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UK net migration reaches highest level since 2005 as economic success challenges efforts to reduce immigration

26 Feb 2015

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The official estimate of net migration is now higher than it was when the current government came to power in 2010 and is at its highest level since 2005, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today. The new figures are the last net migration statistics to be released before the general election.

With recent increases in both EU and non-EU migration, the UK’s success in stimulating economic growth and job creation appears to be a key factor in undermining efforts to reduce net migration.

Data released today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show net migration estimated at 298,000 for the year ending September 2014. This compares to 244,000 for the year ending June 2010 – before the suite of measures introduced by the coalition to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands” by May 2015.

Net migration from the European Union has increased by 90,000 over the course of this parliament, from 72,000 in the year ending June 2010 to 162,000 in the most recent data. Non-EU migration has rebounded from 138,000 a year ago to 190,000 in today’s figures, but remains below its most recent peak of 228,000 in the year ending September 2011.

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “UK job growth is likely to be a key factor behind the recent increases. If the UK’s economic performance compared to the rest of the EU had been poor, then we might well have seen net migration fall, but that has not happened. Rising work-related migration from outside the EU has also contributed.”

Measures introduced by the government to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands” have included capping visas for skilled non-EU workers at 20,700; introducing a minimum income threshold of £18,600 for anyone planning to sponsor a non-EU family member (such as a spouse) to come to the UK; and tackling abuse of the student visa system. A Migration Observatory analysis of government impact assessments in 2011 identified that these measures alone would not succeed in reducing net migration to the tens of thousands.

The government has very limited control over certain types of immigration – particularly migration from within the EU, which cannot be restricted under the terms of the EU freedom of movement directive.

Sumption added: “If EU migration had remained at 2010 levels, overall net migration would now be much lower but would still have been more than double the target.”

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