EU and Immigration: Fear Mongering

January 23, 2013, Wednesday // 07:00

From The Economist

For the Daily Mail, a populist British daily prone to anti-immigrant rhetoric, a recent report by MigrationWatch, a lobby group, was grist to the mill. It said that from next year onwards—after European Union (EU) restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians working in EU countries will be removed—Romanians and Bulgarians will add between 30,000 and 70,000 to Britain's population in each of the next five years. It also warns that the Roma are a "wild card" in connection with future migration from these countries.

Even more welcome to the Daily Mail and its readers, was the recent admission by Oliver Letwin, a British government official, that he did not know how many will be coming when Britain fully opens up its labour market to Romanians and Bulgarians. Before Poland became a member of the EU in 2004, the Home Office, Britain's interior ministry, predicted that between 5,000 and 13,000 Poles would come to Britain every year. Within two years 264,560 had arrived. This time the government has refrained from making a forecast.

On January 16th Stewart Jackson, a conservative member of parliament, presented a bill calling to limit the immigration process for Romanian and Bulgarians coming to Britain: "We don't want to make the same mistake that we made in 2004, which was to import a very large number of low-wage, low-skill workers and embed welfare dependency in our indigenous workforce." In a speech last month, Theresa May, the home secretary, said that migration puts a downward pressure on wages and has a bad influence on the social cohesion of the country.

Mr Stewart and Ms May omit to mention the positive effects of the last big influx of workers from new EU member countries. It was vastly higher than predicted, but it was also more successful than forecast. According to a study conducted by The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford migrants from so-called A8 countries (the eight countries that joined the EU in 2004) have made a positive contribution to the country's public finances in each fiscal year since their EU accession. While they mostly work in the lower wage sector, their labour-force participation and employment rates tend to be higher, which offsets the impact of their lower wages.

A number of studies show that immigrants are slowing the ageing of Britain's population. And despite the popular belief that a new wave of immigrants will increase unemployment the National Institute of Economics and Social Research states that there is no aggregate impact of migration on unemployment.

Maybe most importantly, Britain today is less attractive to would-be immigrants than ten years ago, In 2004, only Britain and two other countries did away with almost all restrictions for workers from A8 countries. Since it was the largest economy of the three and its economy was booming, Britain became a magnet for them. This time, all EU countries are opening their labour markets Romanians and Bulgarians. And Britain's economy is in dire straits.

Titus Corlăţean, Romania's minister of foreign affairs, believes figures of Romanians immigrating to Britain next year circulated in the British press are wildly exaggerated. According to Mr Corlăţean the issue has become a British domestic political "game", kindled by the United Kingdom Independence Party, an insurgent outfit devoted to Britain's withdrawal from the European Union. He is relying on the British government that it "will respect what is written in the European Treaty for the accession of Romania, that from January 1st 2014 there will be a free access for Romanians to the labour market in Britain," he said.

Surveys show that immigration is one of Britons' biggest concerns. A report by British Future, a think tank, has revealed that people worry more about immigration as a national than as a local issue. Its State of the Nation poll found that 19% chose immigration as a top local worry while 30% placed immigration first when thinking about tensions facing British society as a whole. This suggests that immigration is more a problem of perception than of reality.


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