Is there ever a press release from MigrationWatch that doesn't make the Daily Mail?

Today's Mail includes a nice immigration scare story that's pretty typical of the paper's output. 'UK migrant total is 'three times the world average'' is the headline. Frightened yet?

The basic premise of the article is this. The percentage of the world's population who are migrants has risen from 2.5% to 3% between 1960 and 2005, while the percentage of the UK's population who are migrants has risen from 4.5% to 11% between 1961 and 2008. Therefore, claims that the rise in the number of migrants in the UK is part of a global phenomenon are rubbish, we have a ridiculously high proportion of migrants in the UK and it's all Labour's fault.

Sounds convincing on the face of it, but the article is ignoring one very important fact. That probably isn't much of a surprise, since the article is based on the MigrationWatch press release 'Migrant Stock has Doubled Since 199I - Immigration Problem ‘Home Grown’ - not a Result of Globalisation' (quick update - migrant stock hasn't doubled since 1991. It's less than doubled since 1990), which also doesn't mention this very important fact. That actually is curious, since the briefing paper the press release is supposed to be about - 'How did immigration get out of control?'* - does mention it, in passing at least.

To work out what the important fact might be, here's a hypothetical question. If you were looking at whether or not international migration were a global phenomenon, wouldn't you think the total number of migrants in the world was important? Just a little? I would hope so.

See, although the percentage of migrants in the world has risen from only 2.5% to 3%, the actual total number has risen by much more than that would imply. In 1960, the total world population was around 3 billion. In 2005, it was just over double that. 2.5% of the world's population in 1960 represented about 75 million people. 3% of the world's population in 2005 represented about 180 million people.

The population hasn't doubled uniformly in every country in the world, and the number of countries in the world hasn't doubled either, so it's inevitable that the number of migrants in some countries will have risen. Since some countries will have experienced a net loss of their population due to migration, it's also inevitable that some countries will have a higher percentage of migrants than the total percentage of migrants in the world.

Showing how much the percentage of migrants in the UK has risen compared to the total in the world tells us precisely nothing, and begs more questions than it answers. If 6.49 million migrants live in the UK, what happened to the other 173.51 million? Have any other countries got a particularly high percentage of migrants? Shouldn't someone trying to show whether a substantial rise in migration is global or particular to the UK start at this point?

Eurostat, the European body that monitors and collates statistics from countries across Europe, produced the report 'Recent migration trends: citizens of EU-27 Member States become ever more mobile while EU remains attractive to non-EU citizens' last year. It examines migration figures from accross Europe, and rather handily compares the rate of immigration per 1,000 citizens for each country in Europe. It says this:
The largest numbers of immigrants to the EU in 2006 were recorded in Spain, Germany and United Kingdom.


However, among these countries only Spain also had high immigration relative to its population size. The highest rate of immigration was recorded in Luxembourg, followed by Ireland, Cyprus and Spain. These four countries had significantly higher rates compared with other Member States, while for Germany and the United Kingdom, immigration per 1000 inhabitants was close to the EU-27 average.
So, in the most recent year measured, the level of immigration in comparison to the total UK population is close to the average for the EU. Which is kind of what you'd expect to see if migration to the UK were part of a global phenomenon, but not so much what you'd expect if that idea was rubbish and it's all Labour's fault.

MigrationWatch themselves include a passing reference to this fact, and that other countries like Canada, Australia and the US have similar proportions of migrants to the UK, but these inconvenient 'facts' are poo-pooed for varous reasons that amount to special pleading. But none of these made the Mail, even with spurious justifications.

I put the word facts in scare quotes on purpose. 'Trends in Total Migrant Stock: The 2005 Revision', the document MigrationWatch bases most of its findings on includes a table for how many migrants (a word that may be defined differently by this document than in the most recent ONS figures for the UK) there are in the countries with the top 20 migrant proportions. Here are the percentages for those countries MigrationWatch describes as having similar proportions of migrants to the UK, compared to their total population size in 2005, estimated by the UN:

  • Canada: 6.1 million migrants - 19% of the population

  • Australia: 4.1 million migrants - 20% of the population

  • United States: 38.4 million migrants - 12.8% of the population

  • These are all several times higher than the UK's level of 2005. Even if we presume that these countries have stayed completely static in the last three years while UK's level has risen to 11%, as the ONS measurements suggest, two of these countries have almost double the percentage of the UK. How often does 'almost double' equal 'similar'? How about never?

    Still, this is again more what you'd expect to see if migration to the UK were part of a worldwide phenomenon, and not so much what you'd expect to see if that idea was rubbish and it's all Labour's fault.

    What we have here is an example of the Home Affairs Editor of the Mail parroting a MigrationWatch press release, slapping a misleading headline on it and sexing it up a little bit. Shouldn't his job be to check the facts of press releases he's sent?

    But then, you'd expect MigrationWatch's job to involve checking how reliable their statistics are rather than watch Steven Segal films, but who knows what happens in their house?

    *Gee, do you think that title assumes its conclusion, just a teensy bit?

    See also: 'More fun with MigrationWatch numbers'

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