Response To Critics Of Our Research On The Impact Of Immigration On Population Growth

Migration Trends, Population

A recent Migration Watch UK paper shows that 82% of the total 6.6 million increase in the UK population between 2001 and 2016 was due, directly and indirectly, to immigration – that is to say a result of the net increase of those who were born overseas and their UK-born children. Put another way, immigration has been adding approximately one million to our population every three years.

The paper was given wide coverage in the press (see articles in The Times, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and The Sun). Some individuals and organisations have criticised our methods and findings. This paper is a response to those comments.

Below is a list of some of the challenges made by critics, along with our response to each:

Challenge Number 1:

‘You seem to imply that the children of migrants who are born in the UK are themselves migrants.’ Steve Ballinger, of British Future, put it like this:‘Including the children of migrants in that calculation flies in the face of our tradition of equal citizenship and integration.’

Our response: Neither our report nor the associated press release says that the children of migrants who are born in the UK are themselves ‘migrants’. Clearly they are not, and we avoid the term ‘second generation migrant’ which some use in this context. We are looking at the direct and indirect effects of immigration each year. It is surely obvious that, were migrants not to come here, their children would not be born here, and the population would be correspondingly smaller. The paper does not mention citizenship or integration.

However, while the ONS differentiates between the contributions of net migration and natural increase in their annual reporting of actual population growth, they do not assign any fraction of that natural increase to the children of immigrants. We hoped that the ONS, with its great resources, would undertake that calculation. In the absence of that, this paper provides an analysis.

Challenge Number 2:

‘You seem to be claiming that British-born kids of immigrants are in relevant ways ‘not’ part of the indigenous population.’

Our response: This report was concerned with change in population numbers, not ethnic change. The title (‘Impact of immigration on UK population growth’) specifically focuses on the effect of immigration on the size of the UK population. Including the British-born children of migrants is an essential component of that effect.

Again, this is a common approach. In the demographic analysis of their populations, the statistical offices of the Dutch, German, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and other governments routinely publish statistics about the population of ‘immigrant background’, including children. So does the EU’s Eurostat.

Challenge Number 3:

‘If the outcome you want to measure is “overall effect of migration flows on population pressures” and you want to include children of immigrants in that, then logically, you need to include emigration and children of emigrants. There are millions of people elsewhere in the world who would have been born here if their parents had remained.’

Our response: Yes, but they were not born here so they did not add to the UK’s population.  Our paper was addressed to the UK not the whole world, and specifically to the distribution of the natural increase component of population growth between immigrant and non-immigrant origin. The overseas-born children of emigrants from the UK has no bearing on that.

Challenge Number 4:

‘You include as part of the impact of migration people who have “one migrant parent only”. That makes little sense and is not justified.’

Our responseWe accounted for this by including only half the children of mixed parentage. This is a refinement of the practice adopted on the continent, where such children are included in the population of ‘immigrant background’ along with the rest, without adjustment.

Challenge Number 5:

‘Your report runs together the impact of migration from many decades ago with recent migration… Yet this is inaccurately presented as impact only of contemporary immigration and policy’.

Our responseNo. It calculates the changes in the population of immigrants from one year to the next, and the changes in the population of their UK born children from one year to the next, over a sixteen year period. Net migration, and the numbers of births and deaths to immigrants and deaths of their children, are determined annually on a calendar year basis. Immigrants each year are new additions, while many emigrants will have lived in the UK for some time.  That is not considered to be an obstacle to the annual calculation of ‘net migration’, which is the difference between the two. And the same applies to the births to immigrants and their subsequent mortality.

The report only mentions contemporary policy changes in saying that the proportion of births to non-UK born mothers has more than doubled since the 1990s as a result of the surge in immigration following policy changes after 1997 when Labour returned to power. This unprecedented step-change in the figure is surely a relevant point when discussing the impact of immigration on UK population change over the past two decades.

Challenge Number 6:

“Britons whose parents were born overseas grow up to make a huge contribution to our country.”

Our responseAs with immigrants themselves, this will be true for some individuals and not for others. This report is explicitly focused on the effects on population numbers, not on socio-economic impacts. We have considered elsewhere the true scale of the effect of immigration on our population, on our society and on our public services over the past fifteen years or so.  For example, of the additional households that were created in England between 2005 and 2014, 90% had a non-UK born head of household (See our 2017 housing paper). The government have not contested our results.

In summary, our report addresses a major lacuna in the public debate about the impact of immigration. The impact on population is net migration plus “natural change” (births minus deaths). The ONS do not distinguish between the natural change due to the existing population and that which resulted from immigration. Our paper remedies that gap.


5th September 2018

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