The pandemic has affected many aspects of the UK’s policy-making process and has made collecting accurate data almost impossible. Uncertainty surrounding migration data is at its worst as the ongoing pandemic has limited the usual avenues of collecting important data.
A report from the Migration Observatory has revealed that the limits placed on data collection throughout 2020 and 2021 could lead to an under-representation of migrants in official statistics.
The International Passenger Survey, the most important tool for measuring migration flow in and out of the UK, was suspended by the Official for National Statistics (ONS) last March.
While the ONS is working on an alternative, it will most likely not be ready until next year at the earliest. This leaves a gap in data from mid-2020 to the end of 2021 where Brexit has demanded the need for effective and accurate data collection.
This uncertainty also comes at the dawn of the UK’s new points-based immigration system which Patel intends to make immigration ‘firm but fair’. However, the lack of migration data collection will make it difficult for experts to examine the effects this new system will have on migration.
The Home Office claims however that it has kept a ‘clear, accurate’ picture of the UK’s migration by examining the statistics currently on-hand.
Inaccurate Population Data
Accurate data on the country’s population is vital when it comes to measuring the success of previous immigration policies such as the EU Settlement Scheme which focused on the UK’s EU-born residents. However, assumptions made from current data are considered wildly inaccurate.
The Labour Force Survey (LFS), which examines the UK’s labour market, has suggested the number of migrants living in the UK fell by 10% in 2020. The LFS also claims that UK’s population has increased by around 370,000 in one year.
Limits placed on data collection throughout 2020 and 2021 could lead to an under-representation of migrants in official statistics
Migration Observatory notes however that this isn’t possible. The LFS’s claims are based on the assumption that population growth has increased as it normally would, which ignores the pandemic’s effect on migration.
Put simply, the government cannot justify new immigration policies without accurate data to support them.
The report concludes that the UK’s population has declined thanks to foreign-born workers flowing out of the country. However, it’s overall effect can’t be quantified thanks to the uncertainty stemming from a lack of effective data collection.
Data Changes May Work Against Migrants
The pandemic has also forced the ONS to change how it collects data for the LFS. The reliance on face-to-face interviews was replaced with phone calls. To compensate for the resulting drop in response rates, the ONS changed how it analyses the data from under-represented places of accommodation, such as those in rented accommodation.
The Labour Force Survey (LFS), which examines the UK’s labour market, has suggested the number of migrants living in the UK fell by 10% in 2020
It is highly possible that migrants were disproportionately affected in this survey as studies show they would be less likely to have responded.
Without another survey or study to hold against the LFS there is no way to confirm claims made by the ONS that there has been a decrease in the foreign-born population thank to emigration. Government policy supposedly aims to cut immigration numbers, but without this data how can this be measured?
Can the Uncertainty be Resolved?
Depending on one source of data is always problematic. To look past the uncertainty stemming from current statistics other avenues of data collection must be explored.
One of the main sources of data that could solve this uncertainty is the upcoming Census that is due to take place on 21 March 2021 in all areas of the UK (excluding Scotland). While not a perfect solution, the Census could provide more accurate population data spanning across all citizens in the UK.
Another potential solution is visa data from the Home Office which is due to be published throughout 2021 and early 2022. This data will reveal the extent of visas provided under the new immigration system which will provide data on all types of migrants, both EU and non-EU born.
Nonetheless, it’s extremely unlikely that any quick-fix solution to this uncertainty will be revealed in 2021. Therefore, implementation of the points-based system and other immigration policy overhauls will rely on inaccurate assumptions made by the readily available data.
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