Theresa May has fundamentally misjudged the public mood on immigration

In Theresa May’s Conservative party conference speech she warned that high levels of immigration make it ‘impossible to build a cohesive society’ as it is ‘difficult for schools and hospitals and core infrastructure like housing and transport to cope’. Instead of framing migration as a threat to Britain’s cohesion, the Government should be proactive and create a practical policy whereby the additional tax generated by increased immigration is fed back into target areas of high immigration, argue the The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants in their official response to the speech. 

A Policy Should be Implemented that Acknowledges Migrants’ Contributions

Theresa May says that immigration damages social cohesion. However, it is her Government’s negative rhetoric and polices, and not immigration, that are destroying social cohesion and creating a climate of hostility. Instead of reinstating the arbitrary net migration target of ‘tens of thousands’ the Government should see immigration as an opportunity for the UK.  Migrants are not the cause of the housing crisis and do not represent the sole pressure on public services. Instead, it is immigrants who are building houses, working in our hospitals and GP surgeries and staffing our transport system. An unachievable ‘target’ is not a necessary or desirable aspiration given that much of Britain’s economic growth and prosperity is a result of migrants coming here to work and fill skill gaps. For example, a UCL study from November 2014 states that immigrants from the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004 contributed more to the UK (£4.96bn in taxes) than they took out of it. Similarly, the Office for Budget Responsibility said in March 2015 that the unexpected rise in net migration is fuelling Britain’s recovery.

The Government needs a plan to create a better society for all of us. This means implementing a policy that acknowledges the contributions that migrants make. As more people are coming to the UK to work, more taxes are being paid into the pot, and these funds could be used to directly manage some of the pressures on local communities that come along with population growth. Implementing a ‘contribution formula’ (such as the ‘Controlling Migration Fund’ laid out in the Conservative’s manifesto) could ensure that when net migration increases, any pressure on services is alleviated. This ‘fund’ should be proportionally invested to benefit the communities around the UK who experience higher levels of migration.

Immigrants are not a burden on Britain, they are not stealing our jobs; instead they contribute to this country financially, socially and culturally. Migrants are our neighbours, partners, friends and colleagues. They make a vital contribution to the NHS, to the technology sectors, to the education sector, to the transport sector, among many others. Immigrants are not just a number, they are people – just look at the many positive stories shared through our I am an Immigrant campaign.

Restrictive Policies

Managing migration is Theresa May’s job and it was under her watch that the net migration figure climbed to 330,000. Instead of capitalising on the positive aspects of migration, the Government is intent on creating restrictive policies solely aimed at reducing numbers. This ignores and devalues the vital contribution that immigrants make to British society. Migration has fuelled our economic recovery. Furthermore, the Government’s policies aimed at restricting immigration increasingly impact negatively upon British citizens and settled persons, surely an unintended consequence, but a consequence nonetheless.

In 2012 the Government implemented a minimum income requirement of £18,600 p.a. needed to sponsor a non-EEA spouse/ partner. As a result, at least 15,000 children, the majority of whom are British children, have been affected by the immigration rules with thousands separated from a parent, many indefinitely. This has deeply affected the children’s wellbeing and has resulted in them suffering distress and anxiety.

In an effort to create a ‘hostile environment’ for irregular migrants in the UK, the Conservatives implemented a package of measures in the Immigration Act 2014 which included the controversial Right to Rent checks. JCWI’s independent evaluation of the scheme found that these checks result in discrimination against those who appear ‘foreign’ including black minority ethnic tenants, British citizens who do not own a passport and those with valid leave to remain.

In June 2015, the Government announced proposals aimed at ‘cracking down’ on skilled migration by restricting work visas and raising salary thresholds on Tier 2 visas. In July 2015, the Government has announced a series of changes to the Tier 4 visa for students.

Then the new Immigration Bill renews the ‘hostile environment’ with a raft of measures aimed at combatting illegal working and restricting access to services for irregular migrants, as well as changes to the appeals system, immigration bail and asylum support. Worryingly the Bill also seeks to further the climate of suspicion and fear by extending powers to immigration officers to arrest without a warrant those suspected of committing offences, as well as searching premises and seizing items in relation to suspected offences. These provisions represent an erosion of rights for all UK residents.

People will be affected unless the Government takes action

As public anxiety about immigration is fuelled by pressure purportedly placed on public services and infrastructure, the public need reassurance that something sensible is being done to ease this pressure. Instead of framing migration as a threat to Britain’s cohesion, the Government should be proactive and create a practical policy whereby the additional tax generated by immigration is fed back into areas where migrants live and work. This action would go a long way to ease negative public perception.

As it currently stands, the Government has failed to keep up with the demand for housing and local services. If the Government does not invest money into the community infrastructure, people will be detrimentally affected which may create even more xenophobia.

Theresa May’s right-wing rhetoric is not in the country’s best interest but a misguided attempt to place herself as the frontrunner in the Conservative’s leadership contest. The Government have indicated that they will stop at nothing to try and achieve their net migration ‘target’ by 2020, regardless of the consequences to the country’s economy, or to the fundamental human rights of its people.  The Government rhetoric, coupled with harsh policies, represent a consistent attack on those people who make this country a multicultural and prosperous nation.

Note: this post represents the views of the author, and not those of Democratic Audit or the LSE. It originally appeared on the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants website and is reposted with permission. Please read our comments policy before posting. 

jcwi-logo-small-02The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) is an independent national charity which exists to campaign for justice in immigration, nationality and refugee law and policy

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