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Progress toward net migration target; most difficult part still to come

28 Feb 2013

The government is more than half way toward its goal of reducing net migration to its ‘tens of thousands’ net migration target, new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows. About half of this decline stems from changes to non-EU migration, and therefore may be plausibly linked to immigration policy changes. Falling net migration among A8 nationals also has played a role.

Today’s (Thursday, 28 February 2013) data from the ONS show that net migration to the UK continued to fall in the year to June 2012 –  to an estimated level of 163,000. This represents a reduction of 92,000 from a recent peak of 255,000 in the year to September 2010, the highest number recorded for a twelve month period since 2006.

A further drop of just over 63,000 in net migration is needed to reach the government’s target of less than 100,000 by 2015. These reductions may well be even more challenging to achieve. This is because some of impacts of recent policy changes have been realised, and also because net migration from the EU and among British citizens is neither predictable nor directly affected by immigration controls.

Dr Scott Blinder, Acting Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “Of the decline of 92,000 in net migration from its recent peak, a bit more than half (47,000) come from changes in non-EU migration, where the government’s policy changes may be having an impact. Another 35,000 is accounted for by changes in the migration of British citizens and 9,000 is accounted for by lower net migration of EU nationals, none of whom are directly affected by changes to immigration policy.” (Net migration among British citizens involves both departures and return arrivals of British citizens returning from more than a year long stay abroad.)

Notably, the decline in net migration within the EU is entirely due to A8 nationals. Net migration to the UK among A8 nationals has declined by 20,000 since September 2010, while at the same time net migration to the UK has increased by 11,000 among the rest of the EU.

Given today’s data release, a further 63,000 of cuts to non-EU migration would be needed to reach the target, presuming that EU and British net migration remain at their current levels – which is made uncertain by the question of A2 migration in 2014, with the expiration of transitional restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals’ access to the UK labour market.

Dr Blinder added: “Making the further cuts in non-EU net migration needed to reach the target, if this was done in proportion to current levels of immigration, would require about 38,000 in further reductions to student net migration, over 12,000 in cuts to net migration of labour migrants and over 12,000 among family migrants. This could still be a difficult task, as these figures are greater than the total remaining reductions projected in the government’s Impact Assessments for its policy changes.”

To this point, dating from the recent peak in the year to September 2010, immigration among students has fallen by an estimated 48,000 (mainly among non-EU nationals), compared to 31,000 for work (entirely among British and EU nationals) and 8,000 for family (concentrated among non-EU nationals). In the year to September 2010, there were an estimated 245,000 migrants arriving for the primary purpose of study, 204,000 for work, and 76,000 to accompany or join a family member. Emigration in total has increased by 7,000 in the same period.


For further information contact:

Mikal Mast, Communications Officer, The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.
e: mikal.mast@compas.ox.ac.uk; Tel: 01865 284900

Editors Notes:

About the Migration Observatory

  • Based at the ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford, the Migration Observatory provides independent, authoritative, evidence-based analysis of data on migration and migrants in the UK, to inform media, public and policy debates, and to generate high quality research on international migration and public policy issues. The Observatory’s analysis involves experts from a wide range of disciplines and departments at the University of Oxford.
  • The Migration Observatory is funded by: Unbound Philanthropy; the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and the Barrow Cadbury Trust.
  • The Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford conducts high quality research in order to develop theory and knowledge, inform policy-making and public debate, and engage users of research within the field of migration. For further details see the COMPAS website: www.compas.ox.ac.uk/.
  • COMPAS is core funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) www.esrc.ac.uk/.

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