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Immigration policies being formulated in the dark, say Lords committee

21 July 2017

The Government will struggle to take control of immigration post-Brexit unless major improvements are made to the quality of migration data upon which it currently relies, the Economic Affairs Committee says today in its report into Brexit and the Labour Market.

Key findings

In order to address the problem with the migration data the Committee recommends the Government should:

  • Use information relating to the economic activity of immigrants – such as paying tax or receiving benefits – to gain a clearer understanding of how long migrants stay in the UK.
  • Explore how information from exit checks, which have been reintroduced, can be combined with other information. This should help to address the unreliability of the International Passenger Survey (IPS).
  • Devise a better way of accounting for the departure of international students. The current approach cannot calculate, with any precision, how many students stay at the end of their degree.

Other findings and recommendations from the report include:

  • Using a strict annual numerical target risks causing disruption to businesses and the economy. Reducing net migration is likely to be best achieved by a flexible approach which can adapt to the needs of businesses and the labour market.
  • An implementation period when EU workers can be employed easily is particularly important for sectors with a high turnover of staff, such as social care and nursing.
  • The Government should no longer include students in any short-term net migration figures for public policy purposes.

Chairman's comments

Commenting on the report, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Economic Affairs Committee Chairman, said:

"The Government must have reliable statistics on migration before it formulates new policy, otherwise it will be making crucial decisions - of vital importance to the country's businesses - in the dark.

"It will take companies time to adapt their business models to be less dependent on EU workers and an implementation period is essential to ensure a smooth transition.

"Businesses will have to accept that immigration from the European Union is going to reduce and adapt accordingly. Some firms will need to raise wages to attract domestic workers. In other sectors, where migrant workers may not easily be replaced by domestic workers, firms will need to change their business models or increase capital investment in automated processes. All these options may lead to higher prices for consumers.

"The Committee's 2008 report on immigration warned that the employment of migrant workers could lead to businesses neglecting skills and training for British workers. As the recruitment and retention problem in the nursing sector highlights, these fears have been realised and training for the domestic workforce needs urgently to be given a higher priority."

Further information

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