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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Archive  /  2013  /  November 2013  /  UK migration target “is not useful or appropriate”

UK migration target “is not useful or appropriate”

John Salt and Janet Dobson critical of current policy

UK migration target “is not useful or appropriate”

The government’s target to cut net migration to the UK to below 100,000 by 2015 is neither a useful tool nor a measure of policy effectiveness, according to a new discussion paper by Professor John Salt and Dr Janet Dobson from UCL Geography's Migration Research Unit.

The aim to achieve a single numerical net migration target, announced by the coalition government in 2010, is unique in the history of UK migration policy and also new in an international context. The discussion paper examines progress towards the target over the first three years and highlights the issues and complexities involved in migration management.

Reducing net migration means reducing immigration, increasing emigration – or both. The target applies to all immigrants and emigrants, including British citizens and those from other countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) whose movements are for the most part beyond government control.

The government has thus focused its policies almost entirely on non-EEA citizens, making big cuts in Tier 1 (the highly-skilled) and in Tier 4 (students). A drop in net migration from 252,000 in 2010 to 176,000 in 2012 mainly reflects this. The latest quarterly data suggest the decline in net migration may have halted, raising questions about where the further reductions needed to meet the target can be found.

The authors point out: “It is not clear what happens next – where further cuts would come from, what policies would be needed to maintain a net inflow below 100,000, or what happens if an improving economy requires more skilled labour. Measurement of policy success also depends on accurate data. However, the measurement being used in this case – the International Passenger Survey – is too imprecise to demonstrate whether the target has actually been met.”

They have serious doubts that the net migration target is either a useful tool or a measure of policy effectiveness, and cite evidence of “collateral damage” already caused by cuts in work-related, student and family migration, including to the UK’s international reputation as a place to work or study and the splitting-up of families and relationships.

They add: “We’re not arguing against the objective of trying to reduce net migration nor against measures, which all governments take, to combat abuse of the system, such as sham marriages and bogus educational institutions.”

They “… are concerned that, having publicised the target the government is under pressure to prioritise its achievement over other considerations which may be in the national interest or the interests of individual citizens, … Too much deterrence could be impacting adversely on the education sector and economy and creating negative social consequences for families”.


Discussion paper: ‘Cutting net migration to the tens of thousands: what exactly does that mean?’ (PDF)


John Salt and Janet Dobson

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