May 26, 2011 • 5:01 pm


“Net migration to Britain has unexpectedly jumped by nearly 100,000 in the past year to 243,000, jeopardising the government’s target of bringing down the figure to “tens of thousands” by the next general election.” The Guardian, 26 May 2011.

With David Cameron having recently stated, much to the consternation of the Liberal Democrats, that the Government’s ‘aspiration’ was to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands, he would clearly have been disappointed if reading the Guardian today.

Reporting the recently released Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, the Guardian claimed that net immigration had ‘jumped’ nearly 100,000 in the last year on the back of rising immigration and falling emigration. These figures, the paper reported, cast doubt on whether Home Secretary Teresa May’s crackdown on work and student entry routes would be able to bring net migration below 100,000 by the next general election, as she had promised.

Full Fact recently factchecked a Guardian article that quoted questionable immigration statistics that did not tally with official figures, so has there been any improvement this time around?

The figures come from the latest ONS immigration quarterly statistical bulletin, and the Guardian is reporting the data from the International Passenger Survey (IPS) on net immigration. The figures show net immigration rising from 147,000 to 243,000 between the years ending September 2009 and 2010, just shy of the 100,000 rise highlighted in the Guardian.

Explaining the IPS, the ONS says that: “The IPS is a large, multi-purpose survey which collects information from passengers travelling in and out of the UK via the principal airports, sea routes and the Channel Tunnel. The main sample is over a quarter of a million interviews and about 1.5 per cent of those sampled are long-term migrants.”

However, in the bulletin, the ONS make clear that the IPS provides only an estimate of long-term immigration to the UK. They state that: “Provisional IPS estimates offer a more detailed analysis but… they are not a complete measure of long-term international migration as they do not include asylum seekers, the impact of people whose length of stay has changed from their original intentions or additional information on migration to and from Northern Ireland”.

Instead, the Long-Term International Migration (LTIM) measure should be used as the most reliable and complete figure on immigration to and from the UK. As the table below shows, these figures are more conservative.

From this table, we can reasonably assume that the figure of net LTIM for the year to September 2009 will have been between 166,000 and 198,000. This would therefore mean that net immigration to the UK to the year September 2009 saw in increase of 79,000 or less over the previous year. Indeed, if the figure for the year to September 2010 was closer to that for the year to December 2010, then the increase could have been nearer 44,000.

The graph below shows the changing levels of migration to and from the UK according to the LTIM measure.

When we asked Oxford Universities Migration Observatory about the distinction between IPS and LTIM statistics, they told us that “while the IPS estimates are sometimes close to LTIM estimates (especially in 2010), the two measures are often very different. This is likely to be the case for the year to September 2009. In the year to June 2009 (i.e. previous estimate to September 2009) the difference was significant (18,000) and in the year to December 2009 it was smaller, but still large (8,000).”

They go on to note that: “In order to construct the main chart for their report [graph above], the ONS used the average between the LTIM value in June 2009 (166,000) and the value in December 2009 (198,000)… With that value, the increase in net migration between the year to September 2010 and September 2009 is 60,000”.

This estimated figure of 60,000 is clearly still a significant number, although also significantly less to that quoted by the Guardian.

Indeed, it is clear from the data that that Guardian is correct in to pointing to rising immigration and falling emigration over the last year or two. It is therefore unfortunate that they choose to focus on the IPS figures to highlight the largest number, when that figure was also the most provisional and incomplete.


The Guardian’s reporting on rising immigration and falling emigration did correctly report on the broad trends identified by the ONS.

However, by choosing to focus on the most shocking IPS figures of net migration, they choose the most changeable and least comprehensive data available, and this should have been made clear in their article.

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