British government pulls down the shutters

by Chris Bertram on October 31, 2011

Today brings a well-argued critique of the British government’s latest moves on immigration policy by the Matt Cavanagh of the Institute for Public Policy Research (see also video; New Statesman column) . The UK now proposes (subject to a consultation) to make almost all immigration into the UK by non-EU workers temporary, with an upper limit of five years. There are a few exceptions for footballers, Russian oligarchs and others able and willing to deposit millions of pounds in a UK bank account, but even highly-skilled professionals will be kicked out when their time is up. Though hardly the most vulnerable group globally, I imagine this directly affects a substantial number of regular Crooked Timber readers: postgraduates and early-career academics from places like the US and Australia who apply in droves when we advertise permanent academic positions. In the Cameron-Clegg future, there will be no more Jerry Cohens, Ronald Dworkins, Amartya Sens or Susan Hurleys.

What’s driving this is the coalition’s aim of cutting net migration from about 200,000/year to “tens of thousands”. Since they can’t control inward migration by EU nationals, especially from Eastern Europe, and since outward emigration by the British is falling (though that could change) the squeeze is on. Just about the only variable they can do something about is non-EU, they’ve already made things nearly impossible for low and unskilled workers, so now the upper end are facing these restrictions. As Cavanagh argues, despite the coalition’s rhetoric about people with valuable skills, it is doubtful that such people will choose to take jobs in a country which fails to offer them a viable route to settlement and eventual citizenship. Fortunately, as Cavanagh points out, it is unlikely, on the basis of the experience of similar schemes in other countries (such as the German Gastarbeiter programme) than this policy will achieve its stated aims if implemented. It will however lead to a good deal of human misery as well as depriving the UK economy of many people with scarce skills. Ineffective and perverse then: i.e. bad public policy.

A final, more critical, point on Cavanagh’s otherwise excellent report. A policy-oriented think-tank like IPPR is under different constraints from political philosophers like me. I understand that, and what is politically realistic many not chime with what ideal justice requires. But I’d have liked to have seen a little more in the report about what a just global migration regime would look like. As it is, Cavanagh acknowledges the legitimacy of democratic anti-immigration sentiments and objectives and stresses – to counteract them – the economic benefits of admitting highly skilled workers. On the other side, he pushes back against “progressives” who “reflexively” oppose the tightening of controls. But even aside from whether such voices are correct, it seems to me that the moral defence of the rights and interests of would-be migrants can help frame the debate too (and give the Lib Dems, at least, pause) and that it may be a mistake tacitly to concede that the boundaries of acceptable policy discourse are to be set by economic growth and populist anxiety.



ptl 10.31.11 at 5:34 pm

In the Cameron-Clegg future, there will be no more Jerry Cohens, Ronald Dworkins, Amartya Sens or Susan Hurleys.

And no more Bonnie Greers.


ptl 10.31.11 at 5:38 pm

(Yes I know you were talking about professional academics, only, and mention only famous ones. But the potential loss is far greater.)


chris y 10.31.11 at 5:41 pm

Even David Blunkett, of all people, more or less gets it:

Coupled as it is with a terrible demolition job on Britain as the chosen place internationally for higher education, we have a deadly cocktail. Universities are struggling to maintain their intake from UK residents in the aftermath of the government’s decision to triple fees. Students from overseas are being actively discouraged by measures that, far from dealing with bogus colleges and unacceptable practices, create blockages in access to appropriate language and foundation courses designed to facilitate broad entry into higher education.

My father used to say that a consolation of growing old was the knowledge that you’d be dead before it got much worse. I don’t want to have to agree with that.


Matt 10.31.11 at 5:52 pm

I’ve only had time to read the more journalistic version of the paper but a couple of quick thoughts: 1) The comparison w/ the German experience seems at least somewhat strained from what I can tell. It seems to me that this change will mostly effect skilled workers (though maybe that’s not so- the story seemed to suggest it.) But, there’s a lot less chance of getting a situation like the one that developed in German from skilled workers. (Over-stays on H1-B visas isn’t a huge problem in the US, for example, though many who have that visa do eventually get an immigrant visa.) Skilled workers are usually not willing to stay without work authorization, for example. So, I think that part of the story is a bit of a red herring, at least if I understand the proposal correctly.

2) If I understand the proposal correctly, it’s extremely stupid. Skilled immigrants are almost always very significant net fiscal contributors to society, as well as contributing in many other ways, too. They also tend to be young and not use many resources. Discouraging them from coming to one’s country is just foolish. And, this change would surely discourage a fair number from coming. I’d be shocked if the proposed required annual salary for permanent settlement, GBP 150,000/year, wasn’t several times the amount needed for the immigrant to be an expected next fiscal contributor.

3) This is all leaving aside the question of what other sorts of immigration might be a good idea for the UK, or what system might be required by considerations of justice. It’s just a strikingly bad move. I wish I had faith that opponents could see this and take advantage of it, but I’d be surprised if it happened. (I certainly wouldn’t expect that in the US.)


Matt Cavanagh 10.31.11 at 6:21 pm

Chris – thanks – a very fair write-up – and you are right that this policy could well have a big effect on academics and other regular Crooked Timber readers, so I hope it helps to raise awareness of an element of the current government’s reforms which has been a bit neglected so far, with all the focus on reducing immigration at entry (including entry of foreign students, which I imagine will also have a big effect on some CT readers).

As you say, I accept the legitimacy and democratic relevance of anti-immigration sentiment (though I have also been careful to point out that this sentiment is by no means universally negative – for example here:

I also continue to argue, where I can, for the wider contribution that migrants have made and will continue to make, beyond the narrowly economic.

I do think, as you suggest, that accepting the relevance of public views and indeed political views has to be a constraint which a policy-oriented think tank embraces; but I also think all of us should accept that the objective of reducing migration is democratically legitimate, even if we don’t personally agree with it – and can continue arguing against it.

The report makes suggestions for how to mitigate the worst effects of what I think is a badly-designed set of policies for pursuing this this objective – because this is what we believe is likely to be most immediately constructive. But it does also try to set out a less constrained, more straightforwardly progressive approach – on pp 24-26 – outlining a range of policy ideas which ‘go with the flow’ of migrant preferences, i.e., which encourage temporary migration by supporting migrants who want to return home.


Matt Cavanagh 10.31.11 at 6:27 pm

Matt – thanks for the comments. You are right that there is a significant difference between applying this approach to skilled migrants and applying it to lower skilled or unskilled migrants, and the report notes this (at p21), though it argues that such a policy will still have some of the same negative tendencies, even if not to the same degree.

Also from what I understand, there is an issue with overstaying on H1-B. How big that issue is, is harder to work out (for the obvious reasons) but I have seen estimates into the hundreds of thousands. The report discusses H1B among a number of other schemes around the world on pp13-15 and (in relation to return rates in particular) pp 16-17. Some of this detail had to be lost in the article, as I’m sure you will understand.

Finally, you are absolutely right that the £150,000 threshold is several times what is required to be a net fiscal contributor for most migrant workers. As the report sets out (p.13, including n.30) , the median salary for the migrant workers affected by these proposals is around £25,000 – significantly higher than the national average – and while it is hard to generalise about fiscal contribution given number of dependents and so on, for most, this level of income is comfortably enough to make a net positive fiscal contribution.


Philip 10.31.11 at 6:50 pm

Matt, I think it’s closing down settlement for all people with a work visa, skilled or not. I think the unskilled work route at the moment but I don’t know how many people are here already with tier 3 visas. It will be important who these changes to apply to e.g. are people who are already here exempt and will it depend on how long they’ve been in the UK?

This government just seems to be focussing on reducing immigration without justifying why or considering the affect of how they do it. The new rules on student immigration are a mess for example they brought in 11 month student visitor visa for students on English Language programmes instead of writing allowances into the tier 4 guidance, so now they will not be subject to the controls in the points based system but won’t count in official immigration statistics. I hope this is just posturing from the government and something saner will be brought in so that the Lib-Dems can claim a ‘victory’.

From the NS article: ‘Finally, will the proposals enjoy public support? The government is in danger of ending up with that rare thing: a ‘tough’ immigration policy which isn’t actually popular, as confirmed by a recent survey of public attitudes. People want to see overall immigration reduced, but are fairly positive about the categories of immigration where the government is making the big reductions – students and skilled workers – and people also tend to believe that migrants who work hard and play by the rules should be given the chance to stay.’ This is an example of what really annoys me about public discussion of immigration. I suspect most people would be in favour of a system that A) attracts people who contribute to society and B) allows genuine asylum seekers, there will be debate on how to decide on A and B should be decided efficiently ad fairly, but I hardly ever see these thing discussed in public discourse.


Matt 10.31.11 at 6:50 pm

Thanks for the remarks, Matt Cavanagh- that’s very useful. I’ll hope to look at the full report when I have more time. (I did think the shorter one was quite well done for the space and placement, by the way- it’s hard to talk clearly about complicated policy matters in short spaces for fairly general audiences. )


Philip 10.31.11 at 7:15 pm

I just looked at the report, and it recommends that as a minimum the changes should take effect from April 2012 not 2011 so the unskilled workers route shouldn’t really matter. Matt Cavanagh the report also states immigrants can no longer meet the knowledge of life in the uk requirement through an ESOL + citizenship course. The UKBA website says you can still do this. Is this the UKBA website out of date or have the changes not come into effect yet? Sorry to go off topic but I’m interested as I work with ESOL students.


Gene O'Grady 10.31.11 at 7:33 pm

Hard to imagine where British classical scholarship would be without a line of immigrants from Eduard Fraenkel and Rudolf Pfeiffer through Moses Finley.


vavatch 10.31.11 at 9:20 pm

200,000 people a year is 20 million over the course of a century. When you include children of immigrants, you’re looking at blasting the population of the UK past 100 million and radically changing the make up and composition of the country. “Aborigines” in the UK have a perfect right to decide what sort of long term future they want for their country. Perhaps they choose to shun some short term economic “dynamism” because they’re thinking a bit longer term than the next few years.

I know plenty of skilled workers in the UK who suffer downward pressures on their wages because corporations like to talk up “skill shortages” then import cheap foreign labour. Somehow I suspect there’s a trade off between the prosperity and incomes of existing inhabitants, and those of incomers.

But this blog becomes all right wing when immigration is mentioned. All of a sudden labour protectionism is evil, trade (of labour) the highest good, and lots of arguments about short term economic dynamism as the major good emerge.


Marc 10.31.11 at 9:30 pm

@11: People don’t live forever. People also leave the country, and not all immigrants stay. The US has consistently dealt with an immigrant fraction of about 10 – 12%, so it’s entirely possible to do so. And the particular point here is about tens of thousands of skilled immigrants, not tens of millions of unskilled ones (I agree with you on the logical consequences of the latter for working-class citizens.) Adding skilled students, however, is very different; stopping that is foolish.


Watson Ladd 10.31.11 at 10:01 pm

Marc, does having more babies hurt the poor as well?


Philip 10.31.11 at 10:29 pm

@ Vavatch: ‘I know plenty of skilled workers in the UK who suffer downward pressures on their wages because corporations like to talk up “skill shortages” then import cheap foreign labour. ‘

I’d like yo to show causality there. During New Labour there was rising real wages and high levels of immigration. Also I would have thought any pressure on wages would have come from EU immigration then maybe abuse of inter-company transfers where people are less likely to apply for settlement. At the moment pressures on real wages is coming from low growth and high inflation more than immigration.


mpowell 10.31.11 at 10:43 pm

This is pretty stupid. You want to cut the number of immigrants. Okay. But the largest pool you can’t touch (EU members). You’ve already cut non-skilled non-EU immigration. So now you go after skilled EU immigration. Except that skilled immigrants are the ones you want! Getting the headline number down serves no purpose if the only way you accomplish that is by limiting the immigration that benefits you financially. Very silly move by the government.


Tim Wilkinson 10.31.11 at 10:53 pm

Somehow I suspect there’s a trade off between the prosperity and incomes of existing inhabitants, and those of incomers.

I don’t think it can sensibly be denied that this is at least a possibility which would be attendant on unrestricted immigration, particularly where unskilled labour is concerned.

On a rhetorical level, we see this from the right when they observe eastern europeans (pssst! the most highly motivated, hard-working, enterprising, often young and single or childless – possibly cheaper as employees because foreign?) doing the jobs the lazy natives won’t do, especially during the latest upsurge in idleness. (Hostility to more desperate and compliant immigrant labour thus overlaps with resentment of overly hard workers giving the time-and-motion men a reason to increase targets.)

This is that ‘in-country’ v ‘global’ inequality business.

Are we going to see equalisation of wages (and of inequality) across the world, so that to some extent poverty is imported to the developed world? Or do we resist downward pressure on wages, even if that means resisting the pressing claims to economic asylum of poor immigrants, perhaps on the grounds that the setback to the working class in general will never be recovered from, to the detriment of all workers; or because the priority is to press back against the global ruling class, which requires a less immiserated (and less profitable) working class?


Watson Ladd 10.31.11 at 11:26 pm

Pushing back against the ruling class demands an international working class, that sees itself as fighting for the workers of the world, not the workers of each particular country. The capitalist class is already global.


Matt Cavanagh 10.31.11 at 11:50 pm

All – thanks for your interest and comments. A few specific replies below.

Matt (8) – thanks. It was tough trying to cover the proposals, a sense of why people should care about them, what’s wrong with them, and some idea of the alternatives, all in 1000 words…!

Philip (9) – my understanding was that this change had already come in in April this year, and I am usually pretty reliable, but you should perhaps double check before you advise anyone whose future depends on it!

Vavatch (11) – many economists argue there is no evidence that immigration exerts any downward pressure on wages. I am not an economist (other than having done half an undergraduate degree in the subject 20 years ago) but I have never been so sure, and Nickell et al (2008) found a small negative at the lower end of the wage and skill distribution which as they say “accords well with intuition and anecdote”:

It is, however, small; and doesn’t really apply at the level of the kind of migrant workers we are discussing here (it applies most, to migrant workers coming from Eastern Europe, which the government cannot do anything about).
Second, I don’t think anyone is seriously suggesting that the UK population is going to go past 100m, for a number of reasons (including that the birth rate of international migrants tends to conform over time to their new fellow citizens, in the same way that the birth rate of rural-urban migrants tends to conform over time to their new neighbours). Also what Marc (12) said.

Philip (14) – “During New Labour there was rising real wages and high levels of immigration.” Sadly (I speak as a former Labour adviser 2003-10) this is not quite true. Real wages at the lower end of the distribution rose 1997-2002, but were pretty stagnant after that (see the work of the Resolution Foundation and others). Immigration rose steadily from 1997 until 2004, and then flattened off. I guess that, given that, some will still try to construct an argument for causality (based on lags, etc) but if you look around the world, it seems pretty clear that the stagnation of real wages at the lower end of the distribution was due to other causes – it happened earlier in the US, and didn’t really coincide with immigration patterns there.

Mpowell (15). Exactly. See for example:


Adam 11.01.11 at 12:46 am


“It is, however, small; and doesn’t really apply at the level of the kind of migrant workers we are discussing here”

It would seem to apply more to the workers you are considering here. Consider the question of skilled immigration in terms of Porter’s five competitive forces (established competitors, customers, supplier, potential entrants, substitute offerings).

Established competitors: differs by industry, but I’m sure that:
1) Competitors are of roughly similar capabilities (people are largely peers)
2) Industry growth is slow (labor market sucks)
3) Exit costs are high (people can’t recoup time and money investment in training)
4) People have non-monetary reasons for being in the profession.
These are all factors that intensify competition and reduce market power.

Customers: The skilled seller of there labor already has very little leverage versus their customers – there are many like situated people selling their labor and there are relatively few buyers. Again, this is a situation that reduces the market power of the skilled laborer.

Suppliers: Those that provide training and creditials to would-be skilled labors are in a position to charge a ridiculous amount of money for their products. For example, a private professional school in the US typically costs 40K per year to attend. I think that sum speaks to the market power of the supplier.

Which brings us to the role of the skilled immigrant:

Threat of market entry: Nothing will reduce market power like the possibility of the customer being able to use scabs.

Substitutes: Why use existing skilled labor when you can just import your own?

The funny this about this is that Porter’s 5 forces would predict that, given the destruction of unions and rise of immigration, all of the innovation that has increased labor productivity in the past thirty years would be captured by those that buy labor. That is exactly what happened.


Soru 11.01.11 at 1:08 am

Perhaps we should get some gastarbeiters in to work in the banking sector, providing they promise to only destroy 10 billion, and only take a 4 million bonus.

That would seem to be a pretty large net economic gain.


sg 11.01.11 at 5:29 am

One possible good outcome of this: Africa will get its doctors back. Currently the NHS is hoovering them up, but maybe with 5 year restrictions on their work they’ll return sooner (or not go).

Of course, that’s not going to be a good point for the NHS. If only there were a way they could train more doctors locally …


Chris Bertram 11.01.11 at 6:51 am

I learn of more worrying implications via my FB feed, again academic-related. Suppose you are a non-EU person who got a permanent job in a UK university 4 years ago. You’d normally expect to able to apply for (and get) permanent residence next year. Suppose, however you had been granted a period of research leave and had spent part of that time in the United States ….. Oh dear, reset clock, new rules, end of job and possibly career when 5 years are up. Matt C, please tell us this is incorrect!


Walt 11.01.11 at 7:41 am

Unfortunately, the facts don’t bear out your theory, Adam. The wages of the highly skilled have continued to rise with productivity. It’s everyone else who’s gotten screwed.


Emma in Sydney 11.01.11 at 9:10 am

Never mind Chris B. After 5 years in the UK, cultural cringe will ensure they will get a tenured job in Australia.


Brett Bellmore 11.01.11 at 10:43 am

“This is pretty stupid. You want to cut the number of immigrants.”

Well, there’s your problem, right there; If this is anything at all like US immigration politics, “you”, (The person making the policy.) don’t want to cut the number of immigrants. You’re just forced to make a gesture to public opinion, because the public wants to cut the number of immigrants, and you have to look like you care what the public thinks.

The public, rationally, wants a reduction in the number of immigrants who compete with them, lowering their wages, and maintained immigration by people who will lower the cost of expensive services. That is to say, less unskilled immigration, more skilled immigration.

However, those making the policy want the exact opposite, because skilled immigrants compete with them and their peers, while unskilled immigrants provide cheap lawn cutting and nanny services. So those making the policy make policy favorable to themselves, pretending all the while to be giving the public what it wants.

It’s not actually stupid once you realize what the people making the policy are trying to do.


Chris Bertram 11.01.11 at 11:02 am

_those making the policy want the exact opposite, because skilled immigrants compete with them and their peers_

I’m sure that David Cameron filled with anxiety about the prospect of Sarah Palin relocating to the UK and running against him Brett. Now please troll elsewhere.


J. Otto Pohl 11.01.11 at 11:03 am

Well even if the UK doesn’t want skilled immigrants other countries do. The history department of the University of Ghana has hired four foreigners in the last year. All of them notably from non-Eu countries, three Americans and a Norwegian. They also got back a few Ghanaians from the US. I suspect for things like historians that there will be an increasing reverse brain drain as job prospects in the US continue to get worse. Educated Africans I have talked to seem to think that this is great. Working in Ghana is a pretty good deal overall.


Barry 11.01.11 at 11:03 am

Walt 11.01.11 at 7:41 am

” Unfortunately, the facts don’t bear out your theory, Adam. The wages of the highly skilled have continued to rise with productivity. It’s everyone else who’s gotten screwed.”

Have they?


Jonathan 11.01.11 at 11:11 am

OK, but I am concerned that debates over immigration are being skewed by those with the most powerful voices here – roughly speaking the richest since the focus here is on highly skilled and educated often working for leading companies [1]. I have no wish to defend the British govt here, but the debate is getting distorted. I also find the arguments made by leading companies (and their supporters in think tanks and academia) against restrictions on high skilled immigration utterly implausible. Mostly these are companies who tell us just how competitive it is to get to work from them. They can recruit not just from the UK, but the whole of the EU which has a large pool of highly educated labour. As multinationals they can outsource operations – skilled ones, not just low end activities – use the whole panoply of modern communications. To claim that they would be held back by restrictions on high skilled immigration on non-EU internationals is simply not plausible. There is a mobile transnational elite; debates and policy on immigration should not be skewed by their interests.

1. Apart from the likes of Bonnie Greer, since – astonishingly – I infer #1 is serious; apparently we need open doors for those capable of sitting on a studio sofa and making not very insightful comments about the week’s events in the arts.


Brett Bellmore 11.01.11 at 11:20 am

Chris, that’s not what I was suggesting, and I think you know it. The question is, who are David Cameron’s peers, as he sees it? And what sort of immigrant is likely to compete with them, as opposed to lowering their costs?


ptl 11.01.11 at 11:50 am

1. Apart from the likes of Bonnie Greer, since – astonishingly – I infer #1 is serious; apparently we need open doors for those capable of sitting on a studio sofa and making not very insightful comments about the week’s events in the arts.

Yes, I was serious. But I’m not sure Bonnie Greer came here on a skilled worker visa. And unlike you, I don’t watch Newsnight Review; it isn’t, though it has some good panellists, a very good programme. I would though like to see you argue a case for Susan Hurley (RIP) having made a more valuable contribution to this country than Bonnie Greer, playwright, writer, critic, Trustee of the British Museum. (But I won’t hold my breath.)

It is though time for me to come out and say, I believe in open doors.


ptl 11.01.11 at 11:51 am

Just to add that my 2. was also serious.


ajay 11.01.11 at 12:19 pm

In the Cameron-Clegg future, there will be no more Jerry Cohens, Ronald Dworkins, Amartya Sens or Susan Hurleys.

Or, rather, there will be exactly as many but they’ll be in other countries. As they are now. Dworkin? New York. Sen? Harvard.


Chris Bertram 11.01.11 at 12:24 pm

Well that’s sort of true ajay, unless you think that their experience of the UK shaped them in some important way (which it very plausibly did for some cases). Dworkin is certainly still a permanent resident (at least) as he’s part of the Grayling Towers project. What I meant, of course (as you know perfectly well) is that UK academia will be impoverished by the absence of such people. This will also have the effect that more of the best British academics will prefer to be located where those people are located, leading to still further decline.


Keith 11.01.11 at 12:28 pm

An aspect of this is how right wing the formerly Liberal party has become. I think the word Liberal should be removed from the Lib Dem party name as I really cannot see by what measure they qualify to use it any more!


Alex 11.01.11 at 1:04 pm

since outward emigration by the British is falling

Give them time.


Watson Ladd 11.01.11 at 1:43 pm

Jonathan, even with modern communications location still matters. Letting skilled immigrants immigrate places the biggest companies and the smallest on a level playing field. Furthermore, do you want someone paying taxes in Britain or some other country if you are British?


ajay 11.01.11 at 1:50 pm

What I meant, of course (as you know perfectly well) is that UK academia will be impoverished by the absence of such people.

Yes, I know. That’s why I said “there will be exactly as many but they’ll be in other countries”.

Not quite so sure about the implication that Sen wouldn’t have been just as good a Sen if he’d studied at Princeton instead, though.


Adam 11.01.11 at 2:11 pm

@Watson Ladd

Those are rather bad arguments. It’s not clear how letting “letting immigrants immigrate” has anything to do with competition between large and small businesses. Furthermore, there is no obvious nexus linking competition between large and small businesses and the individual well-being of skilled labor in Britain.

Likewise, the argument concerning taxes will not impress anyone whose losses from competition exceeds their share of any increase in tax revenue. I suspect that the overwhelming majority of people fall into that group.


Let’s be friends. We can agree that immigration disadvantages those forced to compete with the immigrants. There is no need to create and fastidiously police a hierarchy of oppression.


guthrie 11.01.11 at 2:19 pm

This may sound a bit silly, but if the net effect is a reduction in skilled migrants, is the government putting money into training unskilled or semi-skilled Britons to take up the slack?


Watson Ladd 11.01.11 at 2:53 pm

adam. a big buisness can lobby and deal with whatever hoops are in its way. A small one cannot. Also, should we be against pregnancy to avoid competition for wages? If not, then why be against immigration?


Chris Bertram 11.01.11 at 3:17 pm

_Not quite so sure about the implication that Sen wouldn’t have been just as good a Sen if he’d studied at Princeton instead, though._

No such implication. I said the experience of being in the UK shaped them in important ways. They would have been different, not necessarily better or worse, though see Cohen’s methodological remarks at the beginning of RJE for some definite evidence of UK-specific influence.


Chris Bertram 11.01.11 at 3:18 pm

_This may sound a bit silly, but if the net effect is a reduction in skilled migrants, is the government putting money into training unskilled or semi-skilled Britons to take up the slack?_

Not so far as university teaching is concerned it isn’t, anyway.


Tim Wilkinson 11.01.11 at 3:33 pm

#41 Being ‘against pregnancy’ is a deliberately odd way of putting it, but a moment’s actual thought would remind one that concerns about high birth rates leading to overpopulation (i.e. competition for resources, including jobs) are not exactly unheard of, and are associated with campaigns for sex education and contraception, etc.


Troll 11.01.11 at 4:51 pm

[aeiou] Love it when liberals call for an international working class, meaning one that internationally steps out of the picket line and lets blacklegs through. A real international working class would respect international closed shops.


Matt Cavanagh 11.01.11 at 4:56 pm

“is the government putting money into training unskilled or semi-skilled Britons to take up the slack?”

No. Further to what Chris said about HE, the govt isn’t really putting more money into any part of education/training. To a large extent this is driven by the overall cuts in public spending. Not my area, but I’m pretty sure that the only growth areas even in relative terms (i.e., relative to an overall shrinking envelope) are free schools / pupil premium, which isn’t really directly relevant here, and apprenticeships – which should be relevant, but there is emerging evidence suggesting that a lot of the so-called apprenticeships are just existing jobs which have been badged as apprenticeships.


SamChevre 11.01.11 at 5:22 pm

On the issue of university professors specifically–is the situation in Great Britain very extremely different than the one in the US? Because here, there are far more PhD’s than jobs available.


Michael Mouse 11.01.11 at 5:33 pm

I worry Alex @36 is on to something. (“outward emigration by the British is falling. / Give them time.”)

Having a net migration target is deeply worrying. As people have pointed out, it’s not possible to control by far the largest flow of people in to the UK (from elsewhere in the EU). So the only other variable you can control is the flow of people out of the UK. How could you do that? Well, perhaps by introducing policies that make it more and more intolerable to live there.

Hmm. I do hope I haven’t accidentally stumbled on their cunning plan.


cian 11.01.11 at 5:46 pm

To step back from all the arguments for a moment, what exactly is the political constituency they’re trying to please here. Because over the years I’ve heard all kind of rants about immigration, but I have almost never heard somebody complain about skilled workers coming here (occasionally overpaid computer contracters – but even there its rare). The inverse if anything. Similarly, I’ve never once anyone complain about foreign students.

On the NHS. Presumably the drain of doctors back to Africa is a feature, rather than a bug, given the Dept of Health seems to spend all its time these days releasing claims about how the NHS is failing. One more way to make it fail. After all, we’ll need far fewer doctors once we go down the American route.


Curmudgeon 11.01.11 at 8:53 pm


Population growth from any source–births or immigration–is only desirable as long as fiscal and monetary policy allows the economy to grow fast enough for an expanding population to have access to employment, suitable public infrastructure, and adequate public services. Given the last thirty years of economic mismanagement, disinvestment in public infrastructure and malinvestment in public services in the UK, the latter criteria have certainly not been met.

Better government and population growth would, in an ideal world, be the best option for all. Realistically, however, it’s much easier to build a political consensus around net zero population growth than around such radical ideas as allowing real wage increases for the bottom 99% or expanding the transportation network to cope with an expanding population. Net zero is least bad option available.

Of course, banning migration of skilled workers will have so little impact on population growth to be silly on the face of it as far as seeking net zero population growth is concerned.


Watson Ladd 11.01.11 at 8:55 pm

Tim, just because people think something doesn’t mean something is true. People are the ultimate resource. They do not simply provide labor power but create new ways to use it, even if it simply to feed themselves.

cian, I think it is the nativists. Working class racism isn’t just about rival members of the working class, but the rich become identified with the others who arrive because of capitalism. But yes, this is not just economic interest but ideology.


Hidari 11.01.11 at 9:24 pm

‘To step back from all the arguments for a moment, what exactly is the political constituency they’re trying to please here. ‘

Well it couldn’t possibly be the political constituency that psephologists sometimes refer to as ‘the racist political constituency.’ I mean, perish the thought. Whoever heard of a racist Conservative?


Thom Brooks 11.01.11 at 10:33 pm

The problems for UK higher education are most worrying. If UK universities wish to hire someone who is from a non-EU country, then there are several important constraints including quotas (even in single digits) in addition to ever increasing sponsorship fees. The fees for permanent resident rise almost annually – it is now over £1,100. Plus, potential permanent residents must pass a citizenship test (or pass ESOL) – but citizenship will remain at least one year and another approx. £850ish (plus avg 6 month wait for a decision). So the barriers are already up. The problem is that what was difficult, but possible, is about to become all but impossible for most academics I know. Furthermore, many are surprised to learn that all these years I’ve been paying my full share of tax, but permanent residents (or those on temporary visas) have no recourse to public funds: we can only pay into the system.

What is desperately required is a serious and informed debate about the true state of affairs. The more people learn the facts about immigration (both the numbers and the existing regulations), the more people become less hostile to non-EU immigration.


sg 11.02.11 at 1:14 am

cian, the constituency they’re trying to please is people like my dad who are firmly anti-immigration – the lower working class. But the govt don’t want to or can’t touch the main source of immigration – the EU – so they’re going for the ones they can touch.

I think this means they’re way out of touch with the “concerns” of their “constituency” because the ranting you hear every day about immigration in Britain is firmly and clearly aimed at the EU: Poles, Irish, travellers, and the general pale and shifty mass of Eastern Europe who’re coming over and stealing our jobs while they go on the dole, and can’t be deported because they own a cat. Or something.

Fortunately for Cameron this constituency is very stupid and will happily believe the Tories have done something, and that all the Eastern Europeans are the fault of Labour. Or something.


Tom Hurka 11.02.11 at 2:40 am

Canada, with a population just over half the UK’s, admits about 250,000 immigrants per year. This policy has general public support; there’s certainly no strong opposition to it. Mind you, Canada has long tried to favour skilled over unskilled immigrants.

One reason for the policy is demographic. With the large baby boom cohort (including me!) approaching retirement and the birth rate much lower than it used to be, there will in future be a smaller number of workers supporting a larger number of retirees. Since immigrants tend to have larger families, admitting large numbers of them is one way of addressing that demographic challenge.

What’s the demographic situation in the UK? Is there also an ageing population? If so immigrants, or rather their children, may be needed in the future to support that population.


Jonathan Monroe 11.02.11 at 12:57 pm

There are several sources of anti-immigrant feeling in the UK. Roughly speaking, there are:
1) Old-school racists who don’t like dark-skinned people
2) New-school racists who don’t like Muslims
3) Working class people who feel they are in a zero-sum competition with (mostly Polish) immigrants for jobs
4) People who feel they are in a zero-sum competition with (mostly Pakistani and Bangladeshi) immigrants for government money
5) NIMBYs who think (correctly) that the UK’s housing stock and infrastructure are overstretched, but oppose building more (think Simon Jenkins)
6) Right-wing (or hipocritical) greens who want to keep poor people poor to save the planet, and think that keeping them out of the UK helps achieve this (think Zac Goldsmith)
7) People who are outraged by the systemic incompetence of UK immigration policy and practice, but may not have strong views on the substantive issue of who to let in

Groups 5 and 6 are key Tory constituencies. The numerical target is for them, and the proposed policy is the only way to be seen to do something towards hitting it given the restrictions on what can be done quickly and without creating media-friendly sob stories.


Thom Brooks 11.02.11 at 1:07 pm

This is exactly right, Tom: there is an ageing population in the UK and a growing problem of who will be around to provide support for that population. This is one of many important issues that has not been addressed thus far.

While I think the level of political debate is better in general here than in my native United States (yes, this may not be saying much), “immigration” is one of the few issues where there has been far more heat than light, a place politicians (appear to) fear to tread. This needs to change. And fast.


Barry 11.02.11 at 1:41 pm


” This may sound a bit silly, but if the net effect is a reduction in skilled migrants, is the government putting money into training unskilled or semi-skilled Britons to take up the slack?”

Of course not. The reason, of course, is that there is no shortage of even highly-skilled labor to the point where it inconveniences the elites.


ptl 11.02.11 at 2:43 pm

57 various people and groups have been trying to raise the issue of the effect of immigration restrictions on social care.

(This is simply the first Google hit I got; sorry.)

In my darker moments, I feel the Tories know they have the answer: social care budgets are being cut anyway, so, no vacancies; and workfare will do the rest.

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