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Significant drop in net migration to the UK in 2010 unlikely

new briefing on migration trends by ippr suggests that net migration is unlikely to fall much below 200,000 in 2011 – roughly the annual level it has been at for much of the last decade.

This is despite the fact that the Coalition government is introducing measures to restrict immigration in order to meet the Conservative election pledge of reducing net immigration 'from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands'.

The briefing sets out a number of reasons why the public should not expect net immigration to reduce significantly in 2011:

  • If the UK economy continues to perform more strongly relative to eurozone countries such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, we might expect increased net inflows from the EU, which is not covered by the annual cap being introduced in April 2011.
  • Increased in-flows from Ireland – where the economy is in severe trouble – are likely. It’s been predicted that 120,000 Irish nationals could leave the republic in 2010 and 2011. Also, numbers coming from Lithuania and Latvia increased from 25,000 a year to 40,000 a year.
  • The cap reduces the annual number of non-EU migrants economic migrants to 21,700, but non-EU economic migration was already declining and, as a proportion of total immigration, the cap will reduce numbers by only two or three per cent.
  • Emigration by UK citizens has dropped substantially in recent years – net emigration was just over 30,000 in the year to March 2010, compared with 130,000 in the year to March 2008. There is no obvious reason why this trend should change sharply in 2011.
  • Foreign student numbers have been growing dramatically in recent years, more than doubling between 2001 and 2008. The number of study-related visas (including dependants) in 2010 is likely to top 300,000. The government plans to curb foreign student numbers substantially, but the restrictions are not likely to take full effect in 2011.

Nick Pearce, ippr Director, said:

'Ministers must manage down public expectations that immigration will be reduced rapidly because ippr analysis suggests this is unlikely to happen in 2011 on current trends. The cap on skilled migration from outside the EU, which the government has already put in place, could hurt the economic recovery. Other hasty measures to reduce numbers artificially would be even more damaging.

'Bringing down the level of immigration, which has been high in recent years, is a legitimate policy goal. But this should only be done by making long-term and sustainable reforms to the structure of our economy and labour market.'

Notes to editors

  1. The Economic and Social Research Institute in Ireland published a paper in July which predicted that 120,000 Irish nationals could leave the republic in 2010 and 2011 – with the UK among the favoured destinations. See http://www.rte.ie/news/2010/0721/esrireport.pdf
  2. While Polish immigration to the UK has stabilised in recent years, there has been a substantial increase in the inflow from Lithuania and Latvia. (Applicants from Latvia increased to 19,000 in the year to September 2010 compared with 12,000 in the previous 12 months, while the figures for Lithuania were 21,000 up from 13,000). See http://www.statistics.gov.uk/pdfdir/mig1110.pdf

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