“No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs”. That was the sign in many windows in Birmingham 1950, when my father was looking for accommodation. Rooms that were advertised for rent had somehow “just been taken, ” shortly before he knocked on the front door of that particular address. When he was growing up in Jamaica, he had thought of Britain as the motherland. Then after fighting for the British Army in the Second World War, he was shocked to be asked “When are you going back home to the Caribbean?,” when he came to England to live. But scoring a century for Warwickshire County Cricket Club changed him overnight from being described in the local Sports Argus as “ Jamaican Immigrant” to “local Brummie hero!”
Fast forward to August 2012. Instead of racist signs in windows, millions of British TV viewers and thousands in the Olympic Stadium were chanting “Go Mo, Go Mo!” as a Somali immigrant named Mo Farah ran to double Olympic Gold. But what was also significant about the man from Mogadishu was that he was wearing a British vest. Today many of Britain’s high achievers in public life, business, entertainment and sport are from immigrant backgrounds. Two centuries ago Britain became Great by colonising other parts of the world. Now the Empire is coming home.
The two largest parties in Britain, Conservative and Labour, seem currently determined to outdo each other in tough rhetoric on immigration. I have no doubt this is being egged on by the rising popularity of UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) in the polls. An atmosphere has been created that Britain is fundamentally hostile to those not born here. With the European elections in May and the next General Election about 14 months away, this anti-immigrant rhetoric is more about politics than policy.
The Conservatives in the Coalition Government have a target to reduce net immigration down to the “tens of thousands” and certainly below 100,000. However this is becoming increasingly difficult to meet. Net immigration rose by 30% to 212,000 in the 12 months to September 2013. The Government has few ways of cutting immigration. Nationals of other European Union countries have the right to move here freely, while asylum seekers are protected by the Human Rights Act. Of course there need to be strict rules dealing with illegal immigrants, but the effect of the current Immigration Bill, now going through parliament, is that it unfairly targets academics, business people, students and other high flyers from outside the EU. But the net migration reduction targets are not only undeliverable, but damaging to the British economy. As a former Immigration Judge, I also know from experience that Immigration court cases and appeals can be costly and can drag on for years.
From January of this year the visa restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians coming to Britain were lifted. But whilst EU Immigration rules have been relaxed, those concerning outside Europe are being tightened. This is having an unfair effect on those from the Commonwealth and African countries. No non-EU spouse can join you unless you earn a minimum of £18,600 per year. This increases to £22,400 for any family with a child and an extra £2,400 for each additional child. Up to the end of 2012, parents and grandparents of any UK citizen could come here after the age of 65. Now they can only join their family if they need “ long-term personal care to perform everyday tasks, such as washing and cooking”, that is not available in their own country. The National Health Service has already lost some highly skilled foreign doctors, from Commonwealth and African countries, because they have had to return overseas to care for elderly relatives. The further effect of these rules on non-EU immigrants is that children, including British children and babies, are being separated from their families.
According to Government figures, international students in higher education contributed £10.2 billion to the UK economy in 2011-12 alone. The UK is the second most popular destination, (after America), for international students. However the total number of international students in UK universities fell for the first time on record in 2012-13. As well as students, staff from non-EU countries make a vital contribution to teaching and research in UK universities. In 2011-12, 11% of all academic staff were from outside the EU. Universities UK have expressed real concern that the new Immigration Bill will further damage the UK’s ability to attract international students and staff.
It is not in Britain’s best interests to give the impression that immigrants are unwelcome. The University College London Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CREAM) produced some compelling evidence in its report The Fiscal Effects of Immigration to the UK , in November 2013. UK immigrants who arrived since 2000 were 45% less likely to receive benefits in the period up to 2011 than the host population. They were also 3% less likely to need social housing . Over the same period EU immigrants have on average contributed 34% more in taxes than they received in transfers. Immigrants from outside the EU contributed 2% more in taxes. In contrast, over the same period, the total of UK hosts’ tax payments were 11% lower than the transfers they received. Recent immigrants are also far better educated than their hosts. In 2011 , 32% of recent EU immigrants and 43% of recent non-EU immigrants had a University degree. The comparable figure for the UK host population is 21%. The main reasons for the net positive fiscal contribution of immigrants is their higher average labour participation and their lower receipt of welfare benefits.
The Government claims it still wants to attract the “brightest and best” immigrants, whose presence is deemed most beneficial to Britain. But a firm immigration policy should also be a fair one. The determination to also reduce overall net migration is in real danger of creating tension between communities. Good politics does not always mean good policy.
To read, “The Empire Strikes Back” in Endeavour Magazine, please click here.