MPs say immigration stats are “little better than a guess”

According to a report by parliamentarians, official figures showing how many immigrants are coming to the UK are “little better than a guess”.

The report by the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) states that the number of migrants coming to Britain is not accurately monitored, and warns the statistics are “not fit for purpose”.

The report also highlights how the data analysis on how many non-UK residents are entering and leaving the country is mainly based on “random interviews” of travellers at airports and ports that were initially introduced to observe tourism trends.

Conservative MP Alun Cairns, who sits on the PASC committee said in a recent television interview: “When we come down to measuring the absolute numbers, it’s far too blunt, the way in which they collect the data is too inaccurate and the margin for error is far too great.”

Only 5,000 migrants a year are identified through the International Passenger Survey (IPS) and the report warned that many “may be reticent to give full and frank answers”.

MPs said that the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which uses the research to draw up its migration estimates, has “done its best” to produce informative statistics, but the survey “is not fit for the purposes to which it is put” and ministers must find new methods to gather concrete information.

In June 2012, immigration was estimated at 515,000 while emigration was estimated at 352,000.

Coalition immigration policies

The Con-Dem coalition aims to reduce net migration – from the hundreds of thousands down to the tens of thousands by 2015.

Several MPs warned the government is at risk of ending up with an “inappropriate” immigration policy if it bases its target level of net migration on uncertain statistics “which could be out by tens of thousands”.

The report says that the ONS migration estimates includes no information on the immigration status of migrants, while statistics produced by the Home Office do not indicate the number of visa holders with indefinite leave to remain in the UK or the number of people who overstay their leave to remain.

Statistics produced by both organisations are “blunt instruments” for measuring, managing, and understanding migration, the report added.

PASC said migration statistics could be significantly enhanced if the Home Office and ONS thoroughly recorded and linked the data they already gather.

Advice and initiative

Leading parliamentarians called for the e-Borders system to be used for measuring immigration, emigration and net migration as a matter of urgency.

PASC committee chairman, Bernard Jenkin said: “Most people would be utterly astonished to learn that there is no attempt to count people as they enter or leave the UK. They are amazed when they are told that government merely estimates that there are 500,000 immigrants coming into the UK each year.

“This is based on random interviews of around 800,000 people stopped and interviewed at ports and airports each year. Only around 5,000 of those are actual migrants, many of whom may be reticent to give full and frank answers, to say the least.”

The IPS was also criticised by PASC for inadequately collecting relevant information needed to work out the social and economic consequences of migration, such as demand for the National Health Service or education.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We disagree with the report’s conclusions. Government reforms on immigration are working and the statistics do show that net migration is at its lowest level for a decade. The government is determined to build a fairer system and to address the public’s concern about immigration. If you have any concerns about your immigration rights and are in need of an immigration attorney then you may want to check out some legal professionals online to help you. Offering you outstanding legal services and immigration advice on your case.

“We are committed to getting net migration down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands, and we want to be judged against the very best available evidence.”

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