Now, I of all people know the difficulty that numbers can be, but I was somewhat surprised last night to learn that the Government had apparently mislaid 300,000 foreign nationals working here in the UK.
I don’t want to go into Government-bashing, but the whole issue does raise a few questions in my mind…
Every passport is tagged in and out of the country. The UK has no land borders so it is impossible to enter or exit the country without having your passport examined and its ID number recorded. So how come the Government don’t know how many people are here at any one time?
Yes, we get a whole lot of tourists, but surely the number of those outstaying normal holiday visa periods can be accurately calculated? That alone would let us know how many people are staying here…
And then there is the Inland Revenue (or Her Majesties Revenue & Customs as it is now called). They record tax details of every individual working in the country. A P45 is sent off to them for every individual role on the PAYE scheme. Now surely those numbers can be used to tell us how many jobs there are, and how many non-British nationals are filling them…?
You see, the problem the Government had was that its figures were calculated by a survey, which is a fine way of gathering data. But when these labyrinthine departments routinely gather all this data, why isn’t it possible to mine it for accurate figures?
The Immigration debate is a strange, highly-charged and somewhat artificial one. Yet it always surprises me that no one (and it really is no one) seems to have a clue about the real scale of the problem. How many foreign nationals come into the UK to live and work? We really, really don’t know.