Steven Swinford — Telegraph.co.uk Feb 26, 2016
Hundreds of thousands more EU migrants may have come to Britain than disclosed in official records, experts have warned as ministers were accused of hiding the full scale of immigration.
Official figures published suggested that 257,000 migrants came to Britain last year, with a significant rise in the number of Bulgarians and Romanians.
However over the same period 630,000 EU citizens registered for a national insurance number, which would entitle them to work or claim benefits in Britain.
Experts said that the “massive” disparity cannot be explained by the difference in the way the figures are recorded and voters “deserve to have the facts and data” ahead of the EU referendum.
Over the past five years 2.25 million EU nationals have registered for national insurance numbers but official migration figures suggest that just 1 million European citizens have come to this country.
The latest official figures suggest that overall net migration levels, including non-EU migrants, have fallen slightly from record levels of 336,000 to 323,000.
David Cameron said that the figures are “too high” and insisted that he can still hit his target of reducing net migration levels to “tens of thousands” with the help benefit curbs for foreign workers in his EU deal.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said that net migration levels remain too high and warned that it is “putting pressure on our jobs, housing and out public services”.
However Eurosceptic Cabinet ministers Priti Patel and Iain Duncan Smith warned that Mr Cameron’s deal will do nothing to reduce the levels of migration.
Ms Patel said: “Once again, net migration has gone up – putting pressure on our jobs, housing, and our public services. More than half of the people coming here have come from the European Union – showing that we cannot control our borders while we remain members of the EU.”
Experts pointed to the fact that net migration has now exceeded 300,000 for a year, raising questions over whether the sustained levels of high migration are a temporary peak or the “new normal”.
Jonathan Portes, Principle Research Fellow at the National Institute of economic and social research, has asked the Government for more detail of the national insurance numbers.
However, his request has been rejected on the grounds that it might prejudice the outcome of the EU referendum.
EU migration: immigration statistics (survey based) vs National Insurance number registrations pic.twitter.com/rDAwC7liuZ
— Jonathan Portes (@jdportes) February 25, 2016
He said: “It is very difficult to understand why there should be this sudden divergence. I do not believe that you can explain this huge discrepancy now by saying these are people only here for a few months then going back. It is massive and it did not used to be this big.
“The Government is hiding this data. They claim it would interfere with the renegotiation. It is genuinely outrageous. Which ever side of the argument you are, on immigration or on the EU, the electorate deserves to have the facts and the data.”
His concerns are shared by Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, who said: “Either we leave the European Union or we have a complete open door inside [the] EU.”
I am pleased that there are now lots of voices agreeing with me, that we must Leave the European Union to control our borders. #EUref
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) February 25, 2016
Madeleine Sumption, the director of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, said: “Sustained high levels of net migration raise the question of whether we are experiencing a temporary peak or a ‘new normal’ in the UK.
“In the short term, the UK remains an attractive destination with low unemployment and robust job growth so there’s no reason to expect a dramatic change to migration levels.
“In the long run, migration is much harder to predict. It will depend on many different factors, from future policy changes to economic growth in other countries.”
It came as an EU-funded study published by the University of Oxford claimed young migrants from EU countries have higher employment rates and are less likely to seek jobseeker’s allowance than their UK peers.