HERE’S quick question: do you know how many people came to settle here last year? The official figure for net migration (the number of people settling in the UK minus the number leaving) was 327,000 for the year March 2015-March 2016.
But it’s a trick question because that’s the official figure.
It’s not the actual figure. It’s more of an educated guess than anything else.
It’s not – despite what you might think, what with it being the official figure – an accurate count of the number of people arriving at or leaving through our border controls.
The Office for National Statistics, which compiles the figures, does not use the data from either entry points or “e-borders” exits in its statistics.
It uses all sorts of other methods but not that one obviously accurate measure. That’s because the Home Office does not release those figures.
If you think that is bonkers, here’s the second reason why the official migration statistics are so misleading: they take no account of illegal immigration. It is of course more difficult to compile an accurate figure for illegal immigration but it is far from impossible.
You can look at visas granted, at entrance and exit through border controls, at national insurance numbers issued and at other indicators of the numbers of people staying here without permission. It would be sensible, you’d think, for the Home Office to try to come up with a figure for illegal immigration so we have as accurate as possible an idea of just how many people there are in the UK.
The Home Office does come up with an estimate for illegal immigration but it doesn’t admit it and doesn’t publish it (more accurately, it hasn’t published a figure since 2005 when the total number of illegal immigrants was estimated to have been 430,000). And so until now we’ve had no idea of that Home Office estimate.
But this week a report has been published by the Civitas think tank, co-written by David Wood, former director general of immigration enforcement. In it Mr Wood reveals not only the existence of the Home Office’s estimate but the figure itself.
It turns out that the Home Office estimates that around 150,000 illegal immigrants arrive every year. As the report puts it: “Those estimates are partly based on the number of illegal immigrants that officials encounter as they check businesses, colleges and housing to make sure that immigration law and regulations are being followed.”
It’s little wonder that the figure isn’t published given how it exposes the official statistics as being almost entirely useless. The report even says it is “obviously wrong” not to publish the Home Office figures: “Keeping them secret may save ministers from embarrassment but it makes proper policy planning impossible.”
When we voted for Brexit we voted to take back control of our borders. Yet this revelation shows just how distorted the entire immigration debate has been.
Successive governments have failed miserably to control immigration. Illegal immigration is literally out of control.
Last year Rob Whiteman, the former head of the UK Border Agency, said that there could be one million illegal immigrants here.
No wonder when, according to the report, the chance of a migrant being detained and deported for overstaying their visa is just one in 1,000.
In effect the decision on whether or not to honour the terms of a visa and leave after the period specified is left with individual migrants. We rely on them being honest and returning home when their time is up. Not surprisingly not all of them do.
As the report shows, if only one person in 100 overstays their visa time limit there would be 20,000 illegal immigrants every year.
Taken together with other forms of illegal immigration (such as being smuggled in a lorry) there would on a conservative estimate be 60,000 a year. And the real figure is likely to be far higher – as we have seen, the Home Office itself estimates that the number is more than double.
Even if we ignore the figures for illegal immigration, successive governments have failed to exert control.
In 2010 David Cameron pledged to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands”. Being ridiculously charitable and assuming he meant to ignore EU migration, which no government can control, Mr Cameron still never came close.
The nearest he got was in 2013 when there were 143,000 immigrants from non-EU countries.
When Mrs May became home secretary in 2010 the overall figure for net immigration was 256,000. When she became prime minister that figure had risen to 327,000. So much for “tens of thousands”. But now of course we know that the Home Office believes that these figures are in any case miles out, with illegal immigration standing at an extra 150,000.