Alan Travis – Guardian August 25, 2011
British employers are increasingly turning to EU migrants to fill the gaps left by the government’s clampdown on the recruitment of overseas skilled labour from outside Europe, according to Oxford University’s migration observatory.
The latest annual statistics show that net inward migration – which Conservative ministers have pledged to reduce to below 100,000 by the general election – actually rose by 21% during 2010, to 239,000.
The Office for National Statistics said fewer people were leaving Britain to live abroad and net migration from eastern Europe was up – from 5,000 in 2009 to 40,000 in 2010. Emigration from the UK fell from a peak of 427,000 in 2008 to 336,000 last year.
Publishing figures for the second quarter of 2011, covering April to June this year, the ONS said study remains the most common reason for people from outside Europe to come to Britain.
Analysts at the Department for Work and Pensions said above-average unemployment rates in eurozone countries hit by the financial crisis, including Spain (20%), Lithuania (16%) and Latvia (16%), were behind increased migration to Britain. They also note that UK national insurance registrations from Ireland rose by 56% in 2010/11.
The return of the skilled Polish worker to Britain is also confirmed by the latest figures. The Polish community now numbers 555,000, larger than the Irish (353,000) and the Indian (327,000) communities.
“The UK clearly remains an attractive destination for migrants from Poland and other eastern European (A8) countries,” said Carlos Vargas-Silva of the Migration Observatory. “Despite all EU member states having to open their labour markets to A8 workers, the factors that created the initial pull for A8 workers to the UK still remain in place – there is a demand for their labour, wages are still much higher than Poland or other A8 nations and there are now well established A8 communities and networks here to help new and returning EU migrants to find a job and negotiate the complexities of life in a new country.”
Matt Cavanagh, migration specialist at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said the figures show that ministers’ hope of meeting their target of reducing net migration to below 100,000 was becoming harder. He pointed to evidence earlier this week that employers were responding to the cap by recruiting more EU workers rather than increasing the skills of their current workforce or unemployed British teenagers.
“Ministers need to start thinking about how to harness immigration to promote growth,” said Cavanagh. “All the indicators show that the immigration cap is not helping youth unemployment, which is back up above 20%, with those not in education, employment or training above 20%.”
But the immigration minister, Damian Green, said immigration remained a British “addiction” and took comfort from the fact that the 239,000 net inward migration for the 12 months to December was lower than the previous quarter for the first time in two years.
“After almost two years of increasing net migration the figures stabilised in the last quarter,” he said. “This explains why the government radically changed immigration policy, from our first months in office, to drive the numbers down with a limit on economic migration and changes to student visas to ensure we attract the brightest and best whilst tackling widespread abuse of the system. We are currently consulting on a range of further measures which will drive down numbers further.”
The 2010 net migration figures include the period when the temporary cap on non-EU migration was imposed last July soon after the coalition came to power but exclude the period since April when the cap was made permanent.
The ONS immigration figures also show that the number of people granted settlement in Britain hit a record 241,000, including dependants. The Home Office said the bulk were due to the one-off resolution of the backlog of asylum cases many of whom had been in Britain for years.
They also show a 9% rise in asylum applications between April and June, including 336 from Libya in the first sign that the Arab Spring is having an impact on the flow of refugees coming to Britain.
Some 25,900 people were held in detention in 2010. Nine children were held in immigration detention in July despite the coalition pledge to scrap the practice. Immigration removals and deportations fell to a 10 year low of 11,388 during between April and June.