A tale of three reports: Unemployment and Immigration

This week is the tale of three reports of varying quality, all aimed at establishing whether or not there is a link between unemployment and immigration.

Migration Watch

First out of the traps was Migration Watch and their study which, perhaps not surprisingly, claimed there is a link. The report was undermined considerably when Andrew Green, head honcho of Migration Watch, admitted on national radio that the report was based on anecdotal evidence, stating that proving this question was nigh on impossible statistically. The MW report drew much criticism, particularly eloquent was the New Statesman article by Matt Cavanagh of ippr, drawing on his erstwhile colleague, Sarah Mulley’s piece which dealt with MW’s previous attempt to build a head of steam on the exact same story 18 months ago. Sarah’s analysis of the statistical inadequacies of MW is a fantastic demolition of Andrew Green’s lack of serious work on the subject. The Daily Mail showed its unfailing support for MW’s feeble report on their website.

One cannot help but think that 6 pages of essentially rehashed mumblings from 18 months ago was hurriedly put out to steal the thunder from the next chapter of this tale…


Later yesterday came a far more substantial and referenced report from NIESR, which drew on evidence of National Insurance numbers allocated to migrant workers, giving a more scientific basis for their findings than the ‘how Sir Andrew Green feels numbers are a bit similar’ methodology of MW. The media (The Guardian, The Express, the Financial Times, Sam Bowman in The Spectator, Independent, the Daily Mail, The Telegraph) this morning reported this one and it appeared that pro and anti migration lobbies were involved in an intense report-tennis rally.


Today the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) have now turned the debate around once more, but in doing so have also further undermined MW’s report. The MAC report is an Impact Assessment of immigration on public services, housing, crime, transport, congestion, employment and other issues. There are repeated caveats and warnings and explanations of assumptions the report makes. It does conclude that 23 jobs for native workers were lost for every 100 migrants introduced to the labour market in the UK. In itself this undermines the MW report by showing how much difference there is between immigration and unemployment.

However, what many newspapers omit to say on this is that in times of a zero or negative output gap, the impact of increased immigration is negligible.  In other words this impact (the 23 jobs lost per 100) is only the case in times of slow economic growth or economic downturn [MAC report pp. 121 and 122]. there are more problems with the research as Alan Travis points out in The Guardian. It counts ‘British born workers’ as opposed to UK citizens. This omits the Britsh born overseas category of workers, of which there are significant numbers, reducing the number of people between who the job reductions are shared amongst – the figure in reality is therefore lower than the 23 reported.

NIESR / MAC strengths and weaknesses

The MAC report also admits itself that dynamic effects of immigration such as productivity, trade and investment are likely to have a beneficial effect on employment but are too difficult to quantify and are therefore not considered in the findings. The NIESR report has more strength being based on data from National Insurance number registrations to overseas nationals which “are complete administrative data on new migrant inflows, largely for employment purposes, giving reliable estimates at much smaller geographies than is possible with the LFS”. The LFS (or Labour Force Survey) data is used in the MAC report. 

We have no doubt the nuances and pitfalls described in the report itself will be sacrificed in pursuit of gory anti-migrant headlines. In fact it’s already started, but we have to realise the seriousness of a report from MAC that fuels the desire of those who want to reinforce the defences of ‘fortress UK’ denying access, rights and family unity to UK citizens and migrants alike. The contradictory reports published in most papers over the past 48 hours are unlikely to continue. Nor is the line of newspapers going to settle on the side of openness and tolerance.

About jcwi

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants is a key campaigning voice in the field of immigration, asylum and nationality law and policy. It is completely independent from government funding, remaining entirely free from government influence. View all posts by jcwi

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