Migration woes in the UK

by Chris Bertram on August 2, 2013

At a time when the debate on immigration in the US seems to be going in a more liberal direction, things in the UK have become far far worse. One manifestation of this was a co-ordinated series of over 200 raids yesterday by the UK Home Office, which detained more than 100 people suspected of immigration and visa offences. Many of the raids took place in and around tube and rail stations in areas of London with high non-white populations and, according to eyewitnesses, involved the selection and harassment for “papers! papers!” of people who – at least in the view of the enforcement heavies – looked foreign. This is certainly an abuse of power by the Home Office: expect claims for compensation from racially-profiled British people and other legal challenges shortly. Needless to say, random harassment of non-white people also threatens a serious deterioration in race relations in some parts of London. The raids come immediately after a campaign involving a large truck driven around those same areas of London with the the offensive suggestion that people of irregular status should “go home”. Though this campaign is pitched as enforcement against people who don’t have the right to be in the UK, very very many of those with irregular status are in limbo not through any fault of their own, but because the Home Office (and formerly the UK Border Agency) has failed to process applications in a timely manner, has lost vital personal documents and so on.

The political background to this has two aspects. The first is the Tory party’s obsessive focus on the “net migration” figures. Since there is so much about immigration that the Tories cannot control, they have tried to reduce the flows of people that they can. Students, workers from outside the EU and the partners of UK citizens who want to reside in the UK have been particular targets. This has led to many heartbreaking stories of divided families, often catalogued by the excellent BritCits blog [see also Migrants’ Rights Network’s ongoing campaign]. The second aspect is that the Tories face electoral competition on their right from the the UK Independence Party. (The ideal voter being chased here is a racist boor in late middle age, propping up a bar somewhere in Essex.) After attempting to “detoxify” the Tory party before the 2010 election, David Cameron, under the influence of his Australian election strategist Lynton Crosby, is now retoxifying it as fast as he can.

It would be nice to think that the official opposition, in the shape of the Labour Party would oppose this stuff. Labour’s shadow minister for immigration is Chris Bryant MP. His greatest anxiety seems to be to avoid being seen as “soft” on immigration rather than trying to articulate better policies. When the Tory chairman Grant Shapps claimed that Labour would relax controls, Bryant angrily tweeted that this was “a lie”. In a recent Parliamentary debate on family migration at which MP after MP (including at least one Conservative) stood up to explain the hardship that families separated by the high minimum income requirement for spousal sponsorship were suffering, Bryant made a rather hand-wringing speech before failing to oppose government policy. I know that Labour will never commit to the kind of liberal policy that I’d like to see, but even some basic humanity towards divided families and some sensible policies on regularization of status for long-term residents seem to be beyond Bryant and Labour, so fearful are they of a bad headline in the Daily Mail.

Among the political class, the most vocal dissent to the policy has come from the Liberal Democrats in the shape of former minister Sarah Teather, who recently revealed that the working group charged with migration issues had set itself the task of devising a “hostile environment” for migrants. The “racist van” and the raids are no doubt part of this, but the key tactic is to deprive migrants of access not only to public services but even to the means of life. Rather than the state policing migration directly, the government is trying to put legal obligations on professionals, on employers, and even on private citizens to deny access to jobs, housing, and services. In higher education, institutions that fail to perform their policing role can be denied a licence to teach lucrative overseas students. Anyone who employs an individual with irregular status is subject to a fine, and shortly, anyone who lets a room to such a person will risk penalties. (In my own experience, this is starting to have an impact not just on irregulars but even on EU citizens who are obliged by employment agencies to produce more and more documentation to prove their right to work.) In addition to these policies, there are also proposals to require payment of bonds by “high-risk” visitors from a number of countries such as India, Pakistan and Nigeria (though, tellingly, not from “white Commonwealth” countries or the US).

Meanwhile, in the background, a (slightly) more academic debate has been going on between David Goodhart, the Director of Demos, a think-tank, and, among others, Jonathan Portes, the Director of NIESR. Goodhart’s recent book, The British Dream, attempted to provide the intellectual case for restrictive migration policies. Unfortunately for him, as Portes has repeatedly pointed out, the book is littered with basic factual howlers. Whatever his shortcomings as a writer and researcher, though, Goodhart does play an ideological role in the wider public debate. Represented as being “of the left” (absurdly, in my view), Goodhart, by his existence enables right-wing commentators to make the “Even sensible people on the left …” rhetorical move. On the other side, Portes has been rather tirelessly chipping away to make the case that liberal migration policies are good and necessary for the economy, a useful task in the face of claims from the Tories that immigration is a drain on “the taxpayer”. Faced with rhetoric about migrants being drawn to the UK to draw welfare benefits and free health care, Portes has been excellent in arguing that migrants are more likely to work than the general population and less likely to be costing the state money. If it were the facts that mattered, then Portes’s opponents would have been forced to retreat long ago. Unfortunately putting the facts out there is a Sisyphean task: you can say it and say it again, only to be faced with interviewers who demand you respond to “public anxiety”.

I fear that the immediate future is bleak. There will be a general election within a couple of years and the Tories have clearly calculated that this an issue where they can do well. They may face eventual defeat in the courts (they’ve had some setbacks already) as divided families seek redress under Article 8. However, I almost get the feeling that Theresa May relishes such defeats as she can deploy them to rail against unelected judges and the “human rights lobby”. Still, the family migration issue is probably the best “wedge” aspect of migration to campaign on at the moment, since it is easy to demonstrate that many perfectly ordinary snow-white Englanders are being adversely affected. That may provide the political basis for a coalition in defence of migration rights more broadly. However, in the mean time, irregular migrants need defending, particularly in terms of their access to legal and medical services and from the continuing harassment campaign from the Home Office.

{ 42 comments }

1

Metatone 08.02.13 at 3:29 pm

I’m partially in agreement with you on immigration – but I’m much more concerned with how the British compact on civil liberties has been instantly rewritten, with not a peep from so-called libertarians who support the Tories or Lib Dems.

Let’s think about this for a minute, ignoring whether or not you support the posters and the raids on places of employment (I have my concerns, but they seem largely of a piece with the application of the law for the last 20 years.)

So, ignoring that, we have the situation where anyone passing through a targeted Tube station can be stopped by uniformed UKBA officials. Said officials demand your papers, your proof. Given the noise made about “papers please” by all those libertarians in the ID Card debates of a few years ago, I find it curious that no-one has anything to say now.

Fundamentally, we’ve gone, without legislation, from the old Britain where the authorities had no right to detain you for lack of papers, to a new Britain where they can demand papers at any time and detain (and by reports harass) you if you don’t have them.

This is a serious change and the media narrative is letting it get submerged with the immigration issue, which is important, but very separate.

2

Metatone 08.02.13 at 3:31 pm

Putting this in a separate comment, because you may feel it’s inappropriate, but I think it has to be said. (And it was frequently brought up in the ID card debates.)

“Paper please” is a step towards a police state – and the obvious parallels are the Godwin ones.

3

Philip 08.02.13 at 3:37 pm

Yep the focus on bringing headline immigration numbers down is ludicrous. There is no underlying reasoning of focusing on different categories and the only consideration seems to be how rich you are. The restrictions on students are damaging for HE and ESL but that doesn’t matter because immigration is bad.

The pandering to UKIP seems a tactical mistake to me because nothing short of pulling out of the EU will pull voters away from them. If the Tories win the next election I can’t see how the EU referendum can be avoided because no deal done by Cameron with the EU will be acceptable to the party.

4

Nick 08.02.13 at 4:22 pm

“Given the noise made about “papers please” by all those libertarians in the ID Card debates of a few years ago, I find it curious that no-one has anything to say now.”

My libertarian social networks are buzzing with anger and mockery at the crackdown, including libertarians at the forefront of the No2ID movement. We don’t have instant access to the mainstream media. Building a campaign with a media presence takes time and this policy wasn’t widely percieved in advance.

5

I.G.I. 08.02.13 at 4:43 pm

The tendency to engage the civilian population in policing the socially and the culturally undesirable is very interesting one as this is a distinct feature of highly oppressive societies.

6

Hidari 08.02.13 at 5:42 pm

The problem as ever lies with the media, more specifically, the way the media frames the debate. On the one hand we have the Right, who claim that immigration is bad, and we should stop it. On the other hand the ‘Left’ who accept that immigration is bad, but that we should accept that it will happen (a bit like murder or rape) and try and mitigate the ‘bad effects’.

Completely unsayable at the moment, in British public discourse, is the idea that immigration is, generally speaking, a good thing, that it has been proven to benefit people from all classes and occupations, that the only possible people who might lose out are the white working class, and that, even there, the evidence is ambiguous and the effect, such as it is, is probably short term. Immigrants create demand, they start up businesses which emply people, they are hard working and help companies to expand, which in turn creates more jobs, and so on. In short, immigration is good (according to the scientific evidence we have at present), we should try and encourage it, we need more of it rather than less, and so on. One could also point out that many countries have far more immigrants than us, that those countries tend to be doing rather better than us (cf Qatar, for example, with 85% non-native population) and that countries with stricter immigration laws than us are now running into problems (cf Japan who are now facing the problem of a greying population without any hope of mass immigration to ‘youthify’ so to speak, the country).

The other problem with the worthless ‘debate’ (almost all ‘debates’ that are held in the UK about politics are so removed from reality as to be essentially worthless, but the immigration ‘debate’ is particularly egregious in this regard) is that, of course, the immigration figures are essentially meaningless. They are calculated by simply subtracting the number of emigrants from the number of immigrants, so if there is a fall in emigration it looks as though there is a spike in immigration, although there isn’t.

Worse still is the fact that many/most immigrants to the UK aren’t really immigrants at all . They are students, who, almost by definition, are eventually going to move home.

In a sane country the only possible debate would be about whether the UK has enough immigrants. We cannot even begin to think about having that debate at the moment. Why not? Well because even more of a no-no than to accept that immigration is a good thing is to accept that the ‘debate’ about immigration isn’t really about immigration at all.

It’s about race.

7

Chris Bertram 08.02.13 at 6:01 pm

Hidari:

Completely unsayable at the moment, in British public discourse, is the idea that immigration is, generally speaking, a good thing …

Since Jonathan Portes did say *exactly this* on Channel 4 News (a very mainstream outlet), the night before last (albeit that Goodhart was shouting him down) shows that “completely unsayable” is an exaggeration.

You can watch the exchange here:

http://goo.gl/j56cim

8

P O'Neill 08.02.13 at 6:43 pm

Incidentally Philip Stephens in FT ($ link) is excellent on the situation (and mirrors many of CB’s points).

9

Philip 08.02.13 at 7:37 pm

I accept that immigration could harm working class British citizens at the moment. But this is due to the low demand and growth in the economy, if there were enough jobs it would not be an issue. This should be the line that Labour push but alas no. They admit to making mistakes on immigration while in in government and don’t want to be seen as being soft. They did make mistakes but should be arguing for a properly funded UKBA so that they can make fair decisions in an efficient and timely manner, but they know they won’t do this if they win the next election. I don’t think I’ll vote in the next election, again.

10

Matt 08.02.13 at 7:37 pm

Thanks for this, Chris. It’s interesting if rather depressing. One thing about even large “random” raids is that, in the US, at least, they have had very little effect of reducing unauthorized migration or reducing the population of unauthorized migrants. But, they did help induce fear, mistrust, and other problems, while being a good bit of theater. I’d be rather surprised if they are more than that in the UK. What’s not clear to me (in the US context) is whether those who favor raids know that they are mostly worthless for achieving their stated policy aims, but do them for the sake of theater, or whether the stated policy aims are not in fact their real ones.

11

Philip 08.02.13 at 7:42 pm

Matt, I don’t see it as being for anything other than show in the UK. It’s the UKBA showing that they are doing something. People assume that the UK is a soft touch and immigration is out of control without understanding the numbers or knowing what immigration is like in other countries. The vans and asking for papers is just a way to get publicity and reassure people.

12

Ronan(rf) 08.03.13 at 1:31 am

I liked this response to the go home campaign

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jul/28/willesden-green-twitter-wind-up-immigrants

Anecdotally (and based only on living in Leicester and London as someone not from the country, so I welcome any pushback) I have to say the thing that always struck me was how well the British ‘system’ (as much as there is one) actually works. How well wave after wave of immigrants have integrated into society, and added to it. How accommodating people have generally been. And how well it plays out in general

How is this Goodhart nonsense (little Somalia, Saudiarabianisation) any different than what has happened historically (Self contained Bangladeshi, Irish, Jewish communities) and why wont the end point be any different? (‘Assimilation’, even if it takes a little longer. – And even if it does take longer that affects no one more than the group coming into the country)

Growing up we had a ‘little Poland’ in my hometown in Ireland, which was little more than an apartment block in town, and was used as shorthand rather than a political statement. I don’t think Goodhart *recognises* the complexity of peoples reactions to these circumstances. I think of the person who overstayed her visa by 4 years when she was the age I am now (not going home to her young daughter, waiting for her country to accede into the EU – that’s how thin the margins are) who ended up being the one non family member who looked after my grandmother in dementia. And I think of the strain taken of this country, consistently, by the opportunities offered (which are highly skewed in our favour) to leave

I *get* peoples problems with immigration, and I empathise, but we have to do better than Goodharts narrative and the endless regurgitation of nonsense that is the global migration debate

13

novakant 08.03.13 at 2:05 am

It pains me to say it, but the root cause of all this is the general attitude of the UK population towards immigration – the press and politicians only give the people what they want :

http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/briefings/uk-public-opinion-toward-immigration-overall-attitudes-and-level-concern

While xenophobia and racism are not to be underestimated as factors, it seems to me that at the heart of it is a deep-seated existential fear and identity crisis. Both are completely irrational but incredibly powerful – Britain needs to see a shrink.

14

nick s 08.03.13 at 3:29 am

I’d be rather surprised if they are more than that in the UK.

I’d posit that the media strategy is actually a form of trolling.

Both are completely irrational but incredibly powerful – Britain needs to see a shrink.

I’ll relay an anecdote from my recent visit to the motherland, in the kind of deep Labour territory where lots of people have parents or grandparents who came from abroad, but are also highly susceptible to Mail-style rhetoric. It was pointed out amid a pub conversation that somebody’s Japanese wife was indeed “one of those immigrants” dealing with the tightening of regulations on ILR, and that shut a few gobs.

At times, post-Enoch, there’s been a sense that the government (regardless of party) has a quiet duty to offset the bitter myopia around immigration, and bring into focus the individual examples and not the abstract hordes. We’re now seeing what happens when that gets tossed.

15

Anarcissie 08.03.13 at 3:35 am

People in the UK are afraid it’s going to go out of existence, or cease to be identifiable?

16

Witt 08.03.13 at 3:52 am

the media narrative is letting it get submerged with the immigration issue, which is important, but very separate.

I strongly disagree. Here in the US, we’ve seen a steady erosion of civil liberties precisely because fear of the Other/immigrants/Muslims/etc after Sept. 11 allowed certain things to become normalized.

(One might even go further and say it was not just “allowed” but pro-actively used to make certain things normal.)

Nothing I have seen or read suggests that the situation in the UK is much different. It is not separate from immigration; it is in fact intimately associated with it. Without the fear-mongering of anti-immigrant sentiment, imposing greater and greater civil liberties violations would be a harder slog (though certainly not impossible).

17

js. 08.03.13 at 5:00 am

Ronan @12:

The linked Guardian article is brilliant. Cheers.

18

Realist 08.03.13 at 6:25 am

@Ronan (12)
Umm–ask an actual Pole about differences between well, Poles and Saudis? Or ask a Croat or Serb about Turks? Not all cultures are the same, contra economists’ models. . . and cultural suicide kinda sucks arse–ask the Romans, and cf. Japan.

19

Tim Worstall 08.03.13 at 7:45 am

Re the several comments about UKIP, papers please, libertarians and all:

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/aug/02/ukip-condemns-home-office-illegal-immigrants

“Farage said: “Spot checks and being demanded to show your papers by officialdom are not the British way of doing things. Yes, of course we want to deal with illegal immigration, but what’s the point of rounding people up at railway stations if at the same time they’re still flooding in through Dover and the other nearly hundred ports in this country.

“I’m astonished that the Home Office has become so politicised that they’re actually advertising ‘another 10 arrested’. Before long they’ll be live video-streaming these arrests. I don’t like it. It really is not the way we’ve ever behaved or operated as a country. We don’t have ID cards; we should not be stopped by officialdom and have to prove who we are.”"

20

novakant 08.03.13 at 7:53 am

In related new: the UK is now officially a client state of the US doing its dirty work:

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/aug/01/nsa-paid-gchq-spying-edward-snowden

21

Mao Cheng Ji 08.03.13 at 7:59 am

“It’s about race.”

IMHO, ‘it’ is not about race. On the contrary: race is about ‘it’.

22

Katherine 08.03.13 at 10:31 am

One of the biggest problems with the immigration ‘debate’ is how quite different issues have got smooshed together. Personally I date a lot of that back to the likes of Anne Widdicome and her ‘bogus asylum’ seekers bullish*t.

The elliding of different categories of migration into a blanket narrative of ‘they are taking advantage of our jobs/healthcare/benefits system’ has had an immensely damaging effect.

23

Ronan(rf) 08.03.13 at 11:04 am

@18
I’m pretty sure most economists include cultural suicide in their models

24

Metatone 08.03.13 at 11:52 am

@Tim Worstall – link to your personal writing on the issue?

25

Barry 08.03.13 at 1:41 pm

Matt @10 – yes, note that 200 raids detained 100 suspect (not actual guilty people, just suspects). This was a PR exercise.

26

john b 08.03.13 at 2:56 pm

Novakant: I think it’s more complicated that. British people fear immigration at least partly because they believe insane and false things about how much of it there is, which is entirely down to the lying media narrative.

27

david 08.03.13 at 3:07 pm

@23

‘Cultural suicide’? Really?

28

engels 08.03.13 at 3:10 pm

29

Tim Worstall 08.03.13 at 3:14 pm

“@Tim Worstall – link to your personal writing on the issue?”

On this very specific issue? I just quoted that this morning and said I agreed with it. On the medium sized issue of ID cards, papers checks in the streets then probably back when ID cards were a live issue. All of which was along the lines of storm Parliament and hang the fuckers for daring to propose such a monstrosity.

On the large issue of immigration I’m an open borders kinda guy. Migration from poor country to rich doesn’t do a great deal of anything to the recipient country, costs and benefits are marginal either way. But it’s obviously just great for the migrant so should be supported for that reason alone.

I am indeed a rabidly froth mouthed right winger but on the Friedmanite wing. Liberty and freedom are the point…….

30

Sam Dodsworth 08.03.13 at 3:18 pm

Katherine@22 One of the biggest problems with the immigration ‘debate’ is how quite different issues have got smooshed together.

Sadly, I think the common factor is that the “different issues” are all just being used as dog-whistles by racists.

31

Ronan(rf) 08.03.13 at 4:31 pm

@ 27 not really. I was responding to @18′s nonsense

32

novakant 08.03.13 at 5:45 pm

#26

I agree that it’s more complicated, it’s a two way process. But there is a reason people don’t care about the facts: they want to believe. Why do they want to believe?

Because they are a.) fundamentally insecure and scared and b.) it’s always nice to have a scapegoat, especially when you feel downtrodden (Brecht has a nice aphorism along those lines, but I can’t remember it right now).

33

leederick 08.03.13 at 6:53 pm

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34

Chris Bertram 08.03.13 at 8:05 pm

Can’t be bothered with trolls who won’t inform themselves about the basic facts. Leederick: permanent ban for you.

35

ajay 08.03.13 at 8:05 pm

the only possible people who might lose out are the white working class,

Hidari, the native British working class isn’t entirely white, far from it in fact, and I don’t think there’s a plausible economic mechanism by which immigration can harm the interests of the working class, but only those members of the working class who are lighter than a certain shade on the Dulux Colour Chart. Other than that, good point.

36

Matt 08.03.13 at 10:11 pm

I don’t think there’s a plausible economic mechanism by which immigration can harm the interests of the working class, but only those members of the working class who are lighter than a certain shade on the Dulux Colour Chart.

Interestingly, studies from the US indicate that the group most likely to suffer an economic set-back by new immigrants are recent immigrants, as those are the people most likely to be directly competing with the new immigrants. (So, sort of the opposite of the original inference that ajay was responding to, if similar things hold for the UK. I’d be surprised if they didn’t.) I think this is most strongly so for “unskilled” immigrants, but there’s some evidence for “skilled” immigrants, too. (Scare quotes are needed because those terms are often defined in rather odd ways in the relevant literature.) This is, of course, about averages and trends, and may be of little comfort to particular people, but it’s averages and trends that policy has to be about, of course.

37

novakant 08.04.13 at 8:20 am

I have no idea what the effect of immigration on the lower end of the social stratum is, or how one would accurately measure it, but my casual observations leads me to believe that the net effect is neutral or positive.

What is however abundantly clear, is the fact that middle and upper class immigrants have an overwhelmingly positive effect on the economy and that the UK in general and London in particular would be in much more serious economic trouble without all the money they generate and bring into the country.

So this whole debate isn’t about immigration at all, it’s a blatantly populist attempt to blame a vulnerable group of people for the malfunctioning of our economy.

38

Matty 08.04.13 at 10:19 am

So this whole debate isn’t about immigration at all, it’s a blatantly populist attempt to blame a vulnerable group of people for the malfunctioning of our economy.

I’m not sure it’s that simple. The government are undeniably nervous about the rise of UKIP and what that represents. My own casual observation is that support for UKIP is related to anti-EU feeling, anti-immigrant feeling and concern about crime. These are seen as issues on which the three main UK parties are overly-similar and out of touch; indeed there seems to be a perception that “problems” with crime and immigration are directly related to British membership of the EU. Whilst I’ve no doubt that the coalition want to reflect anxiety about the economy onto a scapegoat I think it’s over-estimated how much this is actually their choice. The authoritarian treatment of immigrants is arguably less because of our government and more because of the mean-mindedness of our fellow citizens.

39

NomadUK 08.04.13 at 12:32 pm

The authoritarian treatment of immigrants is arguably less because of our government and more because of the mean-mindedness of our fellow citizens.

Then it is government’s responsibility to educate them and correct their stupidity and xenophobia with facts and clear support for the vulnerable.

That they do not do this, but instead support the small-minded, nationalist rabble that have been encouraged to crawl out of the woodwork by the UKIP and the Daily Mail simply shows their true colours.

40

Matty 08.04.13 at 1:07 pm

Then it is government’s responsibility to educate them and correct their stupidity and xenophobia with facts and clear support for the vulnerable.

Why would anyone believe the government’s version of events? It’s the media we’re supposed to rely on to give us a clear picture amidst all the political fog but we’ve got, in the main, a media that is politicised itself and therefore not very interested in facts so much as propagating a point of view (and in the case of a lot of the press, that’s a point of view that reflects the “stupidity and xenophobia” you mention).

41

hix 08.04.13 at 11:56 pm

A requirement to control at workplaces and Universities is very sensible. Best way to deal with illegal immigration. A disagreement with current immigration policies is no excuse to support undermining the rule of law through oppostion to sensible enforcement policies. Peole with a kind of tolerated semi-status are the worst possible world. They undermine labour standards and life themself in a constant staate of tension, where they are unlikely to make any effort to learn the language etc. Unemployment numbers and crude direct net government payment/taxes paid statistics are a pretty lame excuse for a free markets hurray apporach to immigration. First this pretends there are no negative externalities from cultural conflict. Everyone who does not like the kind of adaption stress is just dumb racist in this mindset. All just nice cheap new restaurants for the upper middle class, no problems. Second, it ignores that most problems typically start in the second generation.

” In addition to these policies, there are also proposals to require payment of bonds by “high-risk” visitors from a number of countries such as India, Pakistan and Nigeria (though, tellingly, not from “white Commonwealth” countries or the US).”

Someone spot the third variable that makes this again a sensible policy… But hey racism, better do it like the Americans isntead and annoy everyone for no reason.

42

Barry 08.07.13 at 2:44 pm

“Someone spot the third variable that makes this again a sensible policy… But hey racism, better do it like the Americans isntead and annoy everyone for no reason.”

Unless I’m badly misinformed about airline ticket costs, a whole lot of Aussies and Kiwi’s might not have the cost of airfare back home ( ~2,000 USD?).

And as for annoying everybody for no reason, please see my previous comments about the number of raids and the number of suspects detained.

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