Net migration is up, but net migration is a meaningless term

From Spectator blogs

The latest figures showing a big increase in net migration are a blow to the Conservatives, although it obviously reflects on the relative strength of the British economy; at least in relation to the basket cases of southern Europe, from where large numbers have come.

It will almost certainly mean more Tory voters joining Nigel Farage’s purple revolution, especially because it illustrates the impossibility of controlling immigration while Britain is inside the EU; the number of EU citizens arriving went up from 149,000 to 209,000 in a year.

But that’s part of the curious 80/20 Rule about the immigration debate; Europeans accounted for only a fifth of migration under New Labour, and yet received at least 80 per cent of the coverage. Although non-EU migration came down last year from 269,000 to 244,000, you can see, by page 18, that this is still huge and not declining at a very steady rate.

That is partly because the issue of concern with European migration is primarily economic rather than social; there are not going to be European ghettos in the next few years, even among the largest group, the Poles, nor an angry, alienated second generation. The cost of integration is going to be small.

The second edition of my book, The Diversity Illusion, comes out next month, and one of the suggestions I make is to introduce a three-tier system, so that for countries above a certain median income, and perhaps below a certain unemployment rate, we have open borders (it’s bizarre that we have such serious restrictions on Australians, for example). Below that there would be two other levels, the main difference between two and three being that there would exist major marriage restrictions on the third category (fetching marriages are a big obstacle to integration, but blanket rules are either unjust or ineffective). Immigration statistics would therefore take into account three categories.

I would also remove the meaningless idea of ‘net migration’, meaningless since the central problem with immigration isn’t the rising population but the social disruption; and even if it were about numbers, a great deal of Brits leaving are elderly and far more incomers are young people who will raise children, making the statistic useless.

It is also a terrible concept because British emigrants, like emigrants everywhere, tend on average to be better educated than the population at large. In fact during the peak years of migration under Tony Blair, Britain still lost more graduates to emigration than it gained from immigration. You could say, therefore, that Britain has something of an emigration problem; not that anyone will be saying that today.

Comments so far

  1. Net migration is just a convenient term to soften the actual horror of the true figure.

    The best analogy I’ve heard is that if I have 6 apples in my basket take three out and replace them with 6 oranges, yes my basket has only had net three items added but the apples have become outnumbered.

    Using the average of last years figures already a quarter of a million oranges have arrived in the UK so far this year…

  2. Ed is right, net migration is to all intents and purposes a meaningless and arbitrary term.
    As he has said, the overall education levels of Brits leaving is higher than the average population but also, I would hazard as a not too unreasonable guess, higher than those entering the country.

    Also, British migrants that head to the Mediterranean, for example, do so at an economic loss for their country and a net economic gain for their new host country; often selling up their property, equity, assets and taking their savings with them. Bit different from someone from Mirpur or Lahore landing in Tower Hamlets, Newham or Brent requiring social housing and other forms of government assistance.

    Net migration takes into account nothing of the social consequences of migration, as Geoff has eluded to above.

What do you think?