This is an issue I’ve wanted to cover for a while but seeing as it came up in the comments to a recent post, I decided it was time.
Disclaimer: As with everything posted on this blog, the following thoughts and opinions are my own and not necessarily representative of the Scottish Green Party.
Concerns around excessive or ‘unrestricted’ immigration centre around three key areas, namely the economic, cultural and environmental impact of such immigration and I’ll deal with them in turn.
Economic Impact of Immigration
The case against immigration in economic terms is based on two contradictory assumptions – that immigrants are here for the primary purpose of claiming benefits or that immigrants are stealing jobs from otherwise willing and capable native British people.
However, most immigrants to the UK come to work, with only around 100’000 from an immigrant population of 2.5 million (figures from 2013) being unemployed, giving an unemployment rate of 6.67% (compared to the working immigrant population of around 1.5 million, the rest being composed of children or elderly people) which is higher than the UK average of 6% but not by a drastic amount, especially considering the cultural barriers (language etc.) that immigrants must overcome.
So are immigrants here for our jobs?
Well, yes of course they are, given that the reason for emigrating from your country of origin is invariably to find a better life and for most people (i.e. not the independently wealthy) that involves finding employment.
However, if immigrants are finding employment where native Brits are not, then they are either doing work that we won’t or can’t, are working for less or are just better employees. The job market is no respecter of nationality and employers will invariably look for the best, most economical staff solution. That’s free market economics, baby!
For natives who genuinely believe their jobs are being stolen, then I’d always ask them why someone who doesn’t have English as a first language can do better than them at an interview.
On the other hand, it’s worth noting that due to a skills shortage amongst natives, several industries such as the building trade, higher education and NHS are increasingly dependent on immigrants as workers or students.
If anything, a concerted attempt to reduce immigration (at least without significant investment in training and motivating natives to take up the jobs which would otherwise be filled by immigrants) would be economically damaging to the UK economy.
Cultural Impact of Immigration
This case against immigrants on a cultural basis centres around the idea that immigrants who cannot or will not fully integrate into ‘British society’ should not be allowed in (or to remain) as they will erode ‘British values.’
In my eyes, this is the most ridiculous, xenophobic nonsense I’ve ever heard. For one thing, Britain has been a multicultural country pretty much forever. Indeed the concept of ‘the British’ as a race or of a unitary British culture is laughable, with the language and culture of the land’s indigenous peoples now holding on tenuously in the Highlands, Wales and Cornwall.
The English were invaders from the continent, the Scots were invaders from Ireland and that’s before you even consider the influence of the Romans, Normans, Vikings and more recently the international traffic brought about during the age of Empire. Cultures change and merge over time as populations move and mingle.
I personally live in one of the most multicultural areas in Scotland on the Southside of Glasgow and I’ve never had any problems with my broad variety of Asian neighbours or the Romanians & Poles in the next neighborhood. In fact, I quite like having cheap vegetable stores and butchers close at hand, a lack of pubs and orange walks in the neighborhood and the firework displays from the nearby Gurdwara are fantastic.
Now, I’m not a religious person myself but it concerns me not in the slightest that a significant number of the folks living in my locality might be Muslim, Sikh, Hindu or whatever. I’d like to live in a country with a secular government (sadly, this is not the case as we have a head of state who is also the head of a religious sect, a prime minister who defines Britain as a ‘Christian country’ and a government who seems quite happy with the idea of religious schooling) but for me, an equalitarian secular state would also promote freedom of religion.
Being British does not equate to being atheist or Christian, and neither should it.
Of course, anyone who tries to claim a neighborhood for Sharia Law or whatever is basically an oppressive thug and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, just like any other gangster or terrorist.
Environmental Impact of Immigration
There is a reasonable case that unrestrained immigration and the resultant population increase in an already relatively crowded country could cause serious environmental (and logistical) problems in the UK, not least on account of the already serious housing shortage and high population density in our urban areas.
As things stand, net immigration to the UK is at around quarter of a million per year, in addition to there being around 200’000 more births than deaths per year in the country, leading to a population rise of just under half a million per year, an increase of around .68% which gives the UK one of the highest population increases amongst developed European countries, albeit below that of the United States and the world as a whole.
Given that Britain is a smaller country in terms of size (especially when you consider that large tracts of Scotland and Wales are wholly unsuitable for mass habitation due to their remote and/or mountainous nature and we really shouldn’t be looking to expand the already excessive urban sprawl on these isles anyway) such an already notable population increase is of significant concern.
That said, the fact that roughly half of Britain’s population increase comes from immigration pays testament to the fact that developed countries (such as Britain) tend towards a slowing, then stagnation of population increase, especially compared to developing countries. It seems likely that immigrants who move to a developed country will soon adopt that country’s demographics within a generation or two, seeing as such things are defined more by the levels of healthcare and education available where an individual resides, rather than where they come from before.
Furthermore, should Britain reach a point where it is ‘full’ and there are no more jobs for natives or immigrants to take up, then immigration should tail off because there is no point moving to a country where living conditions etc. are no better than where you are. Immigrants are overwhelmingly motivated by aspirational reasons, after all.
As such, immigration is likely to be of little environmental impact to the UK, at least in ways that cannot be easily managed by a more progressive housing policy
That said, population increase is of significant concern in a worldwide context as we are fast approaching the point where there will be too many humans for the world to support.
This is an issue which is best tackled in a compassionate and proactive fashion which seeks to raise the living standards of developing countries so that their demographic trends flatten out in similar fashion to developed countries. It’s also worth considering that once this is achieved, migration for economic or aspirational reasons would fall drastically.
Of course, those who tend to be most in favour of draconian immigration control also tend to be of a mindset which views such collaborative foreign aid programs as wasteful. Funny that…
In short, immigration is not as big of a deal as right wing thinkers and media like to make it out to be. That said, I feel that the stated immigration policy of the Green Party of England & Wales is perhaps more lenient than I would like, although I agree with the principles on which they are founded.
I believe that immigration which is linked to skills and employability for applicants from without the EU* (over and above a responsible degree of asylum cases) is fundamentally sensible.
* Immigrants from elsewhere in the EU are invariably skilled and more able to return home should their economic situation/employability decline.
However, the stringent immigration controls (such as a 5 year ban on any new immigration to the UK, all existing immigrants having to reapply for leave to remain under more stringent controls, foreign students studying at UK universities being compelled to leave once graduated etc.) put forward by UKIP and to slightly lesser degrees by Labour and the Conservatives in response to UKIP’s surge in popularity are both inhumane and likely to be damaging to the UK economy.
Immigration is a key driver of economic prosperity, cultural diversity and attempts to stop or drastically reduce it are indicative of xenophobic, short term thinking which seeks to use populist racism as a route towards authoritarian power.
Some folks want to build walls and hope the problems of next door don’t spill in, while some folks want to make the whole street a garden… What kind of person are you?