Migration statistics fail the quality test

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From Mr Randhir Singh Bains.

Sir, MPs on the business, innovation and skills committee are mistaken in asking the government to remove foreign students from the net migration figures (“Foreign students migration rules attacked”, September 6).

If granted, this would amount to fiddling immigration statistics because the vast majority of foreign students, especially those from outside the EU, tend to remain in Britain after finishing their studies.

Mark Harper, the new immigration minister, says that Britain needs skilled immigrants. But you cannot single out skilled immigrants from the migration flow unless you have a strategy to identify them.

The current practice of presenting immigration statistics as net migration (immigration minus emigration) is flawed. Net migration measures quantity, not quality. If an emigrating professional is replaced by an unskilled dependent immigrant, the quantity of net migration does not change, but quality does.

Moreover, net migration can be augmented by several factors such as illegal immigrants and overstayed visitors. If the government were to count foreign students as temporary visitors instead of migrants, they too would end up augmenting net migration statistics. Since immigration is more than just a transfer of population, it is time immigration statistics were presented as gross rather than net migration.

Randhir Singh Bains, Gants Hill, Essex, UK

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