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Views on BG | February 2, 2013, Saturday // 10:28| Views: 1194 | Comments: 0
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From The Financial Times

Cameron should face fears of benefits tourism with facts

Immigration, along with the economy, tops the list of public concerns in Britain. As so often in difficult times, immigrants become scapegoats for a lack of jobs, housing and stretched public services. The prospect that from next year Romanians andBulgarians will be able to come to Britain without specific restrictions has sent anxiety levels soaring in Westminster.

David Cameron, who is in danger of missing his target to cut net immigration from outside Europe to below 100,000 by 2015, is under pressure from backbenchers to close the doors to these now fully fledged European citizens. The most vocal argue that he should renegotiate the Free Movement directive to keep them out, or limit access to social services, while insisting that Britain can remain part of the single market. But free movement of people is one of the pillars on which the single market is built. British citizens are among the EU's most enthusiastic users of this right. Those who would slam the gates shut cannot expect UK citizens to have rights they deny to others.

Fears over the impact of a new wave of immigration are understandable. Social and public services are already under intense pressure as they try to meet existing needs on ever slimmer budgets. But these concerns are likely to prove exaggerated. Though no one can predict exactly how many will come, there are good reasons to believe that they will be far fewer than immigration hawks suggest. When Poles looked to move into the rest of Europe after accession in 2004, Britain was one of only three countries to allow unrestricted access. So they came in droves. Yet all EU countries will be open to Bulgarians and Romanians from January. It is true that they come from far poorer countries than Poland was in 2004. But experience suggests that they are likely to pick destinations where job prospects are brighter, such as Germany, or in countries where they feel more culturally at home, such as Italy.

Immigrants come to the UK for work, not to live on government handouts. Official statistics show only 7 per cent of them receive working age benefits, compared with 17 per cent of British-born nationals. They are doing jobs that UK workers disdain, such as fruit-picking, catering, or working in hotels or the care sector where labour shortages are acute.

Britain can be proud of the success of its multicultural society. The Polish women who came after 2004 are now big contributors to the UK's current baby boom. Not only are they paying taxes today, they are having the children who will pay for tomorrow's pensions. Legal immigration is a boon to the economy and society. Not only would it be illegal to discriminate against those with the right to come here. It would be unjust.

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Tags: UK, Britain, Great Britain, England, migrants, immigrants, emigrants, Brits, Bulgarians, Romanians, Ralitsa Behar, labor market, EU, British PM, David Cameron
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