With some polls now placing the nationalist UK Independence Party as the third most popular political party in Britain and certain media outlets reporting the end of transitional controls with a level of sensationalism, there seems to be a strong public opinion from the British public against immigration. Whilst I have nothing against this political stand-point I have become somewhat irked at some of the claims and viewpoints that have emerged on the back of increased immigration into the country.
The first wild claim that seems to be spreading around the country is that Britain is a destination for those who wish to take advantage of an over generous welfare system. There are a number of issues with this statement; the first is that moving to this country solely to claim benefits is not as simple as many seem to believe. Whether an EU citizen or not, immigration to this country is only permitted if proof is given that a job, a place to study, or marriage, is awaiting any potential persons hoping to come to Britain. Immigrants must provide evidence that they can support themselves and won’t be relying on the welfare state when they arrive in the country.
Aside from these border controls, there are restrictions on the benefit system itself-claims that immigrants from the EU move here and are on job seekers allowance and are living in council housing from day one are beyond false and ridiculous. Immigrants cannot gain access to the welfare system until they’ve been living in the country for at least three months, and while this time scale isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, it lays waste to the belief that immigrants simply get off a coach and walk into a job centre. On top of this, Cameron has plans to extend this three-month restriction to a full year.
There is already a full year restriction on immigrants gaining access to many public services, and even despite these restrictions, this report conducted on immigration from the so called “Accession Eight” countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Slovenia) showed that immigrants are 60% less likely to receive state benefits or tax credits than native Britons. Other simple statistics also rubbish claims of the immigrant benefit scrounger. For example, of the 892,000 citizens in the country that came from A8 countries, less than 13,000 claim JSA. More information from the aforementioned study provides more reasoning why EU membership and immigration from the EU should be celebrated rather than shunned, the most significant of which is the fact that in the year of the study (2008-09) citizens from A8 countries contributed 37% more in direct or indirect taxes than they received in public goods and services. In comparison to this, native Britons pay in 20% less to the taxman than they took out through public goods and services. Furthermore, another statistic that might surprise some is that of those from the A8 countries that reside in Britain, 35.5% of them were in education until they were 21, this compares to just a 17.1% of native Britons. Demonstrating how citizens from A8 countries are attractive to employers.
However, aside from the effects of immigration to Britain of EU citizens, there are a number of other factors to consider. One of these factors is that EU migration is a two way street, a two way street that many in Britons partake in themselves.
The latest Home Office statistics shows that 136,000 citizens emigrated from Britain to another EU country in 2010, over the same time frame 156,000 EU citizens came into Britain; this resulted in a net migration of just 20,000 thanks to our EU membership. Weighing up this net migration data in comparison to the wider picture shows that (in the case of 2010) Britain being an EU member state resulted in just 8% net migration, as the overall figure for that year was 252,000.
This raises other questions about where the majority of immigrants really come from. Thanks to migration from the EU reaching near moral panic levels it’s easy to assume that most citizens arriving to the UK are from the Union, but that’s simply not true. Latest figures in fact show that non-EU citizens made up 58% of immigrants coming into Britain last year.
In terms of reasons for coming into the country the biggest influx remains to study- with the latest figures showing that 232,000 of the 566,000 immigrants came into the country to study, meaning their stay would be short term.
The end of transitional controls on Bulgaria and Romania seems to have a lot of people up in arms, comparing the situation to Poland in 2004. A massive difference between the two cases is the fact that January will see the entirety of Europe open to Bulgarians and Romanians, as it was written into their membership in the EU to defer full migration rights until 2014. In comparison when Polish workers were permitted to come here in 2004, it was Britain who had set up the restrictions, so it was only Britain that became open to them. This means that any Bulgarians and Romanians that choose to emigrate will have a massive choice as to where they go. Current figures show that Spain and Italy attract 80% of Romanian emigrants, and when transitional restrictions are lifted it could well be these destinations that see the biggest influx. It may also be worth noting that 130,000 immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria are already living and working in Britain, it is not as though they’ve been completely unable to get here up to now.
Finally, whilst on the subject of migration to other EU countries, I’d like to point out that Britain isn’t the most active EU country in terms of net migration by a long shot. Over the same five-year period (2008-2012) the UK saw net migration of 1,020,211, this compares to 1,998,926 for Italy and 2,250,005 for Spain. Now I’d like to reiterate a point I have long made, that I appreciate any opinion on politics, I just feel that the bandwagon of immigration bashing is becoming a bit overcrowded. What’s personally worrying is that it’s becoming overcrowded by those who don’t know the whole picture and tend to make wild assumptions and digest bit parts of information to form an opinion.
Personally I can’t see, especially with the figures presented here, how anyone can claim that immigration from the EU is and will be detrimental, and I fear for the country if Britain’s EU membership does go to a referendum. Even with immigration aside, economically and politically speaking pulling out of the EU now would be massively detrimental to Britain. I appreciate that immigration of EU citizens isn’t all perfect and rosy, there are some bad apples that get into the country that shouldn’t, but surely the benefits of immigration outweigh these rare occurrences that are so quickly jumped on by certain arms of the press?
By James Read
I’ve tried to present the latest data available in this article and most statistics came from ONS or Home Office reports.