The new Migrationwatch report is dissected by immigration lawyer Frances Webber.
From the press reports greeting the launch in September 2008 of Balanced Migration: a new approach to controlling immigration, it sounded as though this was an official or at least authoritative report by a cross-party group of MPs, perhaps under the House of Commons imprimatur like the reports of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights. That the report is in fact written by the well-known anti-immigration group Migrationwatch hardly received a mention.
This ambivalence as to whether and to what extent the report is ‘official’, or sanctioned by government or any part of it, carries through to the preface, written by two MPs – Frank Field (Labour) and Nicholas Soames (Conservative) – who say that ‘we’ have asked Migrationwatch to ‘prepare some constructive proposals that we can put forward for a sensible debate’, without ever explaining who the ‘we’ are and who they claim to represent. However, the fact that these MPs chose Migrationwatch for their ‘constructive proposals’ suggests that the report they got was the one they wanted. For, true to the raison d’être of Migrationwatch, the theme is that there is too much immigration and it must be curtailed.
The report trots us at a fair old pace through a history of mass migration (seeing off in a sentence the argument that increased immigration has anything to do with globalisation), ‘public concern’ (a self-explanatory section in which modesty prevents the organisation from claiming its rightful role in the production of the concern it reports), to the impact of modern immigration on ‘public services and community cohesion’. A section on the economy is a précis of the House of Lords Select Committee’s April 2008 report, The Economic Impact of Immigration. We then peer into the future, scan government policies and finally come to the solution, the ‘Balanced Migration’ of the title – essentially a quota system ‘balancing’ numbers granted settlement with those emigrating.
Things aren’t quite as straightforward as that, however. What appears as a thoroughly researched, quasi-academic and objective piece of work, meticulously footnoted and sourced, frequently dissolves into contentious and unfounded assertions, or dubious statistics. For example, we are told that ’70 per cent of all marriages with a foreign spouse have some element of coercion or force’. The source for this is a report from the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, which (if one bothers to look at its report) obtained its figures from ‘experience of their communities, and of friends and family’. We learn that ’40-60 per cent of immigrants from the Indian sub-continent enter arranged marriages with a spouse from their country of origin’. The source for this is a guesstimate based on ‘numbers of marriageable age’ entering the UK from the Indian sub-continent, contained in an earlier Migrationwatch briefing paper.
Then there are wholly unsourced assertions, particularly in the section headed ‘scope for abuse’, where we are told that ‘most applicants will never be seen by an entry control officer’ (the correct term is entry clearance officer) as ‘the application process is outsourced in most countries’ – this just isn’t true (while in some countries, reception and delivery of applications is outsourced, consideration of applications never is). We are also told that unskilled workers can get in under Tier 1 of the new points system – again, not true; this category is reserved for highly-skilled workers. An alarmist scenario of a system collapsing under the weight of half a million applicants a year evokes the ‘collapse’ of the asylum system, failing to point out that applicants will be waiting abroad for their applications to be processed, not queuing up in Croydon. Throwaway comments about ‘meal tickets for life’ for successful applicants for work permits fail to mention the ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule, and benefits legislation which excludes all immigrants, whether visitors, students, workers or family members from all non-contributory benefits and social housing.
Then there are statements of the obvious trotted out to support the proposals, such as the one that says most business leaders believe ‘there should be a limit of some kind on the number of migrants from outside the EU entering the UK each year’.
One thing that comes through clearly is that the unnamed authors of the report love deploying statistics. The inside cover proclaims that 60 per cent of Asians believe that there are too many immigrants in Britain’ (although strangely, by page 20 the number has gone down to 47 per cent). We are presented with statistics about how much immigration has grown in different regions; where the immigrants come from (mostly from the euphemistically named ‘New Commonwealth’ and other parts of the ‘developing world’, although one-third ‘share a European heritage’); how much it would cost to regularise illegal immigrants (a billion pounds, apparently); in how many schools English is not the first language of the majority of pupils (1,338), the percentage of new TB and Hepatitis B cases brought in from abroad (65 and 96 per cent, respectively), the net economic benefit of immigration to you and me (62p per week), the number of new cities the size of Birmingham which will have to be built to accommodate all the new immigrants (seven). We get graphs, pie charts, projections, all hammering home the central message that there are too many immigrants – too many for public services to cope with (although a solution which cuts back on the number of public service workers admitted seems somewhat short-sighted), too many for ‘community cohesion’ (perhaps because two-thirds don’t ‘share a European heritage’), too many for the environment (because of population density and/or the extra homes which will be needed to house them, albeit only a third of the required total) – in fact, just too many. The authors point out that the numbers coming in represent the biggest mass migration for over 1000 years – since the Norman conquest in fact.
Déja vu on numbers
The feeling of déja vu for the reader is inescapable. We have been here before, many times, since free entry for Commonwealth citizens was abolished in the 1960s, and Enoch Powell stopped recruiting Caribbean nurses and became the father of British popular racism with his apocalyptic visions. Things have moved on since then, of course. The authors of this report recognise the benefits of immigration (while simultaneously observing that these are vastly overrated); they point out that Black and British can be synonymous, and find Asian respondents who complain of too many immigrants and Muslim informants on forced marriages.
The report paints such a fearful picture as to make the reader expect – perhaps even demand – an immediate and total ban on all immigration. So the answer – annual settlement quotas – comes as a bit of an anti-climax. Until we cotton on that it’s just about cherry-picking and exploitation again. The report doesn’t call for annual migration quotas – just settlement quotas. Of course we must continue to import the best and the brightest to fulfil the temporary needs and skill shortages, until British employers train British workers – but we just mustn’t let them stay, to have their babies here, or start using the services their taxes are paying for. So the main proposal is that those coming for work-related purposes should be required to leave after four years.
Demand for settlement quota
There is enormous hypocrisy at the heart of this report. It’s all about getting the benefits of immigration – all those overseas doctors trained at the Indian or African taxpayers’ expense – without paying any of the social costs. The authors complain about the cost of educating these British unemployed graduates – but don’t mention the savings brought about by employing ready-made foreign ones. They even complain that British graduates have been prevented from getting jobs by foreigners – as if employers don’t have a choice. Even the fact that immigration expands the economy by creating new demand and new jobs is somehow turned into a dis-benefit – as if it’s the fault of the immigrants that the skills shortage is never filled.
And so to the oldest complaint in the book – again, ascribed to an astonishingly high percentage of the population – that there is never a ‘sensible debate’ about immigration. Funny isn’t it, how people like Migrationwatch chairman Sir Andrew Green never complain about the lack of sensible debate over the Americanisation of our culture. When did we last discuss all the shopping malls, the homogenous town centres, the ubiquitous iPods draped round everyone under 30, the internet café culture – which arguably has had a far more profound effect, in a far shorter time, than ‘mass’ migration? But one thing’s for sure – the cause of sensible debate isn’t helped by alarmist reports like this.