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The Nonsense of Immigration Caps 29.06.10

The Tory policy on capping immigration from non-EU countries is both stupid and also an example of the dangerous way that mainstream politicians approach the immigration issue, says Andy Newman on Socialist Unity

In the years ending June 2009, 503,000 immigrants entered the UK, and 361,000 people left the UK. Some 220,000 of those entering during 2009 were from non-EU countries, but the longer term trend since 2000 has been that only 30% of immigrants are from outside the EU. Just under 8% of the UK workforce holds non-British citizenship.

In contrast, Five and a half million British citizens live and work abroad, 40% of whom are in highly skilled managerial and professional grades. This is just over 9% of the overall UK population, suggesting a remarkable symmetry between overall immigration and emigration over the longer trend.

Growing numbers of UK migrants are being attracted to the growing economies of the far East, but the bulk are still in the English speaking countries.

In contrast, to the 1.3 million British citizens currently resident in Australia, or 200,000 Britons resident in France, in 2009, there were only 116,000 workers registered in the UK from the so-called A8 eastern European countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia.)

Increasing globalisation, and the increasingly trans-national nature of commercial corporations, means that there are considerable opportunities for skilled British workers to go abroad. This leaves a significant skills gap, which is currently filled by immigration, largely from India.

Amit Kapadia, director of Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) Forum argues that

“Any such cap will affect Indian professionals because most non-European Union migrants to the UK come from India. But we will oppose and lobby against any illogical number or cap that the government may seek to impose,”

Placing the cap at 24,100 between now and April 2011 means that British employers will not be able to employ any Indian and other non-EU professionals once the limit is reached. Kapadia said any knee-jerk attempt to impose a cap will hurt the British economy and will be opposed by British business and industry.

The Tory plans will cut immigration from non-EU countries by about 90%. But under the points-based system already introduced by Labour two years ago only workers whose knowledge and experience genuinely fill a gap in the UK labour market can qualify for entry.

Such individuals must be paid at least market rate, to protect job opportunities for local candidates, and must prove they can accommodate and support themselves financially before being admitted into the country. Statistics show that such workers contribute substantially to the economy though tax revenues.

In terms of economic benefit, migrant workers are very effective as the social and financial costs of providing them with skills and education has already been borne by their country of origin. As the majority of migrants are economically active and of working age this means that their taxes have made a significant contribution to funding British pensioners.

The Tory proposals suggest that UK companies facing skills shortages would not be able to recruit from abroad once the arbitrary cap had been reached. This would obviously impact on possible growth if the economy picks up, but would also represent a structural inflexibility in the labour market that might lead some companies to withdraw from the UK. Major manufacturing companies, like Toyota and Honda, rely upon bringing key skilled engineers and managers from Japan. As new models and components are introduced there is competition between the manufacturing facilities within these companies, and impediments to migration of senior staff might tip the balance in favour of manufacturing sites outside the UK.

So the Tory plans are irrational, and against the interests of the British economy and society. They are pandering to racism and anti-immigrant sentiment to gain short-term political advantage.

The dismissive response by both mainstream Labour and Tory politicians to the entirely sensible Lib-Dem proposal during the general election of an amnesty and pathway to citizenship for immigrants who have entered the UK illegally but who have subsequently spent several years living here and contributing to the economy, was also evidence of an unwillingness to discuss immigration in a grown-up way.

The truth is that population migration largely follows economic growth, and the political tensions that have surrounded immigration over the last ten years have been because the social impacts of population growth and change have not been effectively managed. The fact that there are an estimated 600000 immigrants living in the UK without legal residency status shows that if the economic drivers exists for migration, then it will happen anyway, whatever legal framework is in place. The tough talk from politicians, and UK Border Agency deportations of often the most vulnerable individuals, are simply playing to the gallery.

Growth of population needs more social and affordable housing. An increasing number of school students who do not speak English as a first language requires more classroom assistants, and specialised teachers. The economic benefits of immigration have not been experienced by the often already disadvantaged communities where the migrants go to live. But instead of pragmaticaly addressing these needs and making up any shortcomings, governments and all the mainstream political parties have indulged in dog-whistle appeals to base sentiments.

Tension have arisen because people have seen themselves in competition for scare resources, particularly housing. Ian Duncan Smith’s announcement that unemployed people moving from one part of the country to another for a job will be put at the top of the housing list in the area they move to can only make these tensions worse, an issue addressed today by Dave Osler.

The Tory proposal of a cap on non-EU nationals will feed the anxiety and racism , but will do nothing to address the social issues and class grievances which are finding a deflected expression through anti-immigrant feeling.

To discuss this article have a look at the comments on Socialist Unity

Peter Shield

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