January 1, 2014 is finally here and if one is to go by all the buzz and hype that has been going on in the British media, then the streets of the UK are undoubtedly going to be cluttered with an avalanche of Bulgarians and Romanians who are claimed will be stealing, begging and pick-pocketing. But as the charade has been going on, I have not ceased to wonder what immigration really means for the UK and the immigrant.
What it Means for the UK
There is no doubt that one of the most visible effects of globalisation has been the massive shift in the global demand for labour. The creation of new work opportunities in many richer economies in recent years, due to the shifts in type of industries could account for this. At the same time, lack of development and the absence of employment opportunities in poorer economies have created a labour force more eager, and able, to migrate to take advantage of these opportunities. The result of this has been a significant expansion of global mobility. The willingness of immigrant workers and their strong work ethic means that employers will be all too happy to have them work in the most demanding jobs, as was evident in the construction of the UK 2012 Olympic facilities.
It is argued that the movement of people from Europe to North America in the Nineteenth century did more to raise and equalise incomes than trade and capital flows and that in recent years, the Indian Diaspora in the United States for example, acted as an important catalyst to India’s breakthrough into the global market for e-services. This could only mean one thing, they were actively contributing to the economy of the United States. Looking at immigration from this perspective, it is therefore a positive sum game and as the Bulgarian President rightly pointed out, the UK also stands to benefit (if not more) from an influx of immigrants and will instead be at risk of isolation with tougher immigration policies.
If this were the case, then why is all this moaning in the UK about? While it is true that many people get to the UK because they consider it a place where they can tap into opportunities and better the lives of family members they left in their home countries, it is also true that anyone who strives to fulfil this objective will have to contribute massively to the British economy. Anything short of this will mean a backlash too terrible to describe.
The Existential Reality
The first impression given to the outside world is that in the UK, there are jobs simply waiting to be filled in.
These statistics provided by the Office of National Statistics may show that there has been some improvements from previous years but this that not mean there has been a glut. For example, the ONS states that
- The employment rate for those aged from 16 to 64 was 71.5%, down 0.1 percentage points from November 2012 to January 2013 but up 0.7 percentage points from a year earlier. There were 29.76 million people in employment aged 16 and over, up 24,000 from November 2012 to January 2013 and up 432,000 from a year earlier.
- The unemployment rate was 7.8% of the economically active population, unchanged from November 2012 to January 2013 but down 0.4 percentage points from a year earlier. There were 2.51 million unemployed people, down 5,000 from November 2012 to January 2013 and down 88,000 from a year earlier.
- The inactivity rate for those aged from 16 to 64 was 22.4%, up 0.1 percentage points from November 2012 to January 2013 but down 0.5 from a year earlier. There were 8.99 million economically inactive people aged from 16 to 64, up 40,000 from November 2012 to January 2013 but down 199,000 from a year earlier.
- Total pay rose by 1.3% compared with February to April 2012. Regular pay rose by 0.9% over the same period.
These statistics mean that there are millions of British citizens who are looking for jobs but cannot get them. And if this is so simply put, it may tend to justify the argument that immigrants are coming in to take the jobs of British people. But is this really the case? Of course not… For, how can a person take what does not exist? The fact is that before ever a job is given to an immigrant, it is certain that there are no British people to do them. In the first instance, even a cleaning job in the UK requires previous cleaning experience – which must have been gotten in the UK for a period of six months. How then does an immigrant who has just entered the UK amass six months experience, that is the basic prerequisite for unskilled work? The paradox beats me.
I remember vividly how I had to pay for training to become a cleaner and caterer, which meant I had to spend close to six months searching for my first part-time job while studying. This makes me to ask the question: if with all the specialist experience I had prior to coming to the UK, I could not secure unskilled work for a long period (and this happens to have been the case with almost all of us who were studying then) how possible is it that claims can be made about jobs being taken by immigrants? It would be only fitting therefore, if the British politicians and policy makers could be generous to add, that there are some immigrants who have no recourse to public funds, and who spend a lot of money in the UK within their first few months without getting anything from the system. Shocking as it may sound, most often, the first few months spent by most migrants outside the EU who come to the UK tends to be a zero sum game – the sole beneficiary of course is the UK.
The Illogicality of the Benefits Argument
I know that most people who are now reading this will already be arguing that migrants from other parts of the EU come to the UK to enjoy the largesse of the welfare system. This thinking defies common logic because British citizens who are living on benefits have a standard of living not much different from those of ordinary working people from other parts of Europe. How then would a person exchange one form of shoddy living for another? Would a person really travel hundreds or thousands of miles, with the objective of living a better life, choose to live on benefits in the UK? Lets face it, that simply does not make sense.
While there is no doubt that some EU citizens will take advantage of the British welfare system, this can only be for a short term, if they really hope to improve their lives and that of those they left behind in their countries of origin.
Why the Hullabaloo about Immigration
If my thinking is anything to go by, why the fuss about immigration? I can think of only two reasons – fear and publicity.
First, the history of the UK is rife with exploitation of other countries. The UK went across the world, grabbed from many countries and helped build their empire. Today, the thought of others coming in simply makes them think that it could be for the same reasons. No wonder there has been bold assertions that Romanians are coming to steal, beg and pickpocket from British people.
Another reason for the immigration fuss could be publicity. The more the British media and politicians talk about immigration, the more the message is sent out across the world that it is a highly-sought destination. This can only mean one thing, the UK needs immigrants more than they are willing to acknowledge. There is no gainsaying the fact that migrants constitute a solid part of UK higher education earnings. It will also be a fair statement to say that without immigrants certain parts of the British economy will slowly grind to a halt.
There is little wonder then that British policy makers and politicians are sounding ‘the horn on the borders’ to call the people to support the notion of cutting immigration only because they have an axe to grind.