Why immigration is a good thing

With so many – on all sides – criticising it, is there a case to be made for immigration in the UK?

To say that immigration in Britain is a thorny topic would be something of an understatement. Undoubtedly recent government initiatives– think ‘racist vans’ or text messages telling people to ‘go home’ – send out a pretty clear message about how migrants are conceptualised today. Admittedly two extreme examples, but both are evidence of a more deep-seated fear surrounding migration amongst sections of the political elite. Certainly, there are a large amount of people entering the UK from elsewhere (although whether there has been an actual increase in migrants over the past year is debatable). But why is this fact automatically interpreted as a negative? Is immigration a fundamentally bad thing? Speaking as a non-Briton who has spent time living and working in the UK, I, as you might imagine, would argue not.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s look at some of the reasons that immigration gets a bad rap. First is the issue of ‘benefit tourism’ – the idea that lazy, greedy immigrants treat the British welfare system as some sort of free-for-all. They are claiming benefits and using services (they are accused of ‘NHS tourism’ too), so the accusation goes, with blatant disregard for the hard-working British tax-payers who pay for it, and without expecting to have to do anything in return. Before rebutting this repeatedly dredged up argument, let me be quite clear: there is no denying that criminals and benefits cheats exist. There will always be people who – for whatever reason – swindle the system. The idea that these individuals come predominantly from the migrant community, however, is absurd.

Not only has it been disproven – with recent research showing that migrants actually contribute more than they take in British society; it is also incredibly insulting to suggest (explicitly or implicitly) that because you need or choose to leave your country of origin, you are somehow an unsavoury person. Looking at the situation logically, the majority of countries people emigrate from are worse-off in some shape or form: be that economically, socially, or security-wise. It follows then, that most people who arrive in Britain (or another in-migration nation, for that matter) do so to achieve the simple things in life whether that’s getting a job, or finding a nicer (or even safer) place to live. These things are by no means a given in your chosen destination, but neither are you likely to jeopardise the promise of them in order to make a quick pound or two on social welfare.

A recent piece in the Telegraph suggests there are legitimate and illegitimate ways to talk about immigration today. The recessionary economies of Europe and the alleged threat to the welfare state are, it is argued, legitimate grounds for the concern that immigration is a problem. What is more there is the suggestion that it is the working class, and the danger of provoking their supposed racist tendencies, that we should worry about most of all. While defenders of immigration, with some justification, argue that the evidence is in favour of the fiscal gains not losses to be made from immigration; the same problem arises. It fails to take into account the categorical benefits migration has to offer – for all of society, regardless of the economics. Beyond the financial benefits of immigration perhaps we should also consider the moral ones.

What of Britain’s reputation as a cosmopolitan, multicultural nation? Was that just convenient rhetoric when times were good? Maybe in theory, but certainly not in practice; every day there are countless examples of the benefits brought about by a culturally diverse society. Travel is well known to expand our horizons; equally so is meeting people from different backgrounds to ourselves. Whether its colleagues, friends or partners that we would never have met if we had never travelled or explored at least a little; if we lived in a world of closed borders. Coming from Ireland, a country which – as of the last ten or fifteen years – has experienced inward as well as outward migration, I am safe in the knowledge that life is a great deal more interesting as a direct result of more open borders. Yes, there are issues with migration (as with everything) but on the whole it contributes far more than it diminishes.

Written by Anna Carnegie. The Social Policy Forum challenges social policy by stealth in the age of the Big Nudge. We are on Twitter @SocialPolicyFor

Picture by: Alexandre Moreau


One response to “Why immigration is a good thing”

  1. Rupa Aldoncar says:

    No doubt immigration has been used for quite a long time as a political tool by the ruling power in a diabolical way.
    It is always easy to blame “the other” as a escape goat, who just happens to be different and from abroad rather than address the inherent problems existent in the country itself. The fact is the UK is getting older by the day and the native population is not breeding fast enough to replace the next generation. That leaves the entire welfare system desperately in need of well educated, skilled active young people in order to contribute to the domestic economy….where are these quality young guns going to come from?