As promised, I will here address the issue of the immigrants within our own country. The empathy principle applies in a slightly different way here to how I have applied it in the past. Instead of examining how financial conditions and their treatment by the government create a Catch 22 for immigrants, I’d like to look at how an impossible situation is created for immigrants within popular opinion.
Surprisingly, given that the curry has become practically a national dish, the British have the propensity to be very hostile towards immigrants. Two opinions are particularly prevalent, and they create an obvious Catch 22:
a) Immigrants come to our country as ‘benefit tourists’, hoping to abuse our supposedly generous welfare system.
b) Immigrants come to our country as cheap labour, taking jobs from British workers by undercutting their wages.
Hence an obvious impossible situation is created for immigrants. If they work and ‘pay their way’, they are taking jobs which should have been given to British workers. If they don’t take those jobs, their only choice will be to take benefits, and hence become ‘benefit tourists’. We have to make up our minds! What can an immigrant do in order to please such critics? Of course, the only satisfactory option available to immigrants, according to their detractors, is to ‘go home’. This seems to me to be a disastrous answer.
For one thing, immigrants, now and on many occasions in the past, have contributed an incredible amount to this country. It is worth noting that many countries in the world, such as Bulgaria and Romania, so controversial lately, but also much of Asia, suffer from a ‘brain drain’ effect of their brightest and best educated young people moving abroad to maximise their prospects in life. We are one of the countries who are the lucky recipients of all those brains, which is part of the reason why we are and continue to be one of the world’s leading countries, despite being just some small, cold, rainy island. It’s also worth noting that, despite the popular image that immigrants are a drain on the national economy, immigrants as a whole actually pay about 30% more in taxes than they take out through welfare and other services. Our budget deficit would actually be worse if they weren’t here. They’re also far less likely to claim ‘hand-out’ benefits, or to live in social housing, than UK nationals (http://www.cream-migration.org/publ_uploads/CDP_18_09.pdf).
Furthermore, the British themselves benefit massively from their ability to emigrate. It is difficult to find reliable figures, but a handy BBC webpage, linked to below, claims that 5.5 million Brits live permanently abroad. Their are over 700,000 Brits living in Spain, a staggering 1.2 million live in Australia, and many hundreds of thousands reside in the US, Canada and France (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/in_depth/brits_abroad/html/default.stm). I have heard it argued that to compare Brits living abroad to immigrants living here is like comparing apples and pears, as Brits take money with them and are a boost to foreign economies, whereas immigrants coming here are a drain on our finances. I have shown above that it is not true that immigrants are a drain on our economy. However, I’d also like to point out that the number of Brits living abroad goes a long way towards nullifying the argument that “Britain is full”.
I’d also like to nip in the bud an obviously false argument which I’ve heard, that these numbers are misleading, because the British are spread over many different countries, whereas all the foreign immigrants live on our little island. True, but our immigrants also come from a lot of different countries, and all the countries we emigrate to similarly receive immigrants from many countries apart from our own. So the Bulgarians and Romanians send immigrants to many different countries than our own, and the Spanish and Australians receive them from many countries apart from our own. What is more, the Bulgarians and Romanians receive their own immigrants, including British ones, and Spanish and Australian people, I am sure, live all over the world. Therefore, it is not true that we lose out on the numbers game because of this patently false sleight of hand. The idea of our country purely as a receiver and other countries purely as senders of immigrants is a very misleading one.
What I’d also like to illustrate is that many British people do consider the ability to live abroad advantageous, and enjoy their ability to do so. What is more, I personally know people who speak of moving permanently to countries such as Australia and the US as if it is their automatic right. I think this is a fact worth rejoicing; now, more than at any point in history, people can truly choose where they want to make their home. It would be hypocritical, given our enjoyment of this privilege, to deny it to people who wish to come to live in our country.
- David Cameron’s bid to curb ‘benefit tourism’ meets setback (theguardian.com)
- UK migrants no different to Brits abroad, says home office minister (theguardian.com)