27 Oct

The inconvenient truth about immigration

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CAMBRIDGE – UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has backtracked over comments he made about some parts of the UK becoming ‘swamped’ by migrants if there were no changes to EU rules on free movement.

Faced with the inexorable rise of the eurosceptic political party UKIP, there is renewed urgency among politicians in the main parties to offer answers to the perceived problems of EU membership and uncontrolled immigration – particularly the influx of unskilled economic migrants from Eastern European countries. What might a relational approach to immigration look like?

The phrase ‘no reward without responsibility, no profit without participation’ is one you may have heard in the context of a relational answer to capitalism, but it’s equally apt for immigration. After all, a free market for labour is a core principle of capitalism.

As a society, we are quite happy to accept ‘the brightest and the best’ migrants – those who fill a skills gap, pay for tuition, create jobs or otherwise offer clear economic advantages to us, their host country. The NHS can only function due to its huge number of migrant healthcare professionals. These often come from countries whose own healthcare systems are badly understaffed and underfunded (Malawi being a prime example).

Though we collect the rewards of immigration, we are not so interested in accepting its responsibilities. We are reluctant to welcome those who might prove to be a financial burden in any way. As a culture, we are consumeristic about immigration, as we are about almost everything else: it must work for us.

The national narrative around immigration is of a group of people who come to our country expecting something for nothing. That’s not an accurate picture, but there’s an awkward and ironic truth hidden in that statement: our approach to immigration is one of attracting those who will benefit us, without considering the other side of the coin.

 By Guy Brandon