Migrant Impact ‘Hard To Measure’

Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2007, 16:57 GMT
BBC News

Migrant impact 'hard to measure'
Migrant workers: Expert body to advise

The wider impact of immigration on society is difficult to measure and monitor, a minister has warned.

Immigration minister Liam Byrne said evidence suggested that there have been “isolated pressures” from immigration in some parts of country

The Home office is seeking views on a proposed independent body to advise ministers as part of a major overhaul of the immigration system.

Ministers say the new body will help track immigration's impact on the UK.

The Home Office first proposed establishing a special body to advise ministers on immigration last year amid public concern over the number of workers coming from Eastern Europe.

The body would advise on:
Gaps in the labour market
Qualifications of highly skilled migrants
Numbers of low-skilled workers
CPS:FACT>Wider impact of migration

Ministers had already been pushing ahead with plans for a points-based migration system designed to ensure that those with the most skills, or the skills most in need, are allowed to come to the UK. That system is expected to be in place by 2008.

The proposed migration advisory committee, known as MAC, will be an independent body charged with helping ministers to set the points required from sector to sector of the economy.

But ministers are also proposing the committee will be asked to assess the net benefit to the UK as a whole of particular categories of migrants, taking into account not just economic – but also wider social impacts.

Speaking at a consultation with 60 organisations, many representing business interests, Mr Byrne said measuring the “wider impact” would be a key part of the finished system.

“We should take wider impacts into account but we accept that it is difficult to measure and monitor. I do not think that should stop us trying,” said Mr Byrne.

The government came under pressure last year over allegations that some local councils were struggling to integrate recent immigrants, particularly in terms of housing and school places.

Mr Byrne said that many of these issues were difficult to quantify but the government did recognise there were problems.

“The evidence we have suggests that there have been isolated pressures,” said Mr Byrne. “But we have to separate anecdote and evidence.”

New migration system

Mr Byrne said there was a paradox between economic evidence of the benefits of migration and public attitudes.

“When you ask the public, as many are concerned about immigration as they are about illegal immigration,” he said.

“We have to solve that paradox. This is the biggest shake-up of the immigration system. Over the next two or three years we are dramatically changing it.

“We have to build a system that's not only fair but is seen to be fair – and that is why the public are concerned.”

In November last year the Conservatives proposed an annual limit on economic migration based on consultations with business, local authorities and other groups.

They say their policy would better reflect the balance between economic need, pressure on public services, environmental impact and “community cohesion”.