Tough immigration rules are to blame for unemployment & illegal immigration

The Calais crisis is just a distraction - we should all be worried about immigration restrictions strangling the economic recovery.

by Joséphine Goube
Last Updated: 22 Oct 2015

The British Government’s immigration policy is the worst of both worlds, disrupting the UK’s economic recovery, while pushing away the best and brightest young people to other countries, who are no doubt making better use of their talents.

There is no economic data that supports the government’s pursuit of reducing immigration to the arbitrary number of 100,000 migrants a year. Immigration has been and continues to contribute to the UK recovery. Migrants actually have a net positive impact on the public deficit - overall, they’ve made a net contribution of £25bn to the UK’s public finances over the last ten years. They create jobs for British nationals and are also a key element of the UK’s soft-power.

What is even more amazing is that migrants have been able to accomplish this, and come in bigger numbers, even as immigration rules have been getting tougher. In 2011, the right to work after graduation for non-EU students was removed, and UK employers wanting to hire non-EU migrants were required to pay a £2,000 sponsorship licence and wait 28 days before being able to make a job offer. Soon after, an arbitrary limit on the number of work visas granted each year was imposed. Finally, an income threshold of £18,600 was added for UK citizens wanting to bring their spouse or partner to the UK - an income that 47% of Britons do not earn.

Still, even with these measures making it tougher for migrants to work and live in the UK, London in particular has continued to be a magnet for young and skilled people. In May, official statistics showed net migration had reached its highest level in a decade, increasing 50% in 2014 to 318,000. With more restrictive rules, the government has completely failed to reduce immigration flows.

At this point, one would think that the government would begin to understand that you can’t prevent the UK from being an attractive place to live and work. Actually, it should be proud to be in charge of somewhere educated, hard-working people want to move. However, instead of seeing this as an opportunity, the insular British mentality won out again, with the goal to reduce immigration to the 100,000, trumpeted as a reasonable one - even though there continues to be no evidence restricting immigration will benefit the UK economy.

Hence, since June, immigration policies have gone a step further towards creating yet more discrimination against migrants. Since April 2015, migrants have to pay an NHS charge of £200 for every year they plan to stay in the UK when applying for a student or work visa. Even though research shows that recent migrants are statistically less likely to use NHS services, and even though it acts as a double taxation for workers, given that they already pay the NHS by working here.

Starting on Monday, non-EU students at further education (FE) colleges were no longer allowed to work part-time or extend their visa from within the UK. This November, international students at London universities have to have £11,385 in the bank to apply for a visa, on top of paying fees that average £20,000 a year.

Next April, permanent residency will become even more elusive for migrants. Non-EU workers will have to be paid a minimum annual salary of £35,000 to be able to stay in the country after five years - or risk being deported. This rule will affect the majority of migrants that have come to the UK to work since 2011 and stayed, especially nurses and carers for which such high salaries do not make sense - and who represent approximately 25% of the NHS staff.

These unwelcoming policies are already starting to deter the skilled migrants that have the choice to decide where to work and live. Around 80% of the questions on the Migreat website are now from international students asking where to attend university outside the UK - ‘because the UK government doesn’t want us here’.

In 2014, the number of new international students in the UK fell for the first time. Non-EU students are estimated to generate 20% of total output and 18% of full-time jobs in universities - bad news given the whole education sector was worth some £18bn to the economy in 2012.

The UK’s tech sector is currently suffering from a shortage of skilled workers that has escalated over the last few years. And reducing the number of migrants arbitrarily will hamper the growth of a sector that is currently growing four times faster than the rate of UK’s GDP and already represents 10% of the economy.

Meanwhile, migrant organisations are warning that the harsher immigration laws will also push less-skilled migrants into staying here illegally. Anti-immigration supporters would argue that this country needs to train more native Brits, but an ageing population and the current low rate of university students enrolling in STEM subjects mean the country will not realistically be able to cope with and fix the current need for thousands more skilled workers.

Current UK immigration policies are driving international students and skilled migrants by the thousands into the open arms of global competitors like the US, Australia and Germany, while pushing vulnerable migrants into illegality. Soon, the victim of tough immigration rules will be less the migrants themselves, but the UK’s economic recovery and welfare system. The Calais crisis is a distraction - what’s happening to immigration policy should be causing real alarm for us all.

Joséphine Goube is director of partnerships at Migreat, a web portal that helps migrants move and settle in Europe. She was one of MT’s 35 Women Under 35 this year.

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