There are some elements of potential immigration which the government has no real control over, but they’re not necessarily the ones getting all the publicity. Currently there are probably more than five million Britons living permanently abroad – a widely cited figure from the IPPR was 5.6 million. More than a million of these are in Australia, more than 800,000 in Spain and the USA, over 600,000 in Canada. (It may also be worth noting that 18,000 British citizens live in Bulgaria, one of the countries which the tabloids have been convinced is going to disgorge lots of people into the UK.)
The picture relating to benefit dependency is slightly different. According to current DWP figures, 1,221,000 benefits are paid to living to Britons abroad, of which 1,200,000 are pensioners. The country with most claims in payment is Australia, with 250,000 pensioners, followed by the USA, Ireland and Spain – those four countries together account for about half the total.
It’s interesting to speculate what would happen if a significant number of these people decided to come to Britain. If people are already receiving benefit, the cost is mainly going to be in other services. But there are four and a half million Britons living abroad who aren’t receiving benefit. How odd that they’ve been able to resist the lure of benefit tourism.
Afterthought, 9th January: There is also an issue here which relates to the debate on Scottish independence. Presumably an independent Scotland would have a proportion of expatriates to support – possibly 1 in 12, or 100,000. That is likely to come at a cost of £600-£700m a year, subject to negotiation, which would need to be factored in to the budget calculations.