Thursday 3 June 2010

Another Migrationwatch press release gets the churnalism treatment

The appearance of a new Migrationwatch press release is the cause of celebration at certain newspapers, because it means they can produce a story that bashes immigrants without doing any actual journalism.

None of the churnalists writing about Migrationwatch's new figures - about the numbers of visas-leading-to-settlement granted under the new 'points based system' (PBS) - seem to have bothered to make even a cursory check that they're reliable.

Migrationwatch claims Labour's 'Tough' Points Based System Actually Increased Immigration.

The first set of figures they compare shows that the number of 'entry clearances' for skilled and highly skilled workers actually fell by over 23,000 over the period:

The next set of figures is for visa extensions, and this is where it starts to look a little shaky:

Since the PBS was only introduced in June 2008, there's no way there could be any tier 1 or 2 'visa extensions' in 2007. Unlike with the previous set of numbers, Migrationwatch do not find the 2007 'equivalents'.

This leaves a rather large hole in both their figures and their subsequent claims.

How can they realistically, and honestly, suggest the 2009 figures say anything about immigration trends when they fail to provide comparable numbers from previous years?

After all, visa extensions did exist in 2007 and were, in total, higher overall then than in 2009. Going to back to the official figures which Migrationwatch used shows this very clear decline:

  • 2007 - 274,020
  • 2008 - 267,865
  • 2009 - 251,245

Migrationwatch also provide numbers for work permits (which dropped - 44,685 in 2007; 7,290 in 2009) and for dependents (which increased by 5,565).

Overall, going by page 33 of the official stats, the very page Migrationwatch uses, the grand total of entry clearance visas including dependents is down (2,072,430 in 2007 and 1,995,840 in 2009).

Yet in the certain categories they have selected, Migrationwatch have claimed there's been an increase of 20%:

But strip out the 86,000 from the 'visa extensions' - or find and add in the equivalent figures for work-permit holders who gained extensions in 2007 - and that increase looks rather less certain.

In any case, immigration suggests people coming in - certainly in the minds of the hacks who then wrote about these figures. Yet 'visa extensions' clearly suggests that these are people already here.

But that didn't stop the Mail saying:

If that sounds like Migrationwatch's headline, that's not a surprise - Slack's article contains all their press release quotes.

Slack says:

Labour's supposedly tough points-based immigration system actually led to huge increases in foreign workers...cleared to live in Britain.

Except the number of new workers 'cleared to live in Britain' was down.

The Telegraph mindlessly followed too:

But the increase in Migrationwatch's figures includes visa extensions. These are not 'extra migrants...allowed into Britain' and the first figures show the number of foreign workers let in is down.

The Express went with:

As you can see from the opening paragraph, Martyn Brown makes a similar mistake, and goes further in claiming Migrationwatch's figures are about all non-EU migrants.

The BNP, as usual, picked up on Migrationwatch's figures and, having got out a calculator and added up all the big numbers, declared 1.2million immigrants had come in under the PBS in the last three years, despite it being in force for only 18 months.

The problem is the tabloids are obsessed with trying to prove there are too many immigrants coming to the UK. Migrationwatch are too, and so any press release sent to the tabloid churnalists which has an eye-catching headline, a few respectable-looking figures and an anti-immigrant message is grist to the mill.

There's no thought given to questioning the stats, no double checking, no quotes from anyone who may challenge Migrationwatch - because they have no interest in proving them wrong.

(More analysis of Migrationwatch's figures available at Left Foot Forward)


  1. Par for the course.

    Likewise the "report" by the so-called Taxpayers' Alliance into parking fines. This suggests that local authorities are raking in hundreds of millions of pounds a year in extra dosh, until the rather obvious question "how much does it cost them?" is asked.

    [More than a hundred English local authorities lost money on parking in 2008-9]

  2. Glad to see that I wasn't the only one to spot that the addition of the 'in country extension' was entirely misleading.

    I tried to get something to that effect posted 3 times when it was on the front page of the DM website. Guess what - one of my comments made it through -out of time order- only after it was removed from the front page and moved right to the end of the days' stories.

    Probably once they realised that people were seeing through the numbers.

    About time one of the quality dailies did a review of Migrationwatch and their manipulation of numbers.

  3. I do like the fact that the Daily Mail journalist is called 'Slack', clearly Slack by name slack by nature.

  4. Nicely parsed, I especially like the point about "new" migrants. This utter (deliberate?) lack of coceptual clarity really poisons the debate, and it's difficult to rebut as you have to go into the figures and do things that make people's eyes cloud over. The simple collapsing of "renewal" and "grant" is much simpler.

    Also from the figures: from 2007-9, the number of refusals of extensions more than doubled (p. 47, thanks for the link); there was also a drop in applications for permanent settlement and the applications for temporary settlement were at below-2007 rates.

  5. UN Migration Stats from me again... Sorry, but it's a good back-up, and if these guys are serious they'd have trawled through it: "Problems in the use and interpretation of data on residence permits arise when those permits are issued not only to newly arrived foreigers but also to those who have already been present in the country for some time and no distinction is made between the two groups." (p. 29). Now the UK does make this distinction in its stats - it's just that MigrationWatch has chosen - chosen - to collapse migrants already in-country and new arrivals. Forgive me if this is really obvious, but this is just a sign that these guys do not care about the facts at all, but have a narrative to sell.

  6. Ooh! Ooh! another one: somehow, "students", who are counted by the Home Office in the table as temporary and apparently "cannot apply for permanent residency and are only allowed limited working opportunities" ( are in the annex about "Work Permits Leading to Settlement 2007 - 2009".

    Moreover, it is generally considered that student immigration can be rather a good thing for cash-strapped universities and for providing high-skilled and UK-oriented workers. Of course there's a debate to be had on the question, but it's not just about crude numbers.


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