Fact or fiction? Claims about immigration and the EU

Immigration is one of the big campaigning issues in the run-up to the EU referendum.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage holds his passport up after giving a speech on immigration at a Vote Leave European Referendum campaign event in Westminster. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA WireUkip leader Nigel Farage holds his passport up after giving a speech on immigration at a Vote Leave European Referendum campaign event in Westminster. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Ukip leader Nigel Farage holds his passport up after giving a speech on immigration at a Vote Leave European Referendum campaign event in Westminster. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

The Leave campaign says Britain needs to regain control of its borders. Without this move, “immigration will continue out of control putting public services like the NHS under strain,” the camp claims.

But the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign argues immigration is better for the economy. It adds: “Leaving the EU will not stop immigration to the UK.”

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Migration from the EU to the UK will depend on whatever policies are set up after Brexit.

Here, our sister paper The i gets to the bottom of common claims about immigration and the EU:

Claim: Migration is at a record high

Fact: This is true, despite the fact the Conservative Party’s 2015 manifesto said it aimed to reduce annual net migration to the “tens of thousands, not the hundreds of thousands”.

The net migration estimate for the year ending December 2015 was 333,000, according to the Office for National Statistics.

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This is the second highest figure on record – the figure was 336,000 in the first and second quarter of 2015.

Claim: Most migrants come from the EU

Fact: The net migration was 184,000 for EU citizens and 188,000 for non-EU citizens. So, on balance, more migrants come from outside the EU.

The figure for EU citizens is 10,000 higher than for the year ending December 2014, an increase the ONS puts down to a higher level of net migration of citizens from Bulgaria and Romania.

Claim: the EU’s free movement policy makes it harder to control our borders

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Fact: True but leaving the EU does not necessarily solve this issue. Many people think we would stay in a Single Market with no internal borders. Consequently we would not necessarily have greater control of migration if the UK left the bloc.

People from Switzerland can live and work in the UK (and vice-versa) despite the country not being part of the EU or the European Economic Area – the 28 EU member states as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – because it is part of the EU’s Single Market.

People from outside the EU are allowed to move to the UK under a points-based system which limits access to only those with skills needed in the economy.

Claim: EU migrants aren’t in the UK to work

Fact: The majority of EU nationals in the UK are working, according to the ONS.

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From January to March 2016, the employment rate for EU nationals aged between 16 and 64 was 78 per cent. For the same period last year it was 79.2 per cent.

There are fewer nationals from outside the EU in work. The employment rate for non-EU nationals was 61.7 per cent for 16 to 64-year-olds. It was 59.9 per cent for the same period in 2015.

Claim: EU migrants ‘take British jobs’

Fact: There are fewer jobs but the number of people in work is at an all time high.

The unemployment rate in the UK for January to March 2016 was 5.1 per cent, lower than the 5.6 per cent reported a year earlier, according to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics.

The employment rate was a record high of 74.2 per cent.

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The number of job vacancies dropped by 18,000 between February and April 2016 compared with the three months to January 2016. But there were 13,000 more vacancies Between February and April than for a year earlier.

Claim: EU migrants claim too much welfare

Fact: Yes, EU migrants do claim welfare, but the rules around this are complex and depend on individual circumstances.

EU-born migrants are more likely to receive in-work benefits (like tax credits) than the rest of the UK population, but are less likely to receive out of work benefits.

Five per cent of the Department for Work and Pension’s payments for working age benefits went to claimants from the EEA – in 2013/14.

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Around 16 per cent of the department’s in-work benefits and three per cent of its out-of-work benefits went to people from the EEA.

Between eight and nine per cent of the money spent on tax credits went to families with at least one EEA adult national in 2013/14 (£1.745 billion of the £20.169 billion total), according to HMRC.

Claim: our migration policy is ‘racist’ towards people from outside the EU

Fact: There are more people from the EU working in the UK than people from outside the EU.

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The number of non-UK nationals from the EU working in the UK was 2.15 million between January to March 2016, up 224,000 from the same period last year, according to the ONS.

There were 1.19 million people from outside the EU working in the UK between January and March 2016.

The UK government imposed an immigration cap on skilled workers coming from outside the EU in 2011.

Claim: EU migrants ‘fill up our social housing’

Fact: Migrants from the EEA have access to social housing but no one in England, including British citizens, are automatically entitled to it.

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In 2014/15, 91 per cent of social housing in England was rented by UK nationals, according to the Department of Communities and Local Government. Five per cent of the housing went to people with an EEA nationality.

Four per cent went to nationals from other countries.

Claim: EU migrants ‘put extra strain on the NHS’

Fact: It is not known how much EU migrants cost the NHS, but a larger population puts more pressure on any service to deliver.

The Department of Health has estimated that EEA visitors and non-permanent residents to the UK cost £340 million each year.

Non-EEA visitors and temporary migrants to England cost the NHS £1,070 million a year.

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UK expats, irregular migrants and “health tourists” also cost the NHS.

Both EEA and non-EEA visitors and migrants in England account for 4.5 per cent of the total population the NHS serves and two per cent it spends.

However, some of the costs can be claimed back through European Health Insurance Cards.

Claim: EU migrants are better for the economy

Fact: Generally the impact of migrants on the economy is thought to be fairly small, but it depends entirely on what you’re measuring.

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The net contribution from migrants from Europe was more than £20 billion between 2001 and 2011, according to research carried out by the UCL Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration.

For non-European migrants it was around £5 billion, but the net fiscal contribution of UK born citizens had a negative impact, to the sum of around £617 billion, on the economy. But the data did receive criticism for its methodology.

However, the fiscal impact of migrations in the UK is less than one per cent of the UK’s GDP evidence suggests, says the Migration Observatory but there is dispute on whether that impact is positive or negative.

“The difference between what [migrants] pay in and what they take out [of the economy] is small,” says a spokesman for the body.