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Wrong numbers curb UK migration

world Updated: Sep 02, 2011 02:04 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar
Hindustan Times
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Britain’s insistence on counting overseas students and seasonal European workers is inflating immigration figures, creating a climate against Indian and other non-EU skilled workers and threatening economic recovery, says the MP who heads the influential home affairs select committee.

The warning by Keith Vaz, the seniormost Asian-origin MP in Britain, came as figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed the number of Polish-born people living in Britain as of last year was 532,000, far outstripping those who were born in Pakistan (431,000) and Ireland (405,000).

Polish migrants are not upstaging skilled workers from India – there is a massive difference in skill levels. Indians continue to top the numbers, with 693,000 of them living in Britain, but a squeeze on non-EU skilled migrants is being applied for the wrong reasons, Vaz told HT.

The surge in immigrants from Poland followed the accession of eight East European countries (A8) to the European Union in 2004. By treaty, EU nationals are free to live and work in the 27 member-countries, so there is very little Britain can do about them.

But popular concern over reportedly high levels of immigration – what is ‘high’ is a complex debate straddling economics, popular perception, culture and social cohesion – has led successive British governments to crack down on skilled immigrants from outside the EU, whose numbers are dominated by Indians.

The ONS figures showed the number of non-EU migrants coming into Britain with a definite job offer fell to 110,000 in 2010 – the lowest for six years.

Meanwhile, net migration from Europe – the difference between those coming in and those who are leaving – jumped from 5,000 in 2009 to 40,000 last year. Commentators said the movement from Europe makes a mockery of the ruling coalition’s election pledge to bring down overall net migration to below 100,000.

Carlos Vargas-Silva of the Oxford University’s Migration Observatory said the “steep rise” in Eastern European migrants “raises the question of whether government policies to cut net migration from outside the EU may be stimulating a demand for more EU workers.”

Vaz said the government should stop counting East European workers and overseas students among immigrants, as many Europeans tend to be seasonal workers and most overseas students do not settle down in Britain. Currently, European workers are counted if they have stayed in Britain for 12 months.

According to ONS, non-EU countries (headed by China and India) accounted for three in four of the 228,000 overseas students who came to Britain last year.

“The problem for the government is that East Europeans cannot fill the skilled jobs provided for people who are coming in from the Indian subcontinent,” said Vaz. “We are keeping out the very skilled people we need to help revive our economy. If you take the student numbers out, you have achieved your immigration targets.”