Immigration: reality and perception (2010)

The debate on immigration is as heated as ever, but is mainly based on false premises and mistakenly seen as separate from the wider socio-historical context of migration. The reality of data greatly differs from the way the issue is presented by politicians and the media, and perceived by the general public. This is due to a combination of social and political factors that I want to highlight.
Moreover, one of the key features of the 21st century is the fast population growth in developing countries, while that of the developed world is ageing. At the same time travel and communications are easier and cheaper, and trade is on a truly global scale. These elements combined will inevitably result in an increased movement of people around the world and the current legislation will become dramatically inadequate to face the new challenges.

I would argue that fantasies are being debated while real problems remain unaddressed.
Migration is far more complex than it’s commonly thought, I maintain that protectionist policies are misguided, and a shift in attitude, including global, long-term strategies, are essential and urgently required to guarantee that migration will be managed intelligently, turning problems into opportunities.


David Blunkett opened his 2002 White Paper on immigration [1] with wise words that contrast with the policies implemented during his term in office:

There is nothing more controversial, and yet more natural, than men and women from across the world seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Ease of communication and of transportation have transformed the time it takes to move across the globe. This ease of movement has broken down traditional boundaries. Yet the historic causes of homelessness, hunger or fear – conflict, war and persecution – have not disappeared. That is why economic migration and the seeking of asylum are as prevalent today as they have been at times of historic trauma.

Meanwhile the press has repeatedly used populist language to paint a detrimental picture of immigrants. Examples of journalistic finesse include the Daily Star reporting that donkeys were being stolen in Enfield by Somali communities who were eating them. The Sun reported that East Europeans were eating ducks from the ponds, and then followed on with “Now they are eating our fish.” and also “Family in shock after finding 12 Kosovan illegal immigrants living in attic”.

Hostility towards immigrants fuelled by the media isn’t new and has been widely documented (Hartmann and Husband, 1974 – Björgo and Witte 1993). The perception of immigration has traditionally been negative in the receiving countries; it is often early immigrants who are most fiercely opposed to new arrivals. Some reasons are easily understood, principally the fear of competition for work, housing and resources, however, there are more subtle psychological reasons too, and these are too often exploited by governments and politicians for reasons that are not justifiable in democratic societies.

Facchini and Mayda published in 2008 an interesting study on the “median pro-immigration public opinion” covering Europe and the US. The study highlighted how an overwhelming majority opposes immigration. The report also raises a legitimate doubt: is the public conditioning politics or are politicians and media shaping public opinion?
Polls always show immigration at the top of the list of causes for society’s problems. People, across social classes and countries, blame immigration for lack of work and housing, for violence, criminality and waste of taxpayers’ money, and this doesn’t seem to relate directly to periods of high or low immigration.
These perceptions are the result of education (or lack of), the way in which immigration is portrayed by the media, the language chosen by official government bodies and the use politicians make of the issue, given its high voting value.

Leaving aside moral and ethical reasons, these mis-perceptions have detrimental effects on society’s cohesion and effectively create the problem they claim to address, while exacerbating others; a pragmatic approach would suggest the need to redress this unbalance.

The fundamental truth is that migration is an essential component of societies’ evolution and its effects are overall positive. This does not mean that migration doesn’t present challenges, but the long term benefits deriving from the free movement of people are well worth the effort of finding sensible solutions.
Living in the UK one has the impression that the nation suffers from mass amnesia. Politicians, people and the media alike talk about Britain being invaded by hordes of immigrants and her culture vanishing under their heels. One wonders how the British could possibly have forgotten that their country has been the greatest invader history has known, the one whence whole sections of population migrated (or were deported) to colonize and conquer the four corners of the globe, always modifying and often destroying the cultures and people they invaded.
This loss of memory deeply taints all efforts to deal with immigration to the UK in any coherent fashion.

The homogeneity of any population is an unsubstantiated myth. The widespread popular perception of “original people”, once the preserve of right wing politicians and the least educated sections of society, currently resurfaces across the whole spectrum of media and politics. This constantly repeated myth becomes an accepted reality, and not many seem to question the actual facts. No nation is populated by one original kind of people. Due to their isolation Siberian and Alaskan Eskimo or the Pygmies of Papua New Guinea may claim a homogeneity that goes some way back in history, but the vast majority of the world’s population results from a continuous migratory and cross-breeding process, an essential component of human evolution.

The issues concerning migration need to be addressed on an international scale, and this is one of the areas where the best efforts have so far failed. The European Union has attempted EU-wide solutions over time, but the local interests of individual nations have always prevailed or contributed to dilute effective policies.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights defined the right to free and safe movement for all people.[2] The letter of the law is clear, however, it leaves much open to interpretation and doesn’t prescribe any obligation for countries to accept those who seek asylum or migrate in search of better living and working condition. Much of the legislation that has developed after the declaration of Human Rights has been intended to allow countries to limit these freedoms and make migration more difficult. (Hayter 2004)

Since the 1957 Treaty of Rome[3] the history of the EU is marked by a steady path towards the abolition of intra-national restrictions. The legislation concerning migration evolved continuously, with the treaties of Shengen and Maastricht being major steps towards establishing common principles and approaches on the subject.[4]

A vision of a borderless future is still difficult to conceive for most politicians and EU citizens, meanwhile the process of globalisation has removed barriers to movement between countries, to a level that would have seemed impossible only two decades ago; the barrier to the free movement of people is an exception and this should be remedied, avoiding the mistakes made in other areas, such as the IMF’s crippling economic conditions to bully weaker countries in accepting political impositions. (Stiglitz, 2002)

Artificial borders and nation states are an aberration, invented in Europe and exported with colonialism. The state system is artificial and can’t last. (Chomsky, 2000, 2004) But as long as it does we are stuck with its limitations, including those to the movement of people and enough conflicts and power/economy imbalances to force more and more to migrate.
With the reality of unrestricted movement pulling one way and the states’ protectionist restrictions pulling the other, the nation state model will become unsuitable sooner than a more open and flexible one can be conceived and implemented.
The resistance to changes within the EU testifies to the difficulty of adopting supranational change.
Sociologists, economists, demographers and academics must educate and pressurise politicians to develop new suitable models. It is also essential to adapt the subjects taught at school, to accommodate the changing reality and prepare the citizens of tomorrow.

The UK has had a particularly ambiguous attitude towards immigration. While its judiciary has proven often fairer and more flexible than many in Europe, its government has repeatedly adopted convenient expedients to partially accept EU law and opt out of any rule that could imply a lack of control over its borders.

The “third pillar” of the Maastricht Treaty (1992)[5] is concerned with justice and home affairs, including all aspect of migration. The harmonisation of visa procedures and protection of the external borders of the EU were highly controversial. The UK was among the most strenuous opponents of anything that could undermine national sovereignty and facilitate access to people from outside the EU. The position was neatly summarised in an article by the former Conservative Home Secretary Kenneth Baker, published by the Mail on Sunday at the beginning of 1995:

[…] the autonomy of a country in policing its borders is just as vital in preserving national sovereignty as currency or any other matter.
For the first right of any country is who should, and should not, have the privilege of living in that country. Britain is a sovereign nation, not a hotel…
Any Colombian, Russian or Nigerian who had legally entered the EU through Rome, Vienna or Paris would be free to waltz into Britain with no checks on them…

In the 60s French trade unions were already taking restrictive positions regarding immigration, (Castles and Kosack 1973) believing that massive entry of cheap unregulated labour would have given free rein to bosses to resist the demands of local working class. This is a common position in Europe and the US that places “native” working classes against new immigrants.
Similar positions were taken by American trade unions at the beginning of the 20th century. In the words of one of the founding fathers of the American labour movement: “[…] it is simply a case of self-preservations of the American working class” (Gompers, 1911). [6]

Globalisation has reduced the ability of governments to control immigration, (Watts, 2002) some labour movements are beginning believe that restricting immigration results in increase in illegal situations with negative consequences for immigrants and local labour.
Southern European organisations were the first to put pressure on their governments to change immigration policies, turning them into regulatory rather than restrictive systems, in the belief that migration is an inevitable and fundamental component of globalisation.

Among the conditions posed to Eastern European countries before being allowed into the EU was their agreement to form a ‘buffer zone’ – a filter, used to prevent migrants entering “fortress Europe”, thus gaining right to stay and work in any EU country. The EU invested heavily to equip these countries with the means of policing and managing immigration, thus pushing the problem away. (Hayter, 2004) These “preventive” policies have worked to a certain extent in Eastern Europe, while Greece, Italy and Spain remain weak doors into the EU, with thousands of miles of coastline nearly impossible to patrol.

The racist component of the opposition to immigration shouldn’t be underestimated. As early as 1984 Castles and Booth were analysing the changes societies were undergoing due to the growing presence of people from many different countries and cultures. They compare different approaches implemented by societies that were undergoing a similar process, principally the UK, Canada and Australia. The same theme is developed further by Castles and Miller in 1998 [7] They take into consideration the resurgence of racism in these societies as a direct consequence of economic crises that exacerbate the tension between groups fighting for survival “hanging on the lowest rungs of the social ladder”.

Reality and data: The Home Office UK Border Agency publishes constantly updated statistics; these show how the perception of immigration and its impact on local economy and employment is incorrect.
In the months running up to the 2004 EU expansion to the East the press kept forecasting the invasion of Polish workers and its potential negative impact, talked about with doomed foreboding.
The reality proved to be different. Indeed immigration increased in 2004, but the vast majority of those immigrants found work very quickly or set up their own businesses.
The number of those who made use of any public resource, from benefits to social housing, was negligible and far smaller than that of UK residents. These immigrants came, worked, contributed to society, paid tax and left as soon as they had saved some money and coinciding with the pound losing value, the latter being one of the elements the contributed most to the reduction in immigration. This has been acknowledged by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a pre-electoral interview with Jon Snow for Channel 4 (April 2010)
The November 2009 data show that immigration to the UK has been decreasing, -24% on 2008, asylum granting -12%, Eastern European applications to work -30%.
The Office for National Statistics 2009 figures also show that net migration fell to 163,000 in 2008, from 233,000 in 2007.
Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said: “Net migration is falling, showing that migrants come to the UK for short periods of time, work, contribute to the economy and then return home. […]”

However, the data regarding immigration is complex and any partial reading is likely to present an imperfect and potentially misleading image; too often incomplete data is presented to the public, resulting in a distorted perception. Migration increases over time, in line with world population growth, but is far from the catastrophic dimensions the public is inclined to believe.

The 2008 Copenhagen Consensus published a paper by Anderson and Winters presenting a thorough analysis of the potential economic benefits, on a global scale, resulting from carefully managed migration, a viewpoint shared by many economists, who seem to have on the matter a clearer vision than most politicians. The data models in the report are convincing and the authors conclude: “this evidence strongly supports the view that gradual reductions in wasteful subsidies and trade barriers, including barriers to migration, would yield huge benefits for little economic cost. At the same time, global inequality and poverty would be reduced”.

In 1996 London’s population counted 5.358.000 white people and 1.636.000 non-white from all ethnic minorities combined. (Sassen, 2006 [2001]) The 2006 figures are respectively 5.163.000 and 1.921.000, hardly the overwhelming and menacing invasion claimed by the BNP and some sections of society.
Sassen observes how a combination of people’s attitudes and local government policies converge to form different perceptions of community and how these translate in the practice of daily life.

Changes and attitudes are directly and starkly related to global economics determining the wealth and availability of work locally, but also are behind the migratory movements between various parts of the world. The magnet of global cities is ever stronger and governments must take these shifts in population and the cultural changes they imply very seriously if any form of cohesive society has to be achieved.

Definitions: There is confusion in the use of terms such as migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers. According to different periods, or the political flavour of the moment, migrants may end up labelled in any of a variety of ways, with dramatically different outcomes to their pledge.
The increased restrictions to the immigration of workers from developing countries into Europe resulted in an increase of the numbers of people who applied for permit as refugees. (Hayter, 2004)

This does not imply, as the UNHCR clarifies, that these are “bogus” (a term much loved by the British press) but rather that having other ways precluded people are forced to seek alternative means.
Many who are genuinely fleeing countries where their lives are at risk would normally apply for conventional work visas, and only recur to the more complex and painful refugee procedure because the immigration rules have been tightened.
To this blurring of definitions are now added new ones to distinguish people who are forced to migrate for reasons such as natural or man made disasters and climatic change.

The need for such distinctions is arguable, as in fact at different times in history one or the other kind of immigrants will be the most numerous or having a bigger impact on the receiving societies; nevertheless, the basic needs of an individual or family moving to a new country, in search of better living conditions or safety, are the same, and it would seem more practical to devise ways for the infrastructure of societies to welcome these new arrivals and favour the productive and peaceful sharing of space and resources, an approach that has proven quite effective in countries such as Sweden, especially considering the very high number of refugees per percentage of population that have been welcomed there.

This confusion of terminology and the way it is applied at different times also results in misleading statistics, where the numbers of migrant workers and refugees often change dramatically from one year to the next with no apparent direct relation to wars or unrest in one or the other countries of origin.

Another element that is often misunderstood is the real nature of the people who are applying for refugee status. It is a common belief that these are mostly uneducated poor people trying to come to enjoy the luxury and comfort of the UK. The reality is that very often asylum applicants are highly educated, leaving good jobs, wealth and property behind. Frequently they are the intellectual elites, forced to leave because of their opposition to a regime. These people leave behind a quality of life far superior to anything they can hope to find in the UK or elsewhere in Europe. They would not do it if they weren’t forced to.
Understanding these aspects would help a better assessment of cases, instead the media keep presenting portrayals of people who aspire to enter the UK because it’s comfortable and they can live without working, paid for by the taxpayers.

The attitude toward asylum seekers is also conditioned by the relationship between the country of origin and the receiving one. The UK finds it difficult to accept applications from people whose countries it sells weapons to, or buys commodities from. Accepting the applications would imply acknowledging that the regime in that country may be less than democratic, a conundrum with potentially damaging results for the UK from a business and political perspective.

The definition of refugee as stated in the 1951 UN refugee convention has been expanded over time to adjust to historical changes, notably in 1969 by the Organisation of African Unity and in 1984 with the Cartagena Convention in Central America. However, these amendments, intended to offer a more appropriate coverage to the endless reasons that may force people to seek refuge in a country, are not binding nor universally accepted.
That makes the work of policy makers extremely difficult and leaves too many options open to interpretation.

The comprehensive data published by the UNHCR reveal that Sweden, a country with a population less than one sixth that of the UK, has given refuge to a considerably higher number of refugees; likewise Denmark has given refuge to a number equal to 50% of that of the UK.
Of the 2.601.400 Afghani who lived abroad as refugees in 1999 only 3500 were in the UK. 1.325.700 were in Iran, 1.200.000 in Pakistan, 20.300 in the Netherlands. In fact, of the many receiving countries only Denmark and Kazakhstan had less Afghani refugees than the UK (2300 each).
These are only examples highlighting the hugely incorrect information provided to, and unquestioningly accepted by the UK citizens, gripped by the fear of half the developing world flooding the UK. (UNHCR, 2000, 2006)
The British public should revise and update the highly inflated image they have of themselves and their country.

Compared to most other European countries and many in the developing world the UK is one that accepts the least amount of refugees and refuses the most of asylum applications.

As of 1999 the UK didn’t even make it in the top 40 countries in terms of percentage of refugees vs local population, with Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Austria and the Netherlands (in that order) as the only European countries in the top 40. All other 33 were from the developing world, with the exception of Canada.

Looking at the number of refugees over time also reveals how the total figures, and their geographical distribution, visibly coincide with conflicts and dramatic changes around the world; noticeable upward spikes in the graphs are easily linked to episodes such as the genocide in Rwanda, the ex-Yugoslavia conflict or those in Sudan and Somalia. This simple observation should make the public realise that most people seeking refuge are genuinely escaping from situations of unimaginable horror. Looking for help in a “civilised” country and being treated as a criminals or scroungers only adds humiliation.

The Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board has procedures that are superior to those of US and most of Europe in their assessment accuracy (Barsky 2001). Refugees arrive in receiving countries as a last resort, and they statistically make better than average citizens. As Barsky mentions in relation to Canada “[They are] less likely to go to prison, less likely to be unemployed, more likely to educate their children and to a higher degree, less inclined to use social services, more likely to employ Canadians etc”

These findings are fairly accurate in describing most refugees, who wish to recreate what they have lost.
Assessing the reasons that forced someone to seek refuge is extremely complex, as often a combination of reasons culminate in the inevitability of departure (Kane, 1995, Lucas, 2001). Differentiating between kinds of migrants and refugees is difficult and potentially meaningless, as only a small percentage of cases could be unequivocably linked to “acceptable” factors such as a direct life threat. And isn’t starvation also a direct life threat?

There are extremely difficult issues to be taken into consideration in the process of granting asylum, such as the identification of people guilty of war crimes; the UK government set up the War Crimes Unit for that specific purpose, and its task exemplifies the difficulties faced by any kind of immigration control. Documentation is often unavailable and sourcing it time-consuming, expensive and unsafe.
Often there is no cooperation from the authorities in the countries of origin, because of poor organization, corruption or, in the case of regime opponents, journalists and activists, there may be intentional non-cooperation to cause the return of the individual who will often end up in prison or tortured and killed. The number of known cases of this kind is only the tip of a dark iceberg.

A global vision: When immigration was necessary to the development of industry in capitalist societies, governments invested extensively in the ex-colonies to attract people to migrate; efforts intended to rationalise migration today should similarly start from the countries of origin as part of development aid, improving the management of resources to avoid aid being misused.
Increasing opportunities, security and infrastructure in the developing world will provide millions with the choice to stay or emigrate for short periods in order to gain education, experience or some capital, to then return to their country and contribute to its development.
It is essential that this global dimension of development is understood and prioritised if we want to give a more human and manageable dimension to migration. In doing so the “immigration problem” would almost automatically cease to be, and its dimensions and fluidity would become manageable, resulting in a reciprocal enrichment of receiving countries and those of origin.

The Philippines government offers an example of positive action, it helps its migrants by regulating overseas employment recruitment, (Ruiz, 2008) informing migrants of available resources abroad, providing protection, and developing recording mechanisms to understand migrants’ needs. Managing migration comes at a price and governments need to develop a coordinated strategy to sustain such endeavours.

Acting positively at the source, addressing economical and political causes, is a winning strategy. The economies of developed countries need illegal immigrants to be exploited in manufacturing for lower than minimum wages, politicians need the scarecrow of immigrants invasions as a voting leverage, a whole illegal economy thrives smuggling and exploiting migrants, corrupt officers around the world complement their meagre wages with their involvement in illegal migration.

The corruption quagmire of many of countries of origin is a major obstacle to any long-lasting development and those receiving countries that have some power should use it to bargain and put pressure on governments to improve conditions and abandon methods that force people to flee.
The risk is of increasing an already heavy interference of developed countries on the policies of developing ones, but if a cooperative approach on the lines of the World Bank’s rather than the imposition of IMF and WTO was applied, positive results could be achieved (Stiglitz, 2002)

International development must be part of the migration policy framework of receiving countries. Migrants could positively be seen as agents of development, in that context facilitating return/circular migration and strong migrant links with their original countries is essential. Remittances are currently as important for development as international aid (World Bank, 2006, 2008). The amount of resources spent in trying to prevent and control immigration would be much better spent in finding more practical ways of managing the movement of people.

Various countries have adopted different methods, and it is interesting to compare the Canadian and Australian models of PBS, sharing the same basic principles and yet being applied differently, leading to different outcomes, with the Australian system being accused of covert racism. [8]
These PBS have positive and negative effects, finding a balance won’t be easy. ippr has published a thorough analysis [9] taking into consideration a wide range of elements, such as the “brain drain” effects caused by developed countries trying to attract the most skilled immigrants, potentially depriving the developing world of its best people.
Considerations of this kind should be at the core of policy-making in Europe and the US, to guarantee that policies will suit the future reality.

The future: By 2003 the combined populations of Europe the United States and Canada accounted for just 17 percent of the global population. In 2050, this figure is expected to be just the 12 percent (Goldstone, 2010). Strategists worldwide need to consider that the world’s young are increasingly concentrated in countries not equipped to educate and employ them and where a (often justified) hostile view of Europe and the US is prevalent. It is essential to reach out to these young people. In Goldstone’s words: “the healthy immigration of workers to the developed world and the movement of capital to the developing world, among other things, could lead to better results”.

According to the data in the UN Population Division Projections [10] and UN World Population Prospects [11] the population changes we can expect in the first 50 years of the 21st century are going to dramatically alter the world balance. Migration of large numbers of people will be a prominent feature requiring accurate management. The reports are available to the public and make for an enlightening reading, one that unfortunately not many politicians seem to have taken the time to do.

In his cross cultural works the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu repeatedly (1995, 2005) referred to the need for a class of what he called “informed politicians” essential to the development of effective policies reflecting the reality of a changing world. He groups politicians, political journalists and high ranking civil servants defining them as components of the bureaucratic machine, one that conditions people’s lives and beliefs in a namely democratic but deeply arguable fashion. Bourdieu underlines how dramatically essential it is to have knowledgeable and ethically sound individuals in key position of politics, and how far we are from achieving that goal.

Few fundamental details suffice to indicate how much our perspective on immigration needs changing. Several studies published by the World Bank confirm the UN findings and estimate that by 2030 the number of middle class people in the developing world will be larger than the total population of Europe, Japan and the US combined.
The economic growth of the newly industrialised nations including not only China, India and South East Asian countries but also Brazil, Mexico and Turkey, will be the main driver of global economy, and migration to and within these countries, especially to the mega-cities, will be more significant than the traditional flow to Europe and the US, whose populations are meanwhile ageing, with an expected 30% of European and Americans to be over 60 by 2050. While the productive population of the old developed countries diminishes and the overall population of the world increases, migration is not only inevitable, it is essential to continued development.

More people will be required to fill the productive roles left vacant by the elderly and provide these with the required services. At the same time many developing countries are still ill equipped to support, educate and employ their growing population, adding to the necessity to migrate. This should be seen as a natural rebalancing and distribution of human resources that can benefit all.

As of 2009 approximately 9 out of 10 children below the age of 15 lived in developing countries, the significance of such a proportion should be easy to grasp.

It is possible to envisage a time when Europe and the US will have to offer incentives to attract immigrants needed to keep production at sustainable levels and services running, not least the increased medical and social services essential to care for the large number of elderly people.

Seen in this light the current protectionist policies appear misjudged and wasteful; the contribution of immigrants, both in cultural and economic terms, is often greater than the cost of keeping them out.
Clear analysis of the pattern of migration suggest how these are regulated by supra-national mechanisms that greatly diminish the power of control of national governments; these nevertheless must convince their citizens they have the power to regulate the influx and distribution of migrants, which is what most developed countries have tried to do so far.
This is futile and achieves the opposite of the desired effect because no matter what new restrictive measures governments may put in place, people will find new ways to circumvent the obstacles; these also result in more migrants being pushed in the hands of unscrupulous middlemen smuggling them into ‘protected’ countries, resulting in travelling ordeals and tragic deaths. (UNHCR, 2000, 2006) It is also immoral and contradicts basic human rights and the fundamental principles of the EU and democratic countries.

Criminalising people for wanting to better their lives and those of their families is morally unjustifiable and practically unsustainable.

Maximising the benefits of migration while minimising the costs seems a much better aim than trying to reduce immigration. Many other elements complete the population picture, such as the high number of British who retire or work abroad and the fact that the UK has the highest rate of teenage single parents. If the scope of reducing net immigration is of containing the population of the UK below 70 million, as most parties seem to suggest, then these and many other elements should be taken into consideration alongside immigration.
Evidence suggests that migration has had limited impacts on employment or wages in the UK, however, in January 2010, the Cross-Party Group on Balanced Migration called for net immigration to the UK to be reduced to less than 40.000 per year, an unrealistic figure, even considering that the UK experienced net emigration in the past.

Controlling immigration by PBS or a fixed cap is difficult to implement without an adverse effect on the UK. It would reduce the number of foreign students, a prime source of income for universities and a precious intellectual resource for the country, or medical personnel, essential to the NHS. The likelihood would be an increase in illegal immigration and a decrease in the kind of immigration that is most beneficial to the UK. Besides, migration from within the EU, the return of UK citizens who have spent time abroad and family reunions are beyond the government’s control anyway. (ippr, 2010)

All parties have employed the “stop immigration” mantra, it seems to resonate well with the public everywhere and proved particularly effective in the UK.
Interestingly, New Labour promised (in the words of Jack Straw, 1997 campaign) to be tougher but fairer on immigration. Looking back at a dozen years of New Labour the tougher is obvious, traces of the fairer are somewhat scarcer.
Rather than promising to be tough on immigration for electoral gain and then disappoint the voters, politicians would do better to show that they are capable of managing immigration, as expressed in the ippr report: predicting and managing migration flows to maximise benefits, minimise costs, and reassure the public, rather than struggling (probably unsuccessfully) to meet arbitrarily imposed limits.


Fuelling distrust and populist myths against immigration can only have long-term negative consequences for society, it’s irresponsible and should be stopped.
On the other hand, the progressive side of the political spectrum seems to be able to identify and critique problems but is rarely capable of proposing viable alternatives.

Long-term manageable solutions can only be found by bringing the debate to a much higher level, as the UNHCR and the World Bank try to do, and reckon with the reality of people’s migration on a global dimension.
The planet is big enough and if its resources were managed efficiently it could feed us all. One of these resources is people, and people’s migration could help manage all other resources.

Removing ideology and short-term gain from the equation would enable governments and international organisations to coordinate migration. The consequent reduction in tension and competition would rapidly remove some of the negative elements of the current situation, such as criminality connected to the smuggling of people and legal procedures that waste public money. It would also initiate a process of acceptance in people of receiving countries, dispelling the threatening dimension of immigration.

This is not as idealistic as it may seem. The consequences of not tackling the issue in a rational and pragmatic manner would be seriously damaging, migratory movements in the 21st century deserve the same attention as climate change, alternative energy sources, water management and infectious diseases control.

Just like killing terrorists doesn’t solve the problem of international terrorism, keeping immigrants and asylum seekers “out” doesn’t solve the problems related to migration, it makes them worse. Migration is the blood flow of healthy societies, blocking it is impossible and counterproductive.

A global world requires global solutions and delays are a luxury we can’t afford.



Anderson, K. and L.A. Winters (2008), “The Challenge of Reducing International Trade and Migration Barriers”, published by the Copenhagen Consensus 2008 project

Barsky, R. F. (2000) “Arguing and Justifying: Assessing the Convention Refugees’ Choice of Moment, Motive and Host Country” (Research in Migration and Ethnic Relations Series) – Farnham, Surrey – Ashgate

Björgo, T. and Witte, R. editors (1993) “Racist violence in Europe” – Basingstoke, Hants – Palgrave Macmillan

Bourdieu, P. ed. Löic Wacquant (2005) “Symbolic power and democratic practice” – Cambridge – Polity Press

Bourdieu, P. (1992) “Language and symbolic power” – Cambridge, Polity Press

Castles, S. and Miller M. J. (2008) “The Age of Migration International Population Movements in the Modern World” – New York – The Guilford Press

Castles, S and Kosack, G. (1973) “Immigrant Workers and Class Structure in Western Europe (Institute of Race Relations)” – Oxford – Oxford University Press

Castles, S. and Booth, H. and Wallace, T. (1984) “Here for Good: Western Europe’s new ethnic minorities” – London – Pluto Press

Chappell, L. and Mulley, S. (2010) “Development: Do points mean prizes? How the UK’s migration policies could benefit the world’s poor” – Development on the Move Working Paper – London – ippr (Institute for Public Policy Research) and GDN (Global Development Network)

Chomsky, N. (2000) “Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs” – London – Pluto Press

Chomsky, N. (2004) “Language and Politics” – Oakland, CA – AK Press

Conaghan, J. Fischl, R. M. and Klare, K. editors (2004) “Labour Law in an Era of Globalization, Transformative Practices and Possibilities” – Oxford – Oxford University Press

Facchini, G. and Mayda, A.M. (2008) From attitudes towards immigration to immigration policy outcomes: Does public opinion rule?

Gilroy, P. (2004) “After Empire: Multiculture or Postcolonial Melancholia” – Abingdon, Oxford – Routledge

Goldstone, J. A. (2010) “The new population bomb” in Foreign Affairs Jan/Feb 2010 – New York, Washington D.C. – The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)

Hartmann, P. and Husband, C. (1974) “Racism and the Mass Media” London – Davis-Poynter Ltd

Hayter, T. (2004) “Open Borders – The case against immigration controls” – London – Pluto Press

Kane, H. (1995) “The Hour of Departure, forces that create refugees and migrant” – Washington, DC – Worldwatch Institute
Lucas, R. E. B. (2001) in “Migration and Refugee policies”. Ed Bernstein-Weiner – International trade, capital flows and migration: economic policies towards countries of origin as means of stemming immigration – London – Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.

Mulley, S. (2010) The Limits to Limits: Is a cap on immigration a viable policy for the UK? London – ippr

Ruiz, N. G. and Migration and Remittances Team (2008) “Managing Migration: Lessons from the Philippines”, Development Prospects Group – Washington D. C. – The World Bank

Sassen, S. (2006 [2001]) “Global City, New York, London, Tokyo” 2nd Revised edition edition – Princeton – Princeton University Press

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) “The State of the World’s Refugees 2006: Human Displacement in the New Millennium” – Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Also: The state of world’s refugees – Fifty years of humanitarian action – UNHCR 2000

Watts, J. R. (2002) “Immigration policy and the challenge of globalisation – Unions and employers in unlikely alliance” ILR Press books – Ithaca, NY – Cornell University Press

The World Bank (2006), Global Economic Prospects 2006: Economic Implications of Remittances and Migration – Washington DC: The World Bank. Full reports available at the following URLs as of April 2010:,,contentMDK:21121930~menuPK:3145470~pagePK:64165401~piPK:64165026~theSitePK:476883,00.html

The data and statistics referred to throughout this paper are sourced from the most recent available reports published by:

UK Office for National Statistics (ONS)
Home Office UK Border Agency
Institute for Public Policy Research
UN Population Division
World Bank
Eurostat – Statistical Office of the European Commission
Europa, Gateway to the European Union – Documentation Centre
The “International Migration Report 2006: A Global Assessment” by the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, available at
Also interesting the 2009 Wall Chart on international migration available from the same source.

(Sites accessed in March and April 2010)


[1] Secure Borders, Safe Haven – Integration with Diversity in Modern Britain – Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for the Home Department the Rt Hon David Blunkett MP by Command of Her Majesty, February 2002, Published by The Stationery Office Limited

[2] Ratified by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10/12/1948, see specifically art 13, 1 art 13, 2 art 14

[3] The treaty of Rome, 1957, establishing the European Economic Community



[6] Incidentally, Gompers was an English citizen from a Dutch Jewish family, hence twice immigrant.

[7] Chapters: The State and International Migration: The Quest for Control and Migrants and Minorities in the Labour Force

[8] A Comparison of Australian and Canadian Immigration Policies and Labour Market Outcomes

Report – Report to the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs – The National Institute of Labour Studies, Flinders University – September 2004 – Professor Sue Richardson and Laurence Lester

[9] The Institute for Public Policy Research “Development: Do points mean prizes?” (March 2010)


[11] 2008 Revision:

Comments 2

  1. Students Visitors wrote:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Immigration
    Solicitors Bromley. Regards

    Posted 04 Apr 2013 at 2:03 pm
  2. Alianna wrote:

    Factors that push people into iitrgiammng to the United Stated have remained the same, especially when it comes to economic opportunities. My family immigrated to New York over twenty years ago for that reason, and it remains the number one reason why Taiwanese people wish to come to the U.S. Straight out of college or graduate school, a person, at best, will earn an average of 30,000 NT dollars per month, working an average of 10 hours per day. In U.S. currency, that is $1,013 per month. While the standard of living is significantly lower than that of New York, there is little money left for any enjoyment after expenses are paid. As for Mexican immigrants, I do believe that they are coming into the U.S. for economic opportunities as well. I remember watching a documentary where factory workers were complaining about illegal Mexican immigrants that were taking their jobs. There was a scene where officers would come into the homes of the Mexicans and arrest some to be deported. Yet, there was a distinct segment that demonstrated that those arrests were just for show. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the industries loved immigrants because they provided cheap labor and workers that could be exploited due to their illegal status. Today, it is the same situation. Those arrests are meant to quell complaints; the fact is that hundreds of illegal Mexican immigrants are let in each day. Few are returned. Our industries love illegal immigrants, too. They want the cheap exploitable labor to cut costs and increase profits.The current immigration policies proclaim to protect U.S. citizens from losing their jobs to illegal immigrants, protect the country from getting over-crowded, ensure income stays domestic, etc., but that is clearly not how they are being used. I bear no malice toward illegal immigrants. I understand their wish to have a better life and have nothing but sympathy for how our industries are using them. Thus, my problem with illegal immigration is in its ethics. We should not be exploiting illegal immigrants and treating them like they are disposable workers. Overly idealistic as it sounds, policies on immigration should be put more to use, so that immigrants can come in on a legal status and be eligible for protection. It is wrong for us to look the other way just so we can have expendable workers.

    Posted 02 Aug 2015 at 6:20 am

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