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Is immigration really good or bad for Britain?


ffggBangla Mirror Desk :

Immigration! It’s the one topic that some rightwing presses likes to pretend we can’t talk about – even though much of the media never stops banging on about it. With the EU referendum now has taken place, things have gone into overdrive, with politicians on both sides talking about it at almost punishing length.

And it is sort of understandable too, as fact is that according to the London School of Economics, since in the 20 years between 1995 and 2015, immigration from other EU countries tripled from 0.9m to 3.3m – most coming after 2004 when much of Eastern Europe joined the EU. The same study also says that in 2015, EU net immigration was 172,000, and net non-EU immigration was 191,000 – that’s an extra 363,000 people all together.

So this raises an obvious question: Are too many people coming to Britain? Is immigration good or bad for Britain? Should we open the floodgates or build an enormous wall around our little island?

It’s a complicated debate, but let’s try to make some sense of it – here’s some of the best arguments on either side of the immigration question.

The Best Argument why Immigration is Bad for Britain

Because immigration is such a controversial issue, and is tied up in awkward to discuss topics like race, religion, culture and ethnicity, it is perhaps understandable why some people on the liberal side of the immigration argument often choose to pretend that there are no downsides to inviting more people into Britain. But this isn’t strictly true.

According to the Bank of England, more immigrants arriving does have a “small negative impact” on average British wages. And this hits semi-skilled or unskilled service workers the most. The Bank says:

“We find that the immigrant to native ratio has a small negative impact on average British wages. This finding is important for monetary policy makers, who are interested in the impact that supply shocks, such as immigration, have on average wages and overall inflation. Our results also reveal that the biggest impact of immigration on wages is within the semi/unskilled services occupational group.”

If the immigrant-to-native ratio was to rise by 10 percentage points, the BoE reckons, this would mean a 2% fall in average wages. (And this 2% is unevenly applied – with lower skilled people more likely to have a wage hit than the high skilled.)

However, what’s particularly interesting given the impending referendum is that when the Bank looked at immigrants coming from the EU vs non-EU immigrants, it makes no difference. The archetypical Polish plumber coming to Britain is, on aggregate, no worse than if the plumber were American, Indian or Chinese. This means that if Britain did want to tackle this wage problem, it would need to massively reduce immigration figures in general – so even if we did leave the EU and, say, hooked up with the Commonwealth instead, we’d still have to dramatically and massively reduce all types of immigration – which would have other negative consequences.

This is a massive hole in the argument being made by some Leave campaigners who have claimed they don’t want to reduce immigration over all, but invite in people from all over the world on a points system: If they want to stop wages being suppressed, they need to cut all immigration.

The Worst Argument Why Immigration is Bad for Britain

While the wage argument appears to have some merit, the worst argument is the oft-repeated claim that immigrants are only here to claim benefits, and that they are a drain on public services. It’s the worst argument because it isn’t actually true.

According to research from University College London, the net-fiscal contribution since 2000 – that is to say, the amount extra in tax immigrants have contributed to the public purse versus the amount they have cost us is almost £5bn net in taxes paid by immigrants from Eastern European countries (like Poland and Romania) that joined the EU in 2004. EU immigrants as a whole (so including the likes of France and Germany) is net £15bn. Over the same period, non-EU immigrants have also contributed net £5bn.

On the benefits point specifically, according to the same report immigrants are 43% less likely than UK-born natives to claim benefits or tax credits – and are 7% less likely to live in social housing. The truth is that when people come here, they’re not coming here to claim benefits – but are coming here to work. And this is because of Britain’s – and particularly London’s – strong economy. If we want people to stop coming, we need tank the economy… which would be bad for everyone.

The Best Argument Why Immigration is Good for Britain

According to the London School of Economics, immigrants are “younger and better educated than their UK-born counterparts”. Simply put, the people coming over are the sorts of high-skilled people we need in order to maintain economic growth.

Immigrants help fill gaps in the labour market – taking jobs where there are currently shortages (the high number of NHS workers is perhaps a good example of this). The LSE concludes “while there may be costs to particular groups, there is little evidence of an overall negative impact on jobs or wages.”

The LSE also appears to dispute the Bank of England’s wage findings, instead arguing that the wage hit is not due to post-2004 immigration, but is instead due to a weak recovery following the financial crisis.

Immigrants coming to the UK actually saves us money too – with UCL estimating that of the immigrants who were educated abroad saved us £6.8bn between 2000 and 2011 on the cost of education – and that they have contributed equivalent to £8.5bn in value to “pure” public goods like defence and basic research.

Similarly, if the immigrants who arrived between 1995 and 2011 had all been raised and educated in Britain, it would have cost us £49bn in schooling to do it ourselves.

This migration is ultimately good for us in less immediate ways too. Britain has an aging population – we now have a median age of around 40. This isn’t good news because amongst native-born people it means that we’ve got increasingly more people who are retired and thus not earning money or paying taxes – and fewer people of working age. So who is going to pay for all of the pensions and healthcare our retirees need? In other words, what we need is a growing population who can pay in and support the elderly.

And what if we did manage to massively reduce migration? According to the left-wing think tank Class, if we cut net migration to tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands, GDP would fall by 11% – hitting jobs, the economy, pensions and cost of living – and we’d need to raise income tax by 2.2% to make-up the shortfall, so that we can continue to pay for public services.

The Worst Argument Why Immigration is Good for Britain

The split on attitudes to immigration, like our attitude to globalisation more generally doesn’t fall down simple left/right economic lines. A better axis is perhaps seeing the debate waver between two points – one being the cosmopolitans who like immigration – broadly people who have done well out of globalisation, and the other communitarians, who are more sceptical – they are the people who have lost out.

The worst argument that the cosmopolitans can make in favour of immigration is perhaps one of culture: Whereas we cosmopolitans see immigration as a force which enriches our lives – bringing new ideas and new people to Britain’s towns and cities, those on the communitarian side see immigration as a threat. Communitarians are people who might have a sense that Britain is changing – immigrants are changing the composition of our towns and cities, with new languages, cultures and religions. Immigrants often look different or hold different values to native populations. Though we might see an upside, you can understand why some people may feel uneasy at their communities changing into something different from what was there before. With people who feel this way, no amount of explaining, say, how great it is that we now have new restaurants to enjoy is going to make for a persuasive argument.

In Conclusion

As a neutral player in this argument, a city-dwelling cosmopolitan and on the balance of the arguments above, it is understandable that that immigration is undoubtedly a good thing for our economy, and for Britain in general. Immigrants coming to Britain, to work, spend money and pay taxes in Britain creates jobs and grows our economy. They enrich our culture too. While there are downsides to immigration, in my personal view it is that these downsides are a political choice.

In other words, though we often blame immigration for hurting jobs, taking houses or putting extra stress on our public services, these problems are more accurately blamed on a government which could choose to act to mitigate these if it wishes. Viewed from this perspective, it makes immigrants appear the scapegoat. But rather than give into our fears, I believe we should remain optimistic about what an interconnected world can be.