers”.11

17.The Government’s existing net migration target set at “the tens of thousands” is not working to build confidence or consent. The continued discrepancy between the target and reality has damaged the public’s view of the immigration system because it undermines trust in the state’s ability to control migration in the way it intends or to deliver on its plans. Setting a long-term target or aspiration does not solve the challenge of achieving credibility, as people want to see practical steps that can be taken in the short-term. As we set out later in this report, the target should be replaced with a new framework of targets and controls based on evidence.

Entry and Exit data

18.Official sources of data fail to accurately capture migration flows. The decennial census can provide information on migrant populations and flows but its data quickly become outdated and recent migrants are more likely to miss census operations or refuse to participate.12 Net migration is primarily measured using the International Passenger Survey (IPS), based on interviews with people entering and leaving UK ports. The IPS was not originally designed to measure migration but since its introduction in the 1960s it has become the default tool. It has been heavily criticised, particularly due to the relatively small sample size of long-term migrants captured by the survey (around 5,000 out of the 800,000 interviews are with people intending to stay in the UK over a year) and the difficulties in accurately recording people’s reasons for emigration. While statisticians are relatively confident of overall figures of net migration produced by the IPS, there is more uncertainty when the data is used to produce detailed estimates for different migrant groups such as workers and students. 13

19.A lack of reliable data on who is entering and leaving the UK can lead to unsupported policy decisions and risk undermining public confidence in the system. The large gap in IPS data between the number of international students entering the UK and those leaving led to an assumption by the Government that many students overstayed their visas (an assumption that was always disputed by the higher education sector).14 In response to this, and other concerns around bogus colleges and fraudulent applications, the Government tightened the rules around student visas.

20.In 2015 the Government reintroduced exit checks at the border in order to get a comprehensive picture of those who leave the UK.15 Although the exit checks programme was designed and introduced for operational purposes, to check compliance with visa arrangements and track the movement of criminals and terrorists rather than to produce statistics, some analysis of migration flow has been published. The first release of analysis challenged concerns of abuse of the immigration system by international students. The exit check data showed a high degree of compliance in that group, with at least 97.4% of those students who were due to leave the UK doing so.16 In fact the exit check data showed a high degree of compliance across the visit, work and study visa categories. Of the 1.34 million visas granted to non-EEA nationals and which expired in 2016–17, where individuals did not obtain an extension to remain longer in the UK, 96.3% departed on time.17

21.Entry and exit check data analysis is currently only done for people who have entered the UK on a visa since 2015. This therefore excludes British and EEA nationals entering or leaving the UK, most visitors, and those whose visas expired in earlier years. However, now that checks have been put in place, it should be possible to expand the system to provide more robust data across the breadth of immigration routes into the UK.

22.Accurate analysis of who is entering and leaving the country is vital for effective policy-making and confidence-building. The International Passenger Survey (IPS) has proved to be inadequate for this purpose. We therefore welcome the reintroduction of exit checks and the publication of data on the exit rates in the study, visit and work visa categories. The exit checks programme has been shown to be an important source of data to use alongside the IPS survey and may help to improve public confidence in the immigration system. We recommend that the analysis of exit check data for visa holders be published quarterly alongside IPS immigration statistics. We also recommend that the Home Office examine how all entries and exits from major ports in the UK, including for non-visa travellers, can be recorded and that all entry and exit information is then used to aid the analysis of migration flow and to better inform policy decisions.

23.The data captured by the decennial census is produced too infrequently to be valuable for measuring the impact of immigration on local areas. Beyond the extension of analysis based on entry and exit data, the Office for National Statistics should work with the Migration Advisory Committee, devolved governments and local authorities to develop regular and granular analyses of migration flows by local areas.

Illegal immigration data

24.One of the most common public concerns raised about immigration is the number of people living in the UK without leave to do so. This may be in the form of people entering the country clandestinely, not leaving the country after their application for asylum has been turned down or overstaying the terms of their visa. In June 2005 the Home Office published the outcome of an assessment of whether methods used in other countries to estimate the size of the illegal population could be applied to the UK. The outcome estimated that the total unauthorised migrant population living in the UK in 2001 was approximately 430,000.18

25.More recently the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) has found that, over a six-month period in 2015, 6,429 migrants were discovered to have entered the UK illegally in lorries, and a study at the end of 2016 found that the Home Office had lost track of nearly 60,000 individuals without a legal right to be in the UK.19 There is no data to show how many refused and appeal-exhausted asylum seekers remain in the country; over a quarter of the annual asylum-seeking population is refused but not removed or known to have departed.20 Similarly, there is no publicly available data on how many refused asylum-seekers do not have national documents or a realistic means of obtaining them, and therefore who could not leave the UK either voluntarily or involuntarily. David Wood, former Director General of Immigration Enforcement, told us that he believed there to be at least one million people illegally resident in the UK.21 The Home Office told us that they had not attempted to make a recent estimate of overall levels but that the exit check programme had provided some information on the period since its introduction.22

26.The longstanding paucity of data on who may be in the country illegally is a serious concern. It has allowed anxiety to grow unchecked and has been perceived as the Government showing indifference toward an issue of high public interest. We recognise the Government’s concern that to create an official estimate of overall illegal immigration without any reliable evidence would not add value to the debate. However, we also believe that more analysis of the scale and nature of the problem of illegal immigration is needed in order to develop appropriate policy responses and reassure the public that the issue is being addressed seriously. The Government should use exit data, and other relevant sources of information, to produce an annual estimate of the number of people who have breached the rules in that year to remain in the UK.

Economic data

27.There is a lack of comprehensive analysis of the relationship between immigration and the labour market. In the context of Brexit, it has become clear that the Government does not know how limiting the rights of EU nationals to work in the UK may impact on the UK’s public services and businesses. As long as freedom of movement continued, the Government did not have to deal with this question. This has meant that not only does it now lack the data from which to build an effective post-Brexit immigration policy but it is also unable to reassure the public that it knows what it wants the UK’s post-Brexit policy and processes to look like or what the costs and benefits of a range of policy options might be. This means it is hard for businesses and employers to have confidence that their skills and recruitment needs have been properly assessed or taken into account.

28.Six months after the referendum, our predecessors took evidence from Professor Alan Manning, Chair of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). It was astonishing to learn that the MAC had not yet been commissioned to undertake any work on the potential impact of Brexit (and it cannot undertake such work of its own accord).23 It was not until July 2017 that the Government commissioned the MAC to “complete a detailed assessment of the role of EU nationals in the UK economy and society”.24 The MAC was asked to consider the regional distribution of migrants, skill levels, industry sectors and the role of the self-employed, and part-time, agency, temporary and seasonal workers. The MAC is expected to report in September 2018, many months after the UK’s negotiations with the EU on the precise terms of their future immigration relationship are expected to have begun.25

29.The data and advice that the Migration Advisory Committee has been asked to provide on the role of EU nationals in the UK economy and society is vital to the development of a successful immigration system and to building confidence in that system. We welcome the commissioning of the MAC to provide this vital evidence, but we do not understand why it took the Government more than 12 months from the referendum to commission this work or why such data is not collected by the Government as a matter of routine. The delay means that the White Paper on immigration, expected early this year, will have been drafted in an acknowledged evidence vacuum. It also means that when the Government begins negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, it will do so without knowing what it wants the UK’s future immigration arrangements with the EU to be or what the economy needs. We recommend that the MAC have a rolling commission to regularly collect and publish data on the relationship between the labour market and immigration.

Challenging misconceptions

30.There are widespread misconceptions about immigration, including that most migrants come to the UK to access benefits, despite migration to work and to study making up by far the greatest proportion, and significant over-estimates of the number of people arriving in the UK each year to seek asylum. These misconceptions can make it difficult for some people to integrate. They can also be exploited and deliberately manipulated to increase division and accentuate fear. We have already stated that immigration policy should be evidence-based. The Immigration Law Practitioners Association told us that “an evidence-based policy also allows the government to defend it with reference to information and objective data, which is much more difficult to argue with than a particular opinion.”26

31.We call on the Government to be more proactive in challenging myths and inaccuracies about immigration and the asylum system, including by publishing more factual information about the costs and benefits of immigration at local and national levels. As we set out below, this could be achieved by an Annual Migration Report and debate.

Annual Migration Report

32.The volume of evidence submitted to our inquiry suggests a strong interest from stakeholders to engage with immigration policy development, whilst the consultations done by British Future showed that most people were willing to discuss and compromise over immigration policy when given the opportunity to engage in informed debate.27But, unlike in other policy areas such as the annual Budget, there is no framework for regular debate and analysis of the Government’s approach to managing immigration. Other countries take a different approach. For example, the Canadian Government conducts an annual engagement and consultation exercise as part of its development of an immigration levels plan which it tables as an Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration.28 The report sets out key details on permanent admissions, temporary residence volumes and inadmissibility and provides context to future projections.29

33.The Canadian Government has also adopted a three-year plan for immigration. The plan details projections for future years and is intended to provide more predictability to the immigration system to help government at a national and regional level, and other stakeholders, improve their planning for permanent residence admissions. The Canadian Government expects to update future ranges on how many people might be admitted to the country each year via the Annual Report on Immigration.30

34.British Future suggests that the Government could increase its public engagement via an annual report and debate in Parliament along similar lines to the Budget Statement. They propose that the ‘Migration Day’ report to Parliament could detail the previous year’s migration flows and their economic and social benefits and costs, measures taken by the Government to mitigate any adverse local impacts and aid integration and the Government’s targets for the forthcoming year, underpinned by advice from the Migration Advisory Committee. They argue that such an event could become the focal point for a sustained commitment to public engagement on immigration. 31

35.An annual report and debate would provide the opportunity for public scrutiny of immigration controls and targets, of the impact on the labour market and on communities, and of the views of employers and other stakeholders. It would require the Government to address fears and concerns to prevent people exploiting anxiety about immigration.

36.Members of the public, organisations and businesses need access to better information about migration flows and the Government’s policy approach to managing them. We believe that the Government should table an Annual Migration Report and set aside parliamentary time for debate on that report. The report would detail the previous year’s migration flows, the economic contribution from migration to the Exchequer and the measures taken by the Government to manage impacts and pressures. Like the Comprehensive Spending Review, it could set out a three-year plan which would then be reviewed annually. It would be informed by independent advice from the Migration Advisory Committee just as the Budget is informed by the Office for Budget Responsibility; and it would include public consultation at local and regional level. As we set out later in this report, it should cover targets or controls for different kinds of migration, an assessment of migration levels and consideration of policy requirements for different regions and nations, plans for integration and support for local communities, and parallel labour market plans to deal with skills shortages which are increasing demand for overseas workers or measures to deal with exploitation of low skilled migration.

37.The Annual Migration Report would have an explicit objective towards consensus building, to which all parties should commit. It should become the focal point for a sustained and ongoing commitment to public engagement across the nations and regions of the UK. Migration plans should include measures to challenge misinformation and build trust, support and credibility. The Government should therefore actively seek submissions about its migration targets. Parliamentary committee hearings and public debates in town halls and other settings could scrutinise proposals and recommendations from civil society. The Government should be frank and open in recognising that policy-making involves compromise and that balancing competing interests means that no one can get everything they want. Adopting this approach would have the benefit of normalising a sustained, ongoing commitment to public engagement as part of the annual process of the oversight and review of immigration choices in the UK.

4 British Future and Hope not Hate, National Conversation on Immigration: An interim report to the Home Affairs Committee, January 2018

5 Migration Watch, The impact on immigration of the EU expansion to Eastern Europe, July 2003; BBC News Online, EU migrants settling across UK, 30 April 2008

9 Oral evidence taken on 31 October 2017, HC (2017–19) 500, Q16; British Future, Time to get it right: finding consensus on Britain’s future immigration policy, 5 September 2017; Written evidence submitted by Bright Blue [IBC0016]

10 Oral evidence taken on 24 January 2017, HC (2016–17) 864, Q12 [IPPR] and oral evidence taken on 2 March 2017, HC (2016–17) 864, Q217 [Scottish Government]

11 Written evidence submitted by the Institute of Directors [CTD0007]

13 Financial Times, Five reasons to question UK immigration figures, 30 November 2016

14 Times Higher Education Supplement, Theresa May: rules must be enforced on overseas students, 6 October 2015

15 HM Government, Policy paper: Exit checks fact check, 29 March 2015

19 Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, Hostile environment measures relating to driving licences and bank accounts, October 2016

20 Migration Observatory, Migration in the UK: asylum, 26 October 2017; British Red Cross, Can’t stay. Can’t go: refused asylum seekers who cannot be returned, 2017

21 Oral evidence taken on 10 October 2017, HC (2017–19) 421, Q36

22 Oral evidence taken on 17 October 2017 (2017–19) 434, Q164

23 Oral evidence taken on 24 January 2017, HC (2016–17) 864, Q83

26 Written evidence submitted by the Immigration Law Practitioners Association [IBC0011]

29 Government of Canada, 2017 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, November 2017

30 Government of Canada, 2017 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, November 2017

12 January 2018