The immigration debate is about more than just numbers

With a debate held in Parliament today on the subject, it should be known that immigration is more than just a numbers game

Who are we letting through our borders?
Rory Broomfield
On 5 September 2012 16:08

Prompted by the e-petition “No to 70 million”, which has received over 140,000 signatures from members of the public, today’s Backbench Business Committee Debate in Parliament will focus on the topic of immigration. It should be recognised that this issue goes beyond just the amount of people who live in this country but is also about how this country manages its resources and how it can provide effective public services to its people.

In anticipation of this debate the (now former) Minister for Immigration, Damian Green MP, wrote to his parliamentary colleagues that “Net migration is falling as our reforms take effect”. He went on to say that “[the number]is down by 36,000 between December 2010 and December 2011, with 26,000 of this fall occurring in the last quarter.”

There seems to be wide recognition that in the past immigration numbers were unsustainable: figures produced by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that total net immigration was 48,000 in 1997 compared with 250,000 in 2010 and even the current Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, recognises that Labour had “got it wrong”on immigration when in Government.

This has helped make England the most crowded country in Europe and, according to figures based on 2010 ONS population projections from Migration Watch, the UK population will reach 70 million in 2027 and 80 million in 2050.

However, focusing just on the numbers hides the true story: the type of immigration.

In his letter Damian Green revealed that:

- Student visas down 30 percent

- Work visas down seven percent

- Family visas down 10 percent

There was also a fall in overall work visas granted by the UK Border Agency (albeit a rise in skilled work visas of 4 percent), according to the Government.

It should be recognised that these figures are for those coming into the UK from outside the EU and that because of the EU Citizens’ Directive 2004/58/EC, the effective control of the UK’s Boarders and Immigration policy has been handed to the EU for all citizens moving between EU countries.

Indeed, 33 percent (322,000 people) of the total immigration into the UK in 2010 was from the EU and this Directive means that anyone in the EU, and their dependants, has the right to live and work in the UK. 

It should also be noted that there are a lot of benefits that are brought about from the movement of people within the EU into the UK. Allowing people who offer something that the UK marketplace needs but cannot obtain within the UK labour market to move here is essential for the UK to maintain its innovative and competitive advantage. Indeed, receiving people who innovate and excel in the UK is a tradition that has been going on for centuries and this should in many ways be encouraged.

It means though that the UK Minister for Immigration has a limited ability to control who comes in from the EU (and for what purpose) and that this has a knock-on effect on immigration policy for those that live outside the EU.

This is essentially because if you have a marketplace of 300 million people who could come into the UK then stricter measures are applied to areas outside that market.  

But the inability for the Minister for Immigrationto determine EU immigration into the UK is also felt on public services such as education and social housing in the UK.  

As illustrated by figures from Migration Watch, in 2009 there were 10 schools where no pupils speak English as a first language; in inner London, 55 percent of all primary school pupils did not speak English as a first language in 2010; in Outer London this figure was 39 percent; and across the UK, one in six primary school children does not speak English as a first language.

In housing, Migration Watch have also shown that waiting lists for social housing in England rose by 70 percent and that there is a projected 36 percent of new households due to immigration that will require building about 330 new homes every working day for the next 23 years.

There is also more stress placed on other areas such as health, transport and welfare and this limits the UK’s ability to provide effective public services for its people and for it to remain attractive for people from other countries that the UK wishes to have living here.

Of course, this is also partially due to non-EU immigration as well, however, the point remains that allowing numbers to increase without the Minister for Immigration having complete control over what demographic of people are allowed into the UK from the EU does hit the UK’s ability to attract the people the UK wants into the country.

Finally, unchecked immigration from the EU is also hurting job prospects at home. Figures taken from a 2011 ONS report show that employment of UK born workers aged 16 and over fell by over 200,000 yet employment of non-UK born workers rose by over 200,000 to over 4.1 million.

Since 2000, employment of non-UK born workers aged 16 and over has increased by 1.9 million from 2.1 million to over 4.1 million. Yet in this same period, employment of UK born workers fell by 32,000.

There are currently 1.33 million EU workers in Britain; 675,000 come from the Accession 8 countries of Eastern Europe. The number of British workers in the EU was estimated to be 370,000 in 2010. Most of these workers from the EU are bringing their skills and experience, however, as the EU regulations do not allow UK employers to discern whether a UK national should be given preference for a job over applicants from the EU (such as in Switzerland), it means that in a time of recession the UK cannot even prioritise giving jobs that are available to UK nationals.  

It means that it is not just time to look at the numbers but also at the skills and demographics of people who come to the UK and whether or not a change in the law could help provide better public services and employment opportunities for the people in the UK.

In short: it is time for the Minister for Immigration to be allowed to take control of immigration. 

Rory Broomfield is Deputy Director at The Freedom Association. He tweets @rorybroomfield

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