A closer look at Labour's immigration speech

12th Aug 2013

"Labour amends foreign workers speech" won't have been the headline result intended by the Labour press team this morning, but that is what the BBC led with after Labour's immigration spokesman, Chris Bryant, was forced to tone down some of his claims relating to Tesco and Next's attitude to hiring foreign workers.

It wasn't, of course, the only message which came out of a speech billed as promising "effective action on immigration, not offensive gimmicks". Mr Bryant covered a variety of topics on immigration since the Coalition came to office.

So what were we reminded of this morning?

Net migration: down, but look a little closer

"You will have heard the government boast in recent weeks that it has cut net migration by a third since 2010."

Full Fact certainly did - in fact we took the Conservatives up on how they presented this fall. The decrease of one third is shown by the stats but, as Chris Bryant points out as well, the stats themselves are uncertain. The Public Administration Select Committee said as much in July.

Leave and don't come back?

"Actually the government has persuaded more British nationals to leave the country, dissuaded more British nationals from returning..."

When the government says it has cut net migration by a third, it's talking about a fall in the difference between people coming into the country minus those leaving. In the year ending March 2011 the UK gained 242,000 people but by the year ending September 2012 this had fallen to 153,000.

But how much of the fall since the election is actually due to British nationals leaving?

It's impossible to say how much the government's "persuasion" factors into any of this, but most of the points are fair. More British nationals are leaving now than since the election. 154,000 left last year (to September 2012)  compared to 141,000 departures in the year to March 2011. It's even higher still than the 131,000 who left the year before.

It's also true that fewer British people are returning. 79,000 entered the UK last year comapred to 92,000 coming back at the time of the election, and 97,000 entries the year before.

So British nationals are leaving the UK in greater numbers than they are returning (at least as far as migration shows). But they're actually less of a story when it comes to the "one third" reduction in net migration since 2010. What we know from the Office for National Statistics' (ONS) long-term international migration estimates is that the 89,000 fall since 2010/11 is because of a 64,000 fall in foreign national migration and a 25,000 fall in British migration.

So the reduction in the flow of foreign nationals accounts for most of the change.

Students aren't coming anymore

"...and cut the number of international students coming to study here, especially from India and China."

There are two main ways of looking at foreign student immigration: use the ONS's long-term international migration estimates (based on surveys) which ask people if they're coming to the UK because of study, or use visa applications and admissions figures from the Home Office.

On both counts, student migration is down.

The number of non-EU nationals landing on the UK's shores for "study" reasons has fallen: 175,000 came here in the year to March 2011 compared to 146,000 last year (and small numbers left as well, but the net figures are similar).

Meanwhile, visa applications for study are also down. As part of the application process for study visas, people have to obtain a confirmation of acceptance for studies from a sponsoring educational institution. These 'sponsored visa applications' have fallen since 2010.

But that's not the whole story: the fall in student visas is overwhelmingly concentrated in the further education sector. Applications for universities have stayed broadly the same.

So while student migration is falling overall, there's no evidence of this fall for universities. 

And for India and China? Detailed visa figures from the Home Office don't entirely back this up. 40,000 sponsored applications came from India in 2010, compared to just 20,000 in 2012. But for China, 50,000 applications came from Chinese nationals in 2010, compared to 62,000 now.

The same trends apply for all passengers granted leave to study here, not just those who were sponsored by a college or university.

Tip offs are going ignored

"whilst poorly worded and tasteless ad vans were touring London begging illegal immigrants to hand themselves in, we learnt that the Home Office ... has not followed up 90% of its intelligence leads on illegal immigration."

Full Fact looked a little closer at the Home Office "go home" vans last month and, questions on wording and taste aside, the claims made on the vans about arrests left many unanswered questions which the Advertising Standards Authority is now looking into.

The question on Home Office "intelligence leads" is tricky to answer as well. Labour are most likely referring to what's called the "Allegation Management System", which used to be run by the UK Border Agency. It was originally set up to "[follow] up intelligence leads from the public" about illegal immigrants in 2012.

The most recent figures for the system were uncovered last month in Parliament: out of 48,660 allegations sent in to the government by the public, 5.5% were investigated, two-thirds of which resulted in arrests. So about 95% of 'intelligence leads' in this sense aren't followed up.

It's not clear why Labour's figure differs, but we've asked the party to clarify.

British companies have been affected by migrant workers

This got the immigration spokesman into hot water this morning, but it's worth looking at wider evidence as well. We've looked at the issue of whether employers are favouring foreign workers before and found some relevant figures gathered in a survey of employers by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD).

Since then, the CIPD has again polled employers as part of its 'Labour Market Outlook'. In the first three months of 2013, 15% of 1,000 employers polled planned to recruit migrant workers, mainly those already based in the UK.

When it came to wages, however, 71% said the availability of migrant workers had no impact on wages at their organisation. Asked why they even employed migrant workers, the most common reason (38% of employers) was that they had better jobs or skills relevant to the particular job.