UK

Ministers ‘flying blind’ on migrant statistics because monitoring has ‘fallen apart’ during pandemic

Ministers are ‘flying blind’ on migrant statistics because monitoring how many foreigners are travelling to and from Britain has ‘fallen apart’ during Covid-19 pandemic

  • Academics say there is no reliable data on how many migrants arrived last year 
  • They also noted that an extra 1.25million people had ‘appeared’ in one survey
  • Director of the Migration Observatory said that the UK has been left ‘flying blind’
  • Most recent Labour Force Survey said estimated foreign-born population is 8.3m

The pandemic has skewed crucial data on migration, leaving the Government ‘flying blind’ on the statistics, a study warns today.

Official ways of measuring how many foreigners are travelling to and from Britain have ‘fallen apart’ due to Covid disruptions.

Academics at Oxford University’s Migration Observatory conclude there is no reliable data on how many migrants arrived last year, how many emigrated, and what the impact on the overall population has been.

They even raised doubts about the accuracy of official figures, noting that an extra 1.25million people had ‘appeared’ in one survey in an apparent bid to explain a discrepancy between totals of UK and foreign-born residents.

The pandemic has skewed crucial data on migration, leaving the Government ‘flying blind’ on the statistics, a study warns today (pictured: Home Secretary Priti Patel)

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory, said: ‘There is absolutely massive uncertainty about what is going on with migration at the moment, because all the data sources we normally use have been hugely disrupted.

‘This has left us flying blind just as the UK is introducing a new immigration system, and will make it more difficult to understand the impacts of new policies.’ 

The Government’s most recent Labour Force Survey (LFS), a key source of data on migrant workers, said the estimated foreign-born population was 8.3million, a decline of 894,000 or 10 per cent year-on-year.

The official figures also factored in population growth of 370,000 in the year to September. The data attempted to balance the books by suggesting there were an extra 1.25million UK-born residents who were not present in earlier surveys, the report went on.

Oxford University’s study described this as ‘not plausible’. ‘There is enormous uncertainty about these estimates and compelling reasons to believe that they are not accurate,’ it added. 

The experts dismissed the official numbers on population growth as ‘surely incorrect’.

Academics at Oxford University¿s Migration Observatory conclude there is no reliable data on how many migrants arrived last year, how many emigrated, and what the impact on the overall population has been (file photo)

Academics at Oxford University’s Migration Observatory conclude there is no reliable data on how many migrants arrived last year, how many emigrated, and what the impact on the overall population has been (file photo)

The problems have arisen because one official source of information on migration, the International Passenger Survey, has been suspended for a year due to Covid. 

Another, the LFS, is being conducted by phone rather than face-to-face, and today’s report said this may mean migrants are more reluctant to take part.

A third source of data – an analysis of which nationalities applied for National Insurance numbers – has also been disrupted by coronavirus. The experts said the lack of hard data was particularly troubling because the Government’s new points-based immigration system launched just weeks ago, ending free movement.

A Migration Observatory spokesman said: ‘Covid means UK migration data has fallen apart, just as the UK is introducing a new immigration system.

‘The analysis shows that while there does appear to have been a decline in the UK’s migrant population in 2020, it is likely to be smaller than headline figures suggest.’

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