The Government can at last point to a reduction in net migration. But should they be congratulating themselves?
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has today announced the first fall in net migration since the current government set itself a goal of reducing net migration to under 100,000. They have struggled over more than two years to bring about any reduction because they have little control over many of the factors at play. For example, they cannot generally prevent EU workers from coming to the UK to work. Nor can they determine the number of people who emigrate.
Net migration fell by 60,000 in the year to March 2012. The main factors responsible are a reduction in overseas students coming to study in the UK and an increase in the number of people leaving the UK with a definite job offer abroad. This outcome has been achieved by making the UK less attractive to would be students and those already active in the UK, be they British citizens or not.
In what is little more than an arbitrary statistical exercise, the Government is driving down the number of overseas students who bring income to our colleges as well as wider benefits to our country including, in the long term, soft power. They will no doubt argue that the fall in overseas student numbers has mostly been amongst those attending Further Education Colleges and English language schools: overseas student university numbers were up by 1%. But the true impact of the Government’s policies on our universities is still to be assessed – these figures pre-date the action taken over the summer over London Met.
What then of emigration? For many the decision to emigrate is driven by loss of confidence in the country they live in. Short term economic difficulties may be endured but if one cannot see the end to these, maybe it’s time to consider leaving, and yesterday’s OECD forecasts for the British economy were dire, especially when concerned with popular emigration destinations like Australia, Canada and the USA (GDP growth will be more than double the UK’s in each of these countries over the next three years.)
Who wants to congratulate the Government on the result of policies which are turning the UK into less of a good place to study and work? Not us!