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Geopolitics & Security

The Conservatives' search for coherence on immigration policy goes on


Briefing14th November 2019

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has promised that immigration overall will fall if the Conservatives win the general election. While it is obvious that this opens up a clear dividing line with Labour during the campaign, who she claims of favouring “open borders”, Patel’s pledge is likely to prove bad policy and bad politics.

Let’s start with the policy. It is welcome that the government appears to be all set to scrap the discredited net migration target (to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands). But Patel’s aspiration is arguably equally meaningless. It makes the same mistake the Conservatives have been making since 2010: pretending that all types of immigration are the same, with the same impact. The reality is that there are different types of immigration - and they each require a different public policy approach. There is economic migration, which can be broken down into high skilled and low skilled migration. There is migration for study. There is family-based migration. And there are asylum seekers and refugees. A blanket aspiration to reduce all of these different strands doesn’t make any sense. Imagine the Conservatives win the election and Britain leaves the EU as promised: should we celebrate if the government hits its aspiration to reduce immigration by reducing the number of foreign students? Or reducing the number of high skilled migrants coming to work? Of course not.

An aspiration which lumps all types of migration together is also contrary to the Conservatives’ stated policy approach of a ‘points based system’. Points based systems are generally used to ensure greater selectivity in immigration - allowing countries to target migrants with particular skills or with a higher propensity to integrate with the host population. They have generally been used in countries that have wanted to increase immigration, rather than reduce it. It is not clear that such a policy is compatible with an aspiration to see “overall immigration fall”.

The public aren’t stupid: they recognise the difference between the various types of immigration and are perfectly open to a pragmatic stance which takes a differentiated approach to economic migration, as we argued in our report last year.

Geopolitics & Security

28th March 2018

“ 

Rather than setting out vague and ill defined aspirations on immigration to make a headline, it would be better if political parties sought to re-establish public trust on immigration.

 ”

What about the politics? It is telling that when the Home Office minister, Victoria Atkins, was asked about this last week she couldn’t say whether the government wanted immigration to go up or down. It reveals an inherent contradiction at the heart of the government’s approach: on the one hand, ministers want to reassure business (not to mention worried remain-inclined voters) that Brexit will not lead to Britain becoming a more inward-focused, less welcoming and culturally narrower country. On the other hand, it would seem perverse if one of the main effects of Brexit wasn’t to reduce immigration given this was a central feature of the 2016 referendum campaign and is widely recognised as a major driver of why people voted leave. Patel’s announcement today makes it clear which side of that divide the Conservatives have decided to come down on. There are two problems: 

First, credibility. For all its flaws, the net migration target was at least precise. It enabled people to envisage what success would look like and could be measured. Today’s aspiration is vague to the point of meaninglessness, and leaves basic questions unanswered. By how much will immigration fall? For how long? There is a risk that, for voters concerned about immigration, this won’t pass the test of plausibility, while signalling to more liberal voters that the Conservatives are doubling down on an anti-immigration position. 

The second problem is that while today’s announcement potentially opens up a useful dividing line with Labour in the short term, it locks the government into a policy direction that might prove to be unhelpful in the longer term. One of the reasons the net migration target was so damaging is that it forced government into perverse policy positions, such as restricting the flow of foreign students and capping high skilled migration in order to hit an arbitrary target. This risks repeating that mistake. 

Of course, the Home Secretary may say this is simply a forecast of what is likely to happen under a Conservative government, rather than an aspiration. Modelling by Jonathan Portes suggests that the net effect of ending free movement, post-Brexit, will be to reduce overall immigration by about 35,000 a year. However this is hardly cause for celebration in and of itself. Indeed one of the ironies of the Conservative position is that lower migration is one indicator of a poorer performing economy, following Britain’s departure from the EU (since fewer migrants will seek to come here since Britain will be a less attractive proposition.) 

Rather than setting out vague and ill defined aspirations on immigration to make a headline, it would be better if political parties sought to re-establish public trust on immigration (which has been severely undermined as a result of the government’s consistent failure to hit its net migration pledge) by setting out an achievable plan. Doing so is not just good policy, it is good politics

Footnotes

  1. 1.

    Harvey Redgrave,

    EU Migration: Examining the Evidence and Policy Choices

    , Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, 8 September 2017,

    https://institute.global/insight/renewing-centre/eu-migration-examining-evidence-and-policy-choices

    .

  2. 2.

    Data for 2007 to 2015 are the sums of standardised figures for countries for which they are available (accounting for 95 per cent of the total), and unstandardised figures for other countries. Data relating to 2016 are estimates based on growth rates published in official national statistics.

  3. 3.

    It is important to put these statistics into perspective. While they represent an unprecedented challenge to OECD countries, they are still small fry compared with the scale of migration within developing countries. For example, taken together, the top ten hosting refugee countries account for only 2.5 of world income. See David Miliband,

    Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time

    (London: Simon & Schuster UK, 2018).

  4. 4.

    All of these parties stood on extreme anti-immigration platforms. National Front Leader Marine Le Pen claimed during the 2017 election campaign that French civilisation was under threat and promised to “suspend all legal immigration”; the AfD’s platform included the slogan “Islam does not belong in Germany”; Italy’s Northern League ran an explicitly anti-immigration campaign, popularising the slogan “Italians first”.

  5. 5.

    Matt Cavanagh and Sarah Mulley, “Fair and democratic migration policy: A principled framework for the UK”, Institute for Public Policy Research, January 2013,

    https://www.ippr.org/publications/fair-and-democratic-migration-policy-a-principled-framework-for-the-uk

    .

  6. 6.

    Redgrave,

    EU Migration

    ; Jonathan Portes, “Free Movement After Brexit: Policy Options”, The UK in a Changing Europe, October 2017,

    http://ukandeu.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Free-movement-after-Brexit-policy-options.pdf

    .

  7. 7.

    Arguably, the question of how the international community meets its commitments on refugees is as much a question of development as it is of migration policy as such.

  8. 8.

    Redgrave,

    EU Migration

    .

  9. 9.

    See Cavanagh and Mulley, “Fair and democratic migration policy”.

  10. 10.

    See Cavanagh and Mulley, “Fair and democratic migration policy”.

  11. 11.

    See Redgrave,

    EU Migration

  12. 12.

    See also British Future, “Immigration: The manifesto challenge”, 12 May 2017,

    http://www.britishfuture.org/featured/immigration-manifesto-challenge-2/

    .

  13. 13.

    “Irregular migrants: the urgent need for a new approach”, Migrants’ Rights Network, 2009, https://www.migrantsrights.org.uk/downloads/policy_reports/irregularmigrants_fullbooklet.pdf.

  14. 14.

    A 2005 Home Office study found that the total unauthorised migrant population living in the UK in 2001 was approximately 430,000. More recently, David Wood, former director general of immigration enforcement, told the UK House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in October 2017 that he believed there to be at least 1 million people illegally resident in the UK.

    https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmhaff/500/500.pdf

     

  15. 15.

    Migration Advisory Committee, “Analysis of the impacts of migration”, 1 January 2012,

    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/analysis-of-the-impacts-of-migration

    .

  16. 16.

    Another related but no less important question is whether to take a short-term view of migration’s costs and benefits or instead attempt to consider those costs and benefits over a longer time frame. The latter brings into consideration what happens when migrants age and have children who then become economic contributors in their own right. 

  17. 17.

    On the case of Turkish guest workers in Germany, see Stephen Castles, “The guest worker in Western Europe: an obituary”, International Migration Review, 1986.

  18. 18.

    For a discussion of migration’s impact on inequality, see Cavanagh and Mulley, “Fair and democratic migration policy”.

  19. 19.

    Miliband,

    Rescue

    .

  20. 20.

    Ibid.

  21. 21.

    Martin Eiermann,

    The Geography of German Populism: Reflections on the 2017 Bundestag Election

    , Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, September 2017,

    https://institute.global/insight/renewing-centre/geography-german-populism-reflections-2017-bundestag-election

    .

  22. 22.

    For a detailed explanation of this, see Jill Rutter and Rosie Carter, “National Conversation on Immigration: An interim report to the Home Affairs Committee”, British Future and Hope Not Hate, January 2018,

    http://www.britishfuture.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/National-Conversation-interim-report.pdf

    .

  23. 23.

    Peter Kellner, “Why we like migrants but not immigration”, YouGov, March 2015,

    https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/03/02/why-we-like-migrants-not-immigration/

    .

  24. 24.

    Sunder Katwala, Jill Rutter and Steve Ballinger, “What next after Brexit? Immigration and integration in post-referendum Britain”, British Future, August 2016,

    http://www.britishfuture.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/What-next-after-Brexit.pdf

    .

  25. 25.

    This chapter draws on the excellent summary of the evidenced provided in IPPR, “A fair deal on migration to the UK”, 6 March 2014,

    https://www.ippr.org/publications/a-fair-deal-on-migration-for-the-uk

    ; also the Migration Observatory policy briefings.

  26. 26.

    Mari Kangasniemi et al., “The economic impact of migration – productivity analysis for Spain and the UK”, National Institute of Economic and Social Research, 2008,

    http://www.euklems.net/pub/no30.pdf

    .

  27. 27.

    Jonathan Portes and Giuseppe Forte, “The Economic Impact of Brexit-induced Reductions in Migration”, National Institute of Economic and Social Research, 7 December 2016,

    https://www.niesr.ac.uk/sites/default/files/publications/The%20Economic%20Impact%20of%20Brexit-induced%20Reductions%20in%20Migration%20-%20Dec%2016.pdf

    .

  28. 28.

    Martin Ruhs and Bridget Anderson,

    Who Needs Migrant Workers? Labour Shortages, Immigration, and Public Policy

    , (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

  29. 29.

    Pierpaolo Parrotta et al., “Does labour diversity affect firm productivity?”, Institute for the Study of Labour, October 2012,

    http://ftp.iza.org/dp6973.pdf

    .

  30. 30.

    This issue has been explored repeatedly by the UK House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, most recently in “Brexit and the Labour Market”, 21 July 2017,

    https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/economic-affairs-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/brexit-and-the-labour-market/

    .

  31. 31.

    Institute for Public Policy Research, “A fair deal on migration to the UK”, 6 March 2014

  32. 32.

    Christian Dustmann and Tommaso Frattini, “The fiscal effects of immigration to the UK”, Centre for Research and Analysis on Migration, November 2013,

    http://www.cream-migration.org/publ_uploads/CDP_22_13.pdf

    .

  33. 33.

    Migration Observatory, “The labour market effects of immigration”, February 2017,

    http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/the-labour-market-effects-of-immigration/

    .

  34. 34.

    Migration Advisory Committee, “Analysis of the impacts of migration”, January 2012,

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/257235/analysis-of-the-impacts.pdf

    .

  35. 35.

    Corrado Guiletti and Jackline Wahba, “Welfare migration”, IZA Discussion Paper, April 2012,

    https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2039636

    .

  36. 36.

    Osea Giuntella et al., “The effects of immigration on NHS waiting times”, University of Oxford, September 2015,

    https://www.bsg.ox.ac.uk/sites/www.bsg.ox.ac.uk/files/documents/BSG-WP-2015-005.pdf

    .

  37. 37.

    Anitha George et al., “Impact of migration on the consumption of education and children’s services and on the consumption of health services, social care and social services”, National Institute for Economic and Social Research, December 2011,

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/257236/impact-of-migration.pdf

    .

  38. 38.

    Migration Observatory, “Health of migrants in the UK: what do we know?”, September 2014,

    http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/health-of-migrants-in-the-uk-what-do-we-know/

    .

  39. 39.

    George et al., “Impact of migration on the consumption of education and children’s services”.

  40. 40.

    Ibid.

  41. 41.

    NHS Digital, “NHS Workforce Statistics: April 2017, Provisional Statistics”, 25 July 2017,

    https://digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB30022

    .

  42. 42.

    Tony Blair Institute for Global Change,

    Brexit: The Realities of “taking back control”

    , February 2018,

    https://institute.global/news/brexit-realities-taking-back-control

    .

  43. 43.

    Migration Observatory, “Social care for older people and demand for migrant workers”, March 2011,

    http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/primers/social-care-for-older-people-and-demand-for-migrant-workers/

    .

  44. 44.

    Filipa Sa’, “Immigration and house prices in the UK”, IZA Discussion Paper Series, July 2011,

    https://d-nb.info/1014192536/34

    .

  45. 45.

    Migration Advisory Committee, “Migrants in low skilled work”, July 2014,

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/333083/MAC-Migrants_in_low-skilled_work__Full_report_2014.pdf

    .

  46. 46.

    Wendy Wilson, “Housing supply and demand”, House of Commons Library, 2010,

    https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/key_issues/Key-Issues-Housing-supply-and-demand.pdf

    .

  47. 47.

    Christian Dustmann et al., “Assessing the fiscal costs and benefits of A8 migration to the UK”, Fiscal Studies, November 2010,

    http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctpb21/Cpapers/DustmannFrattiniHalls2010.pdf

    .

  48. 48.

    John Perry, “UK migrants and the private rented sector”, Housing and Migration Network, February 2012,

    http://www.cih.org/resources/PDF/Policy%20free%20download%20pdfs/migrants-private-rental-sector-full.pdf

    .

  49. 49.

    Robert Putnam, “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and community in the twenty first century”, 2007,

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9477.2007.00176.x/abstract

    .

  50. 50.

    David Goodhart,

    The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration

    (London: Atlantic Books, 2013).

  51. 51.

    Anna Zimdars and Gindo Tampubolon, “Ethnic diversity and European’s generalised trust: how inclusive immigration policy can aid a positive association”, Sociological Research Online 2012,

    http://www.socresonline.org.uk/17/3/15.html

    .

  52. 52.

    “The Casey Review: a review into opportunity and integration”, 5 December 2016,

    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-casey-review-a-review-into-opportunity-and-integration

    .

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