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Immigration: What You Need To Know

Posted on May 24, 2015
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What is the immigration target? Is the Government ever going to hit it? And what are these tough new measures? Questions answered.

As net migration reaches a record high and the Prime Minister unveils measures to tackle illegal immigration, here’s what you need to know:

:: Immigration – is it a problem?

Net migration (the number of people coming in to the country minus the number leaving) is at a record high. Office for National Statistics figures show net migration at 318,000 for 2014 – the highest level for a calendar year since records began in 1970.

More people in the country clearly means a greater strain on services, such as GPs, housing and schools and that is a problem.

However, there are advantages to immigration, too. A University College London study found EU immigrants boosted the UK’s economy by £25bn in 11 years in tax. It also found immigrants were 45% less likely to claim benefits than those born in the UK.

:: What has caused the net migration figure to rise?

Tony Blair’s government has been accused of presiding over “uncontrolled immigration” from eight eastern European countries in 2004. While France and Germany did not give the new EU countries full working rights until 2011, the UK did.

Labour has apologised for this. A lot. MPs said they estimated only 13,000 migrants would come each year. Turned out it was a bit more than that. Quite a bit more.

There is also the unrest across North Africa and the Middle East which has seen an increase in refugees fleeing to Europe seeking asylum.

:: Is it mainly EU migrants causing the issue?

No doubt arrivals from the EU are a huge factor. The figures show 45% of people coming to this country are now coming from the EU. When you consider in 2001 that figure was 8% you start to see the scale of the problem.

The number of people coming to the UK from the EU hit the highest level ever in 2014. That’s 268,000 in one year.

:: Is the Government going to reduce immigration?

In 2011 David Cameron made a “no ifs no buts” pledge to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands” by 2015. He actually missed that target by more than 200,000.

Nonetheless he’s made the pledge afresh – raising eyebrows among those who think it’s impossible to achieve.

:: How does Mr Cameron say he is going to do it?

He’s going to have to negotiate with the EU but has conceded that he cannot change the freedom of movement rules that mean if you are an EU citizen you can work in any EU country.

Mr Cameron could have tried for a cap on numbers but no EU leader would have agreed. So he is going to restrict benefits, making the UK a less attractive destination. He could find some common ground here; Germany’s Angela Merkel has made some positive noises.

So, in the Conservative manifesto he promised no benefits to EU migrants for four years but critics say this will not reduce numbers.

:: Are they really taking all the benefits?

No. EU migrants only account for 2.5% of unemployment benefits claims.

The bigger problem is in-work welfare payments. A lot of migrants in “low-skilled” jobs claim top-up payments from the state. It means government is effectively subsidising low-paid work.

The think-tank Open Europe estimates that the financial incentive for a single Polish worker on a minimum wage would be halved if in-work benefits were removed. However, many other organisations disagree.

:: So what’s this about illegal immigration then?

Mr Cameron has announced a crackdown on illegal immigration… on the very day the net migration figures were released.

Under the Immigration Bill – to be introduced in the Queen’s Speech – there are new measures to tackle the problem.

These include: seizing the wages of illegal workers, deporting illegal immigrants before they are allowed to appeal, new powers for councils to tackle landlords housing those in the country illegally and satellite-tracking tags for foreign criminals awaiting deportation.

In addition, there will be a new law ensuring businesses do not recruit abroad before advertising in Britain.

:: But that won’t drive down net migration will it?

No. Illegal immigration figures are not included in the net migration figure and Mr Cameron has been accused of distraction, ie. waving about “tough new measures” that will not stall the increasing number of legal migrants.

:: And how many illegal immigrants are there?

We don’t know. Home Secretary Theresa May told Sky News the number was “significant” but she did not put a figure on it.

The last estimate was in 2009 in a study from the London School of Economics, commissioned by London Mayor Boris Johnson, who was thinking of an illegal immigrant amnesty. It put the figure of illegal immigrants in 2007 between 400,000 and 900,000, with a mid-point of 725,000.

:: If they don’t know how many there are, how are they going to find them?

Mrs May says they are going to find the over-stayers. She says a fifth of students overstay their visas. She and the Prime Minister were also on a raid in Ealing, west London, on Thursday, where police have been targeting illegal immigrants.

:: And taking their wages?

Banks will be asked to check accounts against names on the illegal immigrant database, but ultimately most people here illegally don’t have a bank account and are paid cash in hand. Far harder to seize anything from them.

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