I want to talk about immigration
It may be my imagination, but I feel like I am hearing more and more anti-immigration rhetoric all the time. And the policies of the current government are getting more and more anti-immigration all the time.
High-profile incidents recently include the “Go Home campaign” and immigration officers on the Tube randomly stopping people who look or sound foreign to ask for papers. These are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to recent changes in the way the government is handling immigration to this country.
What is the basis of this crackdown? Why are people becoming more hostile to immigrants in recent times?
Firstly, let’s look at the concept of illegal immigration. The Home Office often says that illegal immigrants are already breaking the law so we should be treating them as criminals anyway. But where do the laws come from that decide whether people are legal or illegal immigrants, and have they always been the same?
Britain’s urban culture is a mixed one and has been since the 1950s. The majority of Asian immigration to Britain happened after the independence of India & Pakistan in 1947, and the government welcomed them then. The same kind of migration is illegal today. The various categories under which you could move here have gradually been eroded by small changes in legislation. If you want to come here as a worker and you are not from the EU, you need to be offered a job with a salary of at least £35000, and you need to be one of the lucky 20,700 people who are allowed to do this each year.
You also used to be able to move here for love. This is a subject dear to me as Emily is an immigrant herself. Legislation introduced in 2012 requires your British spouse to be earning at least £18600 (twice minimum wage, and more if you have kids) and to spend around £1000 on the visa itself. Yes, if your British partner is not moderately wealthy, you are not permitted to live with your own family in this country.
It’s easy to throw the word illegal around as though everyone agrees on what the law should be. I am going to put my hand up and say I do not think the law is fair and using the word illegal in the same way as we use it for other crimes is demeaning to the people it affects.
So, the legality of immigration is decided on economic terms, and if you ask politicians why they oppose immigration they will tell you that it is bad for the economy. This is the source of the public hysteria: the economy is in a bad way and people are blaming the immigrants for it.
What’s really interesting here is that this “common sense” statement has no basis whatsoever in fact. Studies repeatedly show that immigration has little to no impact on the economy at all, and when it does have an impact it is a minor positive impact. You can go in search of these studies yourself, but I hope you’ll agree I’m not cherrypicking when I reference studies commissioned by Oxford University Migration Observatory, The House of Lords and even the UKBA itself. Here’s an article in the Daily Telegraph of all places summarizing one such study.
The Anglo-Saxon population of Britain is in decline, and it is aging. There is a problem here known as the pension problem which says that the percentage of people claiming pensions relative to the percentage of people able to work is increasing, and dramatically. Immigration has always been part of the solution to this problem, as it reverses the population decline.
One other thing to note with regard to economics: of the ten richest families living in the UK, only 2 were born in this country, and one of those is an aristocrat who inherited his fortune from time immemorial. If they all paid their taxes (I bet they don’t, because our laws make it ridiculously easy not to) then what would that mean for immigrants contributing to our economy?
Is the country too crowded already? We often hear that cry. It’s true that London and the south-east are very crowded indeed, but up here we actually have problems with too many empty homes. If the economy was more spread out across the country and less London-centric, it stands to reason that the immigrant population would do the same. Move the jobs and the crowding problem goes away, no?
And finally there’s the argument from democracy. “The British public” (whatever that is) doesn’t want more foreigners moving here. They want to “keep Britain British” and not allow our culture to mix or be adapted by other cultures. This is the voting platform of several popular political parties and, when you discount the economic argument, comes down primarily to racism and xenophobia. The only reason you would not want your culture to be mixed with other people’s cultures is because you believe your culture to be superior, rather than merely different. That you have nothing to learn from other people.
If this is the will of the people, do we have to stand by it? No. Human rights will always trump the will of the people in my book. Thirty years ago the majority of people would have been in favour of throwing all gay people in prison or worse. Ten years ago the majority of the people were in favour of invading Iraq and Afghanistan and even today there is probably a huge contingent that believes we should fire nuclear weapons at North Korea.
We can’t — and mustn’t — always do what the majority of people want — politics has to come from a place of informed opinion. The people elect representatives to make informed decisions: they expressly don’t make the decisions themselves. And when the facts say the public is making decisions based on a lack of compassion for people with a different skin colour, accent or culture to them, it is our government’s duty to correct the public and help them see this, rather than creating false economic arguments in order to agree with the public without falling foul of their own racism legislation.