Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
A recent YouGov-Sunday Times poll reaffirmed adverse perceptions of immigration. 57% of respondents said that immigration has been “bad for Britain’s economy”, and 64% believed it had harmed community relations. Over two-thirds of survey answerers backed tougher rules to reduce immigration, with slightly greater support for restrictions on arrival from outside of the EU. The poll allowed differentiation between separate country classes: 46% said Western European immigration has been beneficial to Britain, and 50% replied Eastern European immigration was deleterious to Britain.
Political distrust is fostered by this issue; when asked what party they most trusted on immigration, 29% said ‘None of them’ and 25% replied the UK Independence Party. According to the Office for National Statistics, immigration has dropped by 81,000 over the last year. The scale of emigration remained consistent, so net immigration plunged from 242,000 to about 153,000 people. Whether a result of this distrust or rational ignorance, only 15% of survey respondents thought the scale of immigration had declined over the last two years, and 59% held it had increased.
Arguments against immigration usually focus on either economics or culture. The pressure group Migration Watch posited a link between youth unemployment and migration from the eight former Soviet-bloc countries of Eastern Europe, and there have been multiple claims that immigration suppresses wages. The Centre for Economic Performance at LSE found “there is little evidence of an overall negative impact on jobs or wages”. Firstly, this is because demands are not held constant, and each immigrant brings their own desire for goods and services with them. Secondly, immigrants are usually either highly-skilled or lowly-skilled, meaning these new workers complement domestic labour. Both the supply and demand for labour is heterogeneous, so simple job transfers to domestic labour cannot occur. Even if wages were slightly reduced, that is a pecuniary externality, part of the price mechanism which exists in almost all economic decisions.
Similar claims are made on burdens to existing infrastructure and welfare services. Even if immigration was currently overburdening the country’s welfare systems, that would not be a reason to limit it. Immigrants into a country are not necessarily endowed as citizens, and these services can be redesigned to be unavailable to newly-arrived migrants, such as the establishment of a residency criterion or the resurrection of contributory principles.
The last prong concerns culture – the claim that some immigrants are imbued with dysfunction, violence and superstition, and their presence creates a cultural heterogeneity which will undermine present institutions. The rule of law is the core of this country’s political culture, and criminal subcultures are crushed under the slow wheels of justice. Global mass communication means culture is effectively without borders: the importation of ideas and beliefs can occur without the importation of people.
The freedoms of migration are actually two interlocked freedoms: the freedom to emigrate and the freedom to immigrate. I tend to view the argument from an immigrant’s point of view, the largest beneficiary of these policies, and believe we should work towards freer borders.