“Net Migration a Third of a Million – a City the Size of Birmingham every Three Years ...How can we afford council houses or NHS ?”
So claimed Neil Hamilton on Question Time from Cardiff City Hall on 2 June (the day before Jeremy Corbyn spoke there, invisible as always to the BBC). Hamilton`s lie got the inevitable racist response from the audience.
But is net migration (all immigration minus all emigration) the “third of a million” no one, not even Owen Jones, challenged on 2 June? And should the Left challenge the figures in these last days of the EU campaign ?
The 26 May House of Commons briefing paper gives (on p.10) the 333,000 figure and three pages later 188,000 non EU net migrants and 184,000 EU net migrants. These figures are slippery, calculations from estimates extrapolated from surveys. Mark Easton on BBC news (14 June) even allowed himself to use an EU in-migration figure of 270,000 – without correcting for EU nationals leaving UK.
But it is possible to present voters with a figure that is less frightening than “A Third of a Million” and truer for the impact of migration on schools, social housing and working-class jobs - the message of being "swamped" that is cutting so hard in Labour heartlands.
The 333,000 includes non-UK students. On the basis of verifiable data from visas and university statistics, student-in migration is 192,000, according to the Office for National Statistics.
As Vince Cable argued when in government, one can simply remove the non-UK student in-flow and 333,000 becomes 141,000. Students are not long-term immigrants and should not be counted as such, as even George Osborne apparently now admits.
The net migration figure of 333,000 doesn`t go that far. It counts the 192,000 students in and then uses a flawed International Passenger Survey estimate of 57,000 students returning home to put 135,000 students in the net migration figures.
Facing Andrew Neil on 10 June, Farage had no answer but his passport for how to get net migration below 100,000 - but remove students and the figure is in sight.
Of course, UKIP doesn`t tell its supporters that “a third of a million” includes non-UK students paying well over £6 billion a year in fees but that`s the truth of 436,585 non UK students in Higher Education in Britain (2014-2015). Three quarters of non UK students are non EU.
The government itself only started collecting exit data on students leaving the UK in April 2015. We may presume these checks will show many more than 57,000 return home after study – taking the non EU three quarters of 192,000 down by c.140,000 and the net migration figure to under 200,000. But by the time these statistics of real student outflow are released the referendum will be lost.
And removing students from the net migration figures alters the perception of EU migrants we can address on the doorstep. Remove 50,000 EU student immigrants from 184,000 EU net immigration – getting degrees not competing for jobs on building sites and East Anglian farms!
EU net migration is little more than 100,000 a year within a total 2015 net migration of around 200,000 including c.70,000 non EU work visas and 32,000 asylum seekers.
I've tried it as a leaflet. Brexiters can`t contest the non-EU fee benefit. Voters from ethnic minorities and non-voting EU nationals feel reassured that UKIP claims are being contested.
Is it possible we can even reassure worried traditional Labour voters that their school places, jobs and NHS access are no more under immigrant assault than in the last twenty years?