U.K. Underestimated Immigration by 356,000 Over Decade

The U.K. Office for National Statistics said it failed to realize that migrants from the European Union were arriving on discount airlines at smaller airports, leading it to underestimate net migration by 356,000 between 2001 and 2010.

The ONS said in a release on its website today that it was revising upwards its estimates of immigration for each of those years, by as much as 40 percent. It came after statisticians looking at data from the 2011 census found 464,000 more people in the country than they expected.

The government was wrong-footed by a surge of migrants flying in on an expanding number of cheaper routes. In 2001, 453,000 passengers traveled by air between the U.K. and Poland using six different routes. In 2007, 5 million passengers traveled using 102 different routes.

Immigration has become an increasingly important political issue in the U.K. over the last decade, with some Britons complaining that migrants are taking jobs and pushing down wages. The U.K. Independence Party has pledged to leave the EU in order to cut immigration.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives have set a target of reducing net migration, which rose to 212,000 people in the year through September, to below 100,000 by 2015.

The opposition’s home-affairs spokeswoman, Yvette Cooper, said in a speech today that if her Labour Party wins power in the 2015 general election it will reintroduce entry and exit checks on migrants coming to the U.K.

She said the last Labour administration, in power until 2010, “got things wrong on immigration” and attacked Cameron’s government for failing to meet its target for reducing net migration.

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