UK Prime Minister David Cameron has announced a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union is to be held onThursday 23 June 2016. With this date fast approaching, arguments are being put forward both in favor and against this notion.
One argument that has consistently made headlines by Eurosceptics is the concern over the accuracy of the official figures published regarding the numbers of EU nationals in the UK and the government's failure to report on the exact numbers.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has stated that it will carry out an official review of these figures ahead of the referendum and publish it with the next quarterly migration reports.
The need for review arose after it was reported that, in the year leading up to September 2015, just 257,000 EU nationals arrived in the UK with the intention of residing. However, it was also reported that in the 12 months preceding December 2015, 630,000 EU nationals were issued with national insurance numbers.
Experts from the ONS have advised that, whilst there is a significant discrepancy in the figures, there are a number of complex reasons as to why this could be.
The ONS's view is that "using national insurance numbers to calculate migration numbers is far from a perfect method." National insurance numbers are not only issued to permanent EU migrants, but also to temporary workers who are not included in the official migration figures due to the fact they are required to leave Britain once they have completed the seasonal work they came for. The ONS's research also indicates that many EU migrants do not register for national insurance numbers immediately on arrival, and often wait for months, or even years, to do so after arriving in the UK. Further, the National Audit Office has raised concerns about widespread fraud in national insurance numbers, with people making multiple applications undetected, which could account for higher numbers.
Nevertheless, figures such as these (however erroneous) have historically been relied on by anti-immigration campaigners as proof that the government is playing down the migration figures and, with the referendum fast approaching, it is going to be interesting to see whether the ONS's review will add further fuel to the debate.