Andrew Green

Immigration caps don’t hamper the economic recovery. Why pretend otherwise?

Immigration caps don't hamper the economic recovery. Why pretend otherwise?
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The immigration lobby are getting desperately short of arguments to set against the huge costs of mass immigration. The first body blow was a House of Lords report which 'found no evidence…… that net migration generates significant economic benefits for the existing UK population' (see abstract here). This was followed by a report from the government’s own Migration Advisory Committee which pointed out that much of any benefit goes to the immigrants themselves. (see Paragraphs 3.6-3.13 here). Then a study by the NIESR found that the contribution of the much vaunted East European migrants to GDP per head was expected to be 'negligible' (see Exec Summary here), indeed negative in the long run.

So their latest ploy is to claim that immigration control is a barrier to the vital task of economic recovery. You only have to glance at the facts to see that this also collapses. There is no limit on senior staff transfers between international companies nor, of course, on any form of recruitment from the EEA — a pool of over 500 million people. Tier 1, the route for self-starters, was effectively closed after evidence that a significant proportion ended up in unskilled roles such as shop assistants, security guards, and supermarket cashiers. (see here) Tier 2, for skilled workers sponsored by employers, was capped at 20,700 a year but in its first year, only about half that quota has been taken up. (see here) How is that for a killer blow? Meanwhile, improved routes have been introduced for entrepreneurs and investors. (see here) Given all this, it is hard to believe that some are questioning whether Britain is 'open for business' — especially when we receive one and a half million business visitors a year. Someone must be doing some business!

Nor should employers be our only concern. Since 2000, the British labour market has expanded by just over 2 million, virtually all of whom were foreign born. (see here) Whatever the technical arguments, it is clear that, over the boom period up to 2008, British workers were not drawn into the active labour market as would have been desirable. Obviously, immigration is not the only factor. There are issues of motivation, welfare provision, education and training but it does seem clear that, if employers are entirely free to bring in cheap, flexible and non-unionised labour, they are likely to do so — especially if they are tied to them by the work permit system. For wider social reasons it is important that there should be some countervailing pressure on employers to train and employ British workers. Two and a half million people unemployed is more than enough.

Those who are protesting the loudest should be clear about the kind of immigration policy that they advocate. If they want a virtually open door they should say so and say how they would address the consequences. Immigration at current levels will add five million to the UK population in the next fifteen years. To accommodate the extra numbers we would have to build the equivalent of eight major cities — Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Sheffield, Bradford, Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol. We already have a major housing crisis to say nothing of an empty exchequer. Need I say more?