Immigrants: Turn Around Where Possible


British party leaders’ negative stance towards immigration is threatening the nation’s attempts at economic recovery. Leaders and voters alike need to reassess their policy.


Ever since the ‘Empire Windrush’ first docked in London on the 22nd June 1948 (carrying onboard thousands of West Indians), immigrants have played a huge role in shaping our society and economy. However, housing segregation, xenophobia and downright unmitigated self-interest soon took hold in a popular movement to quash immigration and these have hardly subsided since. Theresa May’s immigration bill, supported in intent by both the Labour party and the Liberal Democrat party, is typical in its attempt to quell both dissent within the Conservative party and, more importantly, with the public which is becoming increasingly preoccupied with keeping foreign people out.


Why are leaders so adamant on reducing immigration?


Politically, a promise of greater constraints on immigration seems fair; the United Kingdom Independence Party is swiping away at the traditional Tory support base and polarising immigration policy among the parties. Given that stories of supposed manipulations of our welfare system by immigrants are incessantly streaked across the newspapers in thick, black ink, it is no wonder that the public see immigration as harmful for Britain. It is political suicide to even contest that these people should not get equal access to our public services and institutions, merely because of their having been born in a country perceived to be too incompetent to sufficiently provide them these services. It is indicative of a serious flaw in our democratic politics that leaders must heed, and even commend, these populists’ hollow rhetoric. Contrarily, they should be leading public opinion regarding these little-understood issues and championing the dissemination of information about it.


The ethical arguments for certain sections of the Home Office’s bill are compelling. These include requiring landlords to check whether tenants are in the UK illegally, banks to assess immigrants’ legal status and to have registrars inform the Home Office of weddings between UK citizens and those from outside Europe (in order to identify sham marriages). All these measures seem fair in aiming to ensure illegal immigrants are immobile within the system. However, not only would this create horrendous bureaucracy, it would be incredibly difficult to enforce. Instead, there should be a more thorough border police and a reintroduction of exit checks. The best solution to reducing illegal immigration is to increase the ability for foreigners to get in legally. The coalition aims to drive net immigration to below 100,000 per year. In line with this aim, there was a 20% drop in student visas issued to foreign nationals, falling primarily upon Indian and Pakistani students[1]. Whilst increasing numbers of Chinese students are studying abroad, the United States is being chosen as the preferred choice of destination. In similar vein, there were 3% and 11% falls in work-related visas issued and permissions to stay permanently. These reductions are all either partly or directly attributable to government policy. Is this justifiable, economically?


Economic Benefits of Immigration


There are several economic benefits of increased immigration to Britain. Firstly, a foreign student coming to the UK to study pays a higher tuition fee than home students. This allows universities to invest the additional income in upgrading facilities, carrying out better research, hiring more staff etc. Furthermore, the student spends in the domestic economy for things such as food and accommodation, which pays local residents’ wages (with a multiplier effect). Thus, by increasing the number of overseas students, the budget deficit can be reduced as a result of them contributing to the public purse. Now, granted, a foreign student, by nature of being human, requires living space and thus deprives existing residents of such space. However, this should not stop the immigrant who, after all, becomes as much a part of society as the native. Rather, this indicates the need for more housing. Whether this is appropriate in the context of the current fiscal crisis and whether it is possible in areas that are hotspots for foreign students, such as London, is a matter beyond the confines of this article. Nevertheless, it can be argued that the income provided by the foreign students is enough to pay for an expansion of services and amenities such as the NHS, the police force, housing developments, etc.


One of the proposed features in the immigration bill would be to charge temporary migrants and foreign students £200 per year for use of NHS services. This, however, would not only drive away potential overseas students but would also discourage genuinely ill foreign students from visiting a doctor. This seems like an extreme step to take, given that overseas visitors account for only 0.1% of NHS expenditure [2]. As the British Medical Association states, it ‘implies considerable costs and complications’[3]. Indeed, whilst NHS staff are required to exact payment from foreign nationals already, they avoid doing so to save time and administrative expense. Such administration necessitates inefficient spending and cannot possibly be seriously pursued as a course of action.


Some Common Misconceptions


What about the benefits of long-term immigrants, those that come to work in Britain? Don’t they take jobs from our youth and our experienced unskilled class? Well, ignoring even the obvious prospect that foreign nationals, in fact, create jobs for British citizens, we see that this common protest doesn’t hold to fact. Between 1995 and 2010, employment of long-term working migrants rose by approximately 2.1 million. The associated displacement of British born workers was around 160,000 or 1 for every 13, immigrants, according to the Migration Advisory Committee.


One might contest that immigrants come to Britain to gain social welfare. It’s needless to say that one cannot simultaneously hold the view that immigrants are ‘stealing our jobs’ and ‘living off benefits’. However, if immigrants wished to merely survive on social welfare, they would move to the Scandinavian countries, which have far more generous welfare schemes. Whilst there are indeed immigrants that happen to be living on social welfare, the prospect of finding work is the overriding motivation. Indeed, EU migrants are more likely to be employed than British citizens[4]. Moreover, as of August 2013, only 6.7% of non-UK nationals were claiming benefits, compared to 16.4% of the working age UK population. We should be flattered that they should move to such a country to do so, not put up obstacles to stop them.


Leaders: Reverse your Policy


So it would seem that public opinion opposing immigration is based on ideas that, when properly studied, command no substance. However, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband are all quite aware of this. The question remains, though, how is one to pursue a beneficial policy that voters detest? The Liberal Democrats’ increasingly xenophobic approach to immigration is poor politics; those strongly opposed to it will have already shifted to UKIP, which has a well-aligned Euro-sceptic policy to accompany it. The former should lead the way in transforming ideas about immigration. With an increase in national employment, as well as subsiding tension, the time has come for politicians to act responsibly enough to tell the voters the truth. After decades of ignorance, it’s about time the public was enlightened.


References


[1] http://www.gov.uk/government/publications/immigration-statistics-october-to-december-2012/immigration-statistics-october-to-december-2012

[2] http://www.fullfact.org

[3] http://bma.org.uk/about0the0bma/what-we-do/lobbying/westminster/migrant-access-to-nhs

[4] http://www.fullfact.org


Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UK_Border_Agency#/media/File:UK_Border,_Heathrow.jpg