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Decisions could be made 'in the dark'

Immigration being managed on ‘unreliable’ data

Lord ForsythThe Government will struggle to take control of immigration post-Brexit if it continues to use the woefully inadequate migration data it currently relies on, warns a government committee.

It says the data does not provide an accurate number of migrants entering or leaving the country or the number of migrants in work. It is also not clear how long migrants stay in the UK.

This is one of the main findings of the Brexit and the Labour Market report published today by House of Lords Economics Affairs Committee.

It comes as the European Union and Britain offered few compromises at their first full round of Brexit talks which ended on Thursday, and the pound fell on worries that British ministers were prepared to walk away without a deal.

The UK government announced new concessions, saying qualifying EU citizens in the UK would retain voting rights in local elections. The government also said it would give EU citizens who qualify for post-Brexit “settled status” greater flexibility to move away from the UK for limited periods without losing their rights.

In a joint press conference at the end of four days of talks, the EU’s chief negotiator appeared to criticise the UK for a perceived lack of preparedness, singling out the government’s refusal to set out its position on its financial obligations to the EU.

Commenting on the Lords report, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Economic Affairs Committee chairman (pictured), said: “The Government must have reliable statistics on migration before it formulates new policy, otherwise it will be making crucial decisions – of vital importance to the country’s businesses – in the dark.”

He adds that business will have to adjust their operations to accommodate the new arrangements on immigrant labour.

“It will take companies time to adapt their business models to be less dependent on EU workers and an implementation period is essential to ensure a smooth transition.

“Businesses will have to accept that immigration from the European Union is going to reduce and adapt accordingly.

“Some firms will need to raise wages to attract domestic workers. In other sectors, where migrant workers may not easily be replaced by domestic workers, firms will need to change their business models or increase capital investment in automated processes. All these options may lead to higher prices for consumers.”

The Committee’s 2008 report on immigration warned that the employment of migrant workers could lead to businesses neglecting skills and training for British workers.

“As the recruitment and retention problem in the nursing sector highlights, these fears have been realised and training for the domestic workforce needs urgently to be given a higher priority.”

In order to address the problem with the migration data the Committee recommends the Government should:

  • Use information relating to the economic activity of immigrants – such as paying tax or receiving benefits – to gain a clearer understanding of how long migrants stay in the UK.
  • Explore how information from exit checks, which have been reintroduced, can be combined with other information. This should help to address the unreliability of the International Passenger Survey (IPS).
  • Devise a better way of accounting for the departure of international students. The current approach cannot calculate, with any precision, how many students stay at the end of their degree. The IPS suggests a significantly higher number of students remain in the UK than other sources of information (such as visa data).

Other findings and recommendations from the report include:

  • The Government is committed in the long term to reducing net migration to the tens of thousands. Using a strict annual numerical target runs the risk of causing disruption to businesses and the economy. Reducing net migration is likely to be best achieved by a flexible approach which can adapt to the needs of businesses and the labour market, in particular during any implementation period.
  • An implementation period when EU workers can be employed easily is particularly important for sectors with a high turnover of staff, such as social care and nursing. It will also be necessary if the Government is to achieve some of its other policy aims, such as building sufficient numbers of new homes or boosting investment in infrastructure, given the current shortages in the construction industry.
  • Once the Government has improved figures on the number of students who leave the UK at the end of their studies, it should no longer include students in any short-term net migration figures for public policy purposes.
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