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How we “count” migration

People are very hard to count, especially in a free society. The failings in Britain's system of counting migration reflect the inherent flaws in any mass sampling system. Although the system could be improved, it will always be tough to predict future trends

By Michael Blastland   November 2007

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In late September, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) sharply increased its projection for annual net immigration to Britain—from 145,000 to 190,000. Few numbers light the political touchpaper quite like these. The increase is based partly on data for two new years (2004 and 2005), when net migration was at record levels, and partly on methodological changes. In practical terms, this means in 2005-06 an estimated net inflow of about 500 people a day; in future, the ONS assumes, a few more.

Since scepticism about immigration often expresses itself as cynicism about…

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