Immigration from the EU was TRIPLE official estimates: Embarrassment for ministers as including ‘short term’ workers in official data sends migrant total soaring

  • ONS analysed issue of 1.3million more NI numbers being given out to EU citizens than were accounted for in official migration figures
  • Found that difference was largely down to ‘short term’ visitors who are not caught by standard statistics
  • But new calculations in the study show that 800,000 could have come from EU last year when short-term and longer term migrants are combined
  • The official estimate for long-term immigration from the EU last year was just 260,000   
  • Comes after Boris Johnson  accused pro-EU camp of being ‘dishonest’ about immigration

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has combined long-term and short term migration figures to produce a fresh estimate for the total arrivals.

The finding came as the watchdog released analysis of the gulf between official figures for arrivals from the EU and how many National Insurance numbers have been issued.

Around 1.3million more NI numbers have been given out to EU citizens since 2010 than are accounted for in official statistics.

The ONS has used a new method to estimate combined long term and short term immigration from the EU for last year. The 'headline' long-term figure for 2015 was 260,000 

The ONS said ‘short term’ migration was largely responsible for the difference, and pointed out that the existing headline statistics focused on those arrivals coming for the longer term.

But a combined estimate produced by the experts using a new method suggested the total could have been as high as 800,000 in 2015. The official level was previously stated as 260,000.

The findings were seized on by Eurosceptics. Employment minister Priti Patel said: ‘These figures – which had to be dragged out of the government – show the scale and impact of immigration from the EU is even higher than previously admitted.

‘It is out of control – and cannot be controlled as long as we stay in the EU.

‘This puts huge strains on the NHS, housing, schools and other public services.

‘The only way we can take back control, and deliver on our manifesto commitment to reduce migration is to Vote Leave on 23 June.’

Former Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith said the estimate showed migration was ‘running out of control’ and accused the government of trying to bury the news under other announcements. The White Paper on BBC reforms was published today and David Cameron is hosting an international anti-corruption summit in London.

‘They put it out on a day when they also put out something in the hope that you at the BBC will say ‘oh, we’ve got to really report the BBC’ and other bits they’re piling out. I’ve been in government long enough to know how these things are done,’ Mr Duncan Smith said.

The watchdog was due to publish the report at the end of the month, closer to the EU referendum – but the date was brought forward.

Since 2010 over 2.2m NI numbers have been issued, but official estimates suggest that just under one million EU citizens had come to the UK.

The ONS pointed out that NI registrations tend to spike once new countries are allowed into the EU, noting that the surge coincides with Romanians and Bulgarians having the right to work in the UK.

‘Short term migration (between 1-12 months) from the EU for work and study has been growing and largely accounts for the recent differences between the numbers of long-term migrants (over 12 months) and NI registrations for EU citizens,’ the report said.

Nigel Farage stresses why he wants to leave the EU

The ONS has blamed 'short term' migration for the gap between NI numbers issued to EU nationals and official figures for arrivals

Deputy National Statistician for Population and Public Policy Glen Watson said: ‘We are confident the International Passenger Survey remains the best available way of measuring long-term migration to the UK.

‘National Insurance number registrations are not a good indicator of long term migration. This research shows that many people who register for National Insurance stay in the UK for less than a year, which is the minimum stay for a long-term migrant according to the internationally- recognised definition.

‘National Insurance numbers registrations do, however, provide a valuable source of information to highlight emerging trends.

‘The number of short term migrants coming to the UK to work or study has been rising recently, but you need to consider the short term migrants leaving these shores as well to get the full picture.’

A ‘difference method’ for estimating the overall EU immigration figures, including those who stayed between one and 12 months, gave a level of 600,000 for last year.

The ONS also said a ‘ratio method’ had suggested the figure could have been 800,000.

Any remaining gap with the NI figures could potentially be ‘explained by looking at the number of visitors that come to the UK for work or business for less than one month’, they said.

Separate HMRC figures released today suggested that even long-term immigration may have been underestimated.

A million European Economic Area nationals apparently registered for a NI in the four years to 2013-14, and worked or worked or drew benefits in that year.

But the ONS figures showed 739,000 long-term immigrants recorded as entering over that four year period.

Former Whitehall economist Jonathan Portes – a supporter of EU membership – said: ‘Taken together, the DWP and HMRC data suggests to me that there was a degree of undercounting of long-term migration from EU member states.’

Answering an urgent question in the Commons on the issue, immigration minister James Brokenshire said the ONS had proved there was no ‘conspiracy’ over the figures on arrivals.

Boris Johnson: ‘Happy to debate anybody over the EU’

Former London Mayor Boris Johnson on the EU referendum campaign trail yesterday. He has accused the pro-EU camp of being 'dishonest' about immigration

His Tory predecessor in the role Damian Green said the body had ‘bust the myth’ that the NI figures showed migration was much higher.

But Eurosceptic Conservative MP John Redwood said: ‘The note slipped out does not answer the discrepancy.’

He added: ‘The fact is that over a five year period 1.2 million additional people came here, got a job and a NI number and lived here for a considerable time even if some of them have now departed.’

Leave campaigner Boris Johnson yesterday accused the pro-EU camp of being ‘dishonest’ about the level of migration to Britain.

Speaking at the launch of the Leave campaign’s road campaign, said there had been a huge rise in immigration ‘without consent’ from the public.

He said politicians had been driven to ‘dishonesty’ because they did not want to admit they cannot control immigration while Britain is inside the EU.

The Tory big-hitter’s comments will be seen as a further swipe at David Cameron over his long-standing promise to reduce net migration to below 100,000-a-year – a target he has consistently failed to meet.

Cameron:  Britain can hit immigration target whilst in the EU

Mr Johnson said politicians had been driven to ‘dishonesty’ because they did not want to admit they cannot control immigration while Britain is inside the EU. Pictured, migrants break through fences in Macedonia

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