Blogs

A Conservative migrant migraine

Ben Chu
statue of liberty 150x150 A Conservative migrant migraine

"Give me your skilled, your wealthy and your English speakers"

Interesting to see that some Tories seem to be waking up to the fact that their immigration cap is going to undermine growth (as the Office for Budget Responsibility pointed out in its pre-budget forecast) and want to water it down. As I blogged earlier, there’s a contradiction between David Cameron’s rhetoric on encouraging economic growth and his policy on curbing the flow of labour into Britain.

Two thoughts. First, given the doubts among some senior Tories (David Willetts, Michael Gove are mentioned in the FT story) on the cap, perhaps the Liberal Democrats should have pushed harder for the policy to be dropped from the coalition agreement. They might have been successful.

Second, Tory worries seem to be about “the brightest and the best” being shut out and the potential damage to banks and multinationals. But what about the potential economic harm done by curbing flows of unskilled labour? The OBR report  (p78-79) makes no mention of the type of migration when warning that slower flows (140,000 a year) are likely to constrict growth.

Even the more enlightened Tories on the subject of immigration still seem to believe that there are good immigrants (well-educated, fluent English-speaking, affluent) and bad immigrants (uneducated, limited language skills, poor). But what matters from an economic perspective is not the social background of migrants, but where the shortages are in the labour market. Artificially restricting the flow of unskilled labour can be just as damaging as keeping out the skilled.

  • http://twitter.com/vi__sa Vishal Sawant

    I guess that makes me an enlightened Tory – who is also an immigrant. But anyone using common sense would arrive at that conclusion – there are good immigrants and bad immigrants. Why did the previous government introduce the points system? Isn’t that to achieve the same goal – to get in more skilled workers? I said this in another post – but let me repeat..the net positive effect of immigration hasn’t been proved without doubt. Even the OBR says ‘might’? But mass uncontrolled immigration does destroy the fabric of the nation.

    Not sure if it is politically correct to say this, but here goes -
    In the last 10-15 years, the UK has received far more unskilled workers than skilled.

    UK born skilled workers in white collar jobs have actually migrated to other countries.

    Net effect – UK born unskilled workers and skilled workers in blue collar jobs have had to compete with cheap unskilled and skilled workers in blue collar jobs from within the EU as well as outside the EU. A majority of them have ended up in a vicious circle of benefit dependency.

    Surely the best way to achieve SUSTAINABLE growth is to help more UK born workers to be more competitive, to give them the skills to do so? So this is actually joined-up thinking – cap immigration and provide incentives and introduce measures to improve the quality of the local workforce. What is wrong with that?

  • RaRaRoger

    last paragraph is interesting, about unskilled labour being allowed in, and preventing it damages the economy. Except of course we have 2.5million unemployed. Shouldn’t we concentrate on getting the unskilled already here employed, before adding to it and having to pay out more benefits?

  • BenChu

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply Vishal. I’m entirely in favour of strenuous efforts from government to increase the skills of UK-born workers and break out of the welfare trap. But the idea that the UK’s welfare dependency problem can be blamed on immigration does not, I think, stand up to scrutiny. The extent to which migrant labour has held down domestic wages is relatively minor (see this evidence, which comes via Chris Dillow of Stumbling and Mumbling: http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/dp0754.pdf).This argument against unskilled immigration is also another way of saying that migrants “come over here and take our jobs”. But it’s a fallacy to argue that there is a “lump” of labour which must be divided up by workers. More workers can create more economic activity and all can become richer.Don’t forget either that unskilled workers can become entreprenuers. The founder of Marks and Spencer, Michael Marks(http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/BUmarks.htm) , was a peniless, unskilled worker from Russia.

  • http://twitter.com/SparkleWorld Victoria H

    I agree with you there.

  • Pingback: DARRELL

  • http://www.facebook.com/sandwichman.flaneur Tom Walker

    Although is is indeed a fallacy to argue there is a lump-of-labour, it is also a fallacy (called a “straw man”) to argue that other people’s arguments are based on premises that they aren’t actually based on. Time to put this lump-of-labour red herring out of its misery.

  • mercury51

    i’m hardly one for zanulabour policies ,but i thought the points system was a rather good idea. if they had said that when it rains, the pavements get wet, it would be foolish to disagree. i can also see the argument for a cap. hard rules make hard cases and hard cases make bad law. if a business wants to import necessary raw materials, it would be foolish not to let it. thing the idea is to stop the population creeping up by virtue of immigration; thus you say how many can we cope with and when you hit a certain number, you shut the door. the tricky bit is determining that number.

  • ana570

    hey ben do you not think that the government should at least try and accomodate the views of those who voted them into power? The majority of the UK population has been made very uncomfortable by the high levels of net immigration over Labour’s tenure. Commonly it is not for any racist reasons, but because of unskilled job competition, housing shortages and overcrowding. England where 90+% of migrants move to is already one of the most crowded countries in Europe. Of course a degree of immigration is necessary in the economy for labour market reasons, but to have 200000 net migrants in a year surely is to high for an overcrowded island like ours. I just wanted to say i am a first generation descendent of Sri Lankan migrants.

  • ana570

    hey ben do you not think that the government should at least try and accomodate the views of those who voted them into power? The majority of the UK population has been made very uncomfortable by the high levels of net immigration over Labour's tenure. Commonly it is not for any racist reasons, but because of unskilled job competition, housing shortages and overcrowding. England where 90+% of migrants move to is already one of the most crowded countries in Europe. Of course a degree of immigration is necessary in the economy for labour market reasons, but to have 200000 net migrants in a year surely is to high for an overcrowded island like ours. I just wanted to say i am a first generation descendent of Sri Lankan migrants.


Most viewed

Read

N/A

Property search
Browse by area

Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter