1.2 Million European Immigrants in the UK by 2010? We can only estimate
nick cowen, 21 February 2007
One of the biggest controversies surrounding immigration is that no one knows exactly how many immigrants from the enlarged EU enter the UK; let alone how many currently reside and how many are working.
A simple method of inquiry, that the government should have implemented years ago, is one universally familiar to club bouncers: counting people in and out at the doors. A system to count legal migrants as they enter via tunnel, sea or air would have required just a little extra work at passport checks and keeping track of passengers as they exited the country. Since there re no limits on entry or staying in the country, there would have been little incentive for immigrants from the Accession 8 countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) to enter the country illegally and hence a relatively good indicator of the numbers currently resident in the UK could be created. This, for one reason or another, has never been implemented.
What we have instead are three reports from three government sources with three different figures on the numbers of A8 immigrants since 2004:
– The International Passenger Survey (IPS) from the Office of National Statistics (64,000 in 2005 )
– The Accession Monitoring Report based on Worker Registration Scheme (WRS) figures from the Home Office (over 200,000 in 2005)
– National Insurance Number (NINo) Allocations to Overseas Nationals Entering the UK from the Department of Work and Pensions (estimated 190,000 in 2005)
We should note in passing that, although these figures do not agree with each other, they all refute the Home Office’s 2003 estimate that between 5,000 and 13,000 A8 nationals would arrive in Britain annually. Also, none of these studies can be used to pick out exactly what we would like to know: how many A8 immigrants are living and working in the UK. So even if their methodologies were perfectly sound, we would still only be using these studies to extrapolate estimates of the numbers we would like to know. Besides this there are several concerns over the methods behind each of these studies. So we will look at these in turn.
The International Passenger Survey
Travellers from various ports of entry that make up 90% of international traffic are randomly sampled (usually at passport checks) and interviewed. Answering the survey is voluntary. The sample represents around 1 in 500 passengers. As a survey aiming at random sampling, in this case any problems will amount to likely selection biases that threaten to skew the figures. There was no data available for 2006 but the survey suggests that the net inflow of A8 migrants was 49,000 in 2004 and 64,000 in 2005.
– The figures exclude migrants who aren’t intending to stay for more than a year
– There is no follow-up of individuals in case they change their mind after completing the survey
– Interviewees can lie without any checks
– 17% of those asked refused to participate in the survey
– Luton and Stansted saw the biggest increase in flights from Eastern Europe but are underrepresented in the survey which has full air-travel coverage only at Gatwick and Heathrow
The Worker Registration Scheme:
The Home Office requires A8 nationals who work as employees for more than one month in the UK to register with this scheme, for a one off fee of £70. Workers are required to register for each job they have (whether they have the jobs concurrently or sequentially). After 12 months working in the UK, A8 immigrants become eligible for a normal residency permit and are no longer bound to this scheme at all. What this scheme can measure, therefore, is the cumulative total of A8 immigrants that have ever applied to work for more than one month in the UK. It does not measure when immigrants pass through this phase of coming to Britain (either by returning home or becoming permanent residents). The Accession Monitoring Report counts multiple applications from the same person as one, so the results produced offer perhaps the best available indicator of individuals that have come to work in the UK. The total number from May 2004 to September 2006 was 510,000 with nearly 130,000 in 2004, over 200,000 in 2005 and over 160,000 in the three quarters of 2006 that were measurable.
– Self-employed workers do not have to register with the WRS. This means, as a Capital Economics report noted, that even ‘the typical “Polish plumber” is not included in the figures’. Anecdotal evidence suggests that several popular sources of work for immigrants are often in self-employed sectors.
– The £70 fee might well discourage some immigrants from registration, particularly those on a low income
– The registration form is complex with four pages of questions and seven pages of guidelines. Instructions are provided in English and the form must be filled out in English. This may discourage A8 immigrants with limited English comprehension
– There is no penalty for failing to register
– There is no requirement to de-register from the scheme on leaving the country so while we have some idea how many people have worked as employees at some point in the UK, we do not know for how long
National Insurance Numbers Allocations:
Everyone in the UK must have a national insurance number in order to work legally and to claim out-of-work or in-work benefits. However, it is not illegal to take up work in advance of applying for a National Insurance Number, although employers are required to make sure their workers apply as soon as possible. Workers are asked when they first arrived in Britain but the figures available are measured from Year of Registration. The time periods are somewhat different from the other studies (measures via financial year rather than calendar year) but seem to produce figures at least of the same order as the Worker Registration Scheme. Considering that both, unlike the IPS, measure the accumulation of immigrants who are officially acknowledging that they have taken up work in the UK, this seems consistent. The impact of EU Enlargement is noticed with a jump from 20,300 allocations in the 2003/04 period to 111,100 over 2004/05 and reaching a new peak of 271,000 over 2005/06.
– Little oversight over when the workers entered the UK
– Workers retain their National Insurance Number even if they return to their country of origin
– Self-employed immigrants and casual labourers would be discouraged from registering in order to avoid paying tax and the related bureaucracy
The numbers from NINo are somewhat (but not significantly) smaller than the WRS. The Department of Work and Pensions report suggests the WRS is ‘slightly higher because many migrants included in the WRS figures were resident in the UK before enlargement’.
However, a much more radical inconsistency in the NINo figures and the WRS figures appears when we consider that both are meant to measure markedly different things. The WRS is supposed to measure only employees from A8 countries while the NINo figures are meant to measure everyone working, employed, self-employed and, as the DWP’s report claims, ‘including students working part-time – and whatever the length of stay in the UK.’ Hence, while the self-employed ‘Polish plumber’ is excluded from the WRS scheme, they should certainly be included under National Insurance.
This inconsistency cannot be resolved easily by looking at the different methodology behind the measurement: the WRS requires immigrants to register after working for one month in one job while NINo, similarly, requires workers to apply shortly after getting a job or having entered the labour market. It would be very interesting to discover if there was some crucial difference in the way the figures are calculated to explain this discrepancy. If there is no explanation on the methodology front, there are only a few possible causes:
– Self-employed immigrant workers are much less numerous than their employee counterparts such that they have a very limited effect on the overall numbers of immigrant workers (against anecdotal experience but not impossible)
– Immigrants have tended to give priority to the WRS (perhaps because it was emphasised as significantly a requirement for them) and perhaps were confused as to whether they had to register for a National Insurance Number as well
– Systematic avoidance of compliance with employment registrations by a section of A8 immigrants, some self-employed and some encouraged, or at least overlooked, by their employers
Of course, considering the £70 cost of registration on the WRS (which could be 2 days pay for some workers) and the complexity of the forms, perhaps we should not ask how many immigrants register properly but rather why so many do! So what can we say about the numbers of A8 immigrants coming to the UK after all this? The City researchers, Capital Economics tried to create some more realistic figures in their January 2007 Economics Focus (edited by Roger Bootle and Jonathan Loynes) by taking into account the numbers offered by the WRS and the IPS, the various problems with those studies, and some intelligent estimates of other factors. Their broad estimates suggest that 123,000 A8 immigrants arrived in 2004, 296,000 in 2005 and 335,000 in 2006. Net migration from the accession countries (i.e. the number of people currently residing in the UK) is estimated at just below 700,000.
Their analysis also suggests that, although the trend so far has only seen increasing immigration since EU enlargement, it has likely to have peaked in 2006 with the numbers of immigrants levelling out, and more of this being offset by a section of migrants choosing to return home (they assume that half of all immigrants will return home at some point while half will choose to remain permanently in the UK). The accession of Bulgaria and Romania will keep immigration buoyant but will not present the same surge as the A8 as their preferred destinations are likely to be Italy and Spain. With these assumptions in mind, the estimates continue to suggest that net immigration from enlarged Europe will remain high. According to these same estimates, by 2010, there could be 1.2 million immigrants from the enlarged European Union.