March 15, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
In their wonderful detailed and balanced attempt to discern the difference between myth and reality with immigration to this country, The Times journalists Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester have come up with some facts to make you think about the topic in a different way. Their starting point was a YouGov poll that told us that 75% of the UK population think net migration was too high. In between they have found that even if we solved all the problems highlighted by the political parties to make the system work smoothly, with the backlog of asylum claimants cleared and we knew who was entering and exiting the country, as long as we are in the EU we are very unlikely to meet the Conservatives’ pledge, newly re-iterated, to get net migration down to 100,000. They met people at Calais, some of whom have tried 300 times to cross the Channel, and asked them why they are doing so – and got the answer that “We only have to succeed one time and we will fulfil our dream of a new life in Britain.” So they realised that the key to ‘controlling’ immigration is to understand why people want to come to the UK in the first place.
Let’s start with the fact that very few come to exploit the benefits system: Just over 1% of Poles in Britain claim out-of-work benefits and fewer than 1% of Afghans do. The actual answer is that our expending economy provides jobs for people. Whether we like it or not, those jobs aren’t being taken by British people, and so we actually need these immigrants to come. If you click here you can see a shortage occupation list on the Home Office Website, with jobs ranging from sous chefs to drilling engineers. Now understand that we have 963,000 young people in Britain aged 16-24 not in education, employment or training. There ARE jobs, but our young people don’t have the education and skills to take them.
Some industries, such as health, would apparently break down without migrant labour. Yet there are 200,000 applicants for the 20,000 nursing college places. So what we are really talking about here are our firms’ short-term needs. The NHS has been going on tours of places like Portugal and the Phillipines to recruit nurses because it is easier and cheaper to do so.
Food and Hospitality as well as the agricultural sectors are also reliant on migrant labour. One CEO said that “It’s hard to give a job to an under-educated British boy in a baseball cap when you can get a Polish graduate instead,” British prospective employees are not too lazy, but there are more and more jobs, particularly ‘upstairs, downstairs’ ones in service sectors, which are seen as just being for “failures and foreigners”. Its not just about pay, its about skills and motivation too. Higher skilled, more flexible and creative foreign employees are going to be employed by firms, particularly in the more competitive, low margin industries.
It all goes back to Thomson’s visit to the British Museum of Immigration, which is the closest thing we have to New York’s Ellis Island.
“As the Huguenots moved up in the world, their place was taken by Jews escaping the pogroms, who built a synagogue in the garden before too finding professions and making way for the Irish. They were succeeded by Jamaicans, Kosovans, Somalis and Bengalis and now, nearby, by bankers from America and designers from Japan. Yiddish, Russian, Hindi, Polish and Punjabi have all been spoken within its crumbling walls.”
People will always want to come to our country. We need to emulate them and their attitude. Then firms WILL hire more British workers. Immigrants have made us a richer, more diverse country and stopped us stagnating. There have been losers from this process, but with the help of forward-thinking government policy and a willingness to grow skills and abilities from workers, those losers will be fewer.