Anxiety about illegal immigration has been allowed to “grow unchecked” because of a shortage of official information on the scale of the problem, a Commons committee chaired by MP Yvette Cooper has warned.
MPs said the lack of data had been perceived as the Government showing “indifference” towards an issue of “high public interest”.
A report published by the Home Affairs Committee today describes the “long-standing paucity” of figures on the number of people in the UK unlawfully as a “serious concern”.
Officials insist it is not possible to accurately quantify the number of overseas nationals in the country illegally.
Last year a former immigration enforcement chief claimed the figure was likely to run to more than a million.
Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the committee, said: “Most people think immigration is important for Britain, but they want to know that the system is under control, that people are contributing to this country and that communities and public services are benefiting rather than facing pressures.
“We believe people should be working together to build consensus on the benefits and address concerns about problems on immigration.
“Immigration has always been an important part of our history, economy and culture and will continue to be a crucial policy area for our future.”
A Home Office assessment 13 years ago put the total unauthorised migrant population living in the UK in 2001 at 430,000.
A report published by think-tank Civitas last June suggested that illegal immigration was running at a minimum of 150,000 a year.
This would include those who remain in the country beyond the period allowed under their visas, or after asylum claims are rejected, as well as people who arrived with no legal entitlement at all.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are making it harder than ever before for those with no right to be here to remain in the UK.”