Fewer migrants are coming to the UK - and they're more highly skilled

Whether any politicians will actually pay attention to the research is another question.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 25 Jan 2016

Hold the Daily Mail front page and UKIP election leaflets: fewer migrants came to the UK to look for work under the Coalition than during Labour’s final Parliament, and those that did are increasingly highly skilled.

That’s according to a new report by Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, which found 117,000 fewer full-time working immigrants came to the UK in the past five years than in Labour’s last term in office, a fall of 16% to 608,000.

Since the Tory-Lib Dem coalition came to power, 40% more immigrants have moved to the UK from recession-ravaged ‘old EU’ nations like Spain, Italy and Portgual, and were more likely to be higher-skilled professionals, according to the study. Overall, working immigrants’ wages rose 17% in the last five years, much higher than the stagnating real wages prevalent among British-born workers.

The surge in ‘old EU’ workers coming to Blighty was balanced out by a 35% fall in migrants from the eight eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004. There was also a more-than-25% fall in non-EU migrants, as the Government clamped down on migration where it actually still has full control.

The overall fall in migrant workers contrasts with official statistics showing annual net migration had boomed 42% to almost 300,000 last month, roundly trouncing the Tories’ pledge to cut it to ‘tens of thousands’ and feeding fuel to the UKIP fire. So either immigration has surged in the last year or so, emigration has plummeted recently or there’s a big difference between the levels of working and unemployed migrants. The latter is unlikely, though, given UCL research last year that showed immigrants were more likely to be employed than British workers.

Immigration is a hot topic in the General Election, the official campaigns for which kicked off today. But the Conservatives didn’t comment – despite the scope for them spinning the figures as a victory. Labour, meanwhile, said highly skilled foreign workers were generally a good thing, but more training was needed so British workers matched their level.

UKIP’s migration spokesman Steven Woolfe pointed out, ‘There are now close to 2m EU workers in the UK, and their numbers have more than doubled since 2004.’ Woolfe unsurprisingly conveniently neglected to highlight the aforementioned UCL study, which found immigrants from the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004 (including Cyprus and Malta) put almost £5bn more into the public purse than they took out. Expect more of the same from the Kippers in the next six weeks.

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