Immigration, Asylum Seekers and the movement of labour


They say that ‘travel broadens the mind’. Well mine has certainly been expanded somewhat by some of the discussions that I have had with Mayors and other political leaders in the two recent travels I have made to the Middle East and to a World LGA meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Let me just recount three of those discussions to you:
The first was with the Mayor of Beirut. He asked me to imagine what it would be like if in just two years England took in the entire population of the island of Ireland. He posed that question because that is just what the Lebanon has done proportionately in absorbing refugees fleeing for their lives from Syria.
Imagine what would happen in the UK, asked a Mayor from Botswana, if 50% of all the people we trained in the medical professions as doctors, nurses or with other specialisms left your country to work in another country within 2 years of training. That’s what happens in his Country and the Country that does more poaching than anywhere else is the UK!
The third conversation was with a Mayor from Brazil. Their country is now filled with young graduates and people with further degrees seeking work there from Portugal because the economy is so depressed back in their home country. I understand the situation is similar in many other parts of the S American continent with people leaving Spain because of the 25% unemployment that exists there.
These three conversations left me in no doubt that the situation is far more complicated than the Daily Wail would have you believe. The fact is that in different times in different ways immigration and emigration suits all countries and all areas and as one of the richest Countries in the World we are usually net BENIFICIARIES of migration.
In fact our Country always has been because we are a small island which once had a big empire but is still the 7th richest country in the World and internationally respected and with huge trading links around the World. Of course the UK is a big player in refugee situations. We are the only country in the World to spend the suggested 0.7% of GDP on international aid which I would argue is an investment and not an expense is the UK. Of course we are major contributors via direct aid programmes and support to NGOs like Oxfam and Save the Children to try and help the Lebanon and Turkey deal with the major and immediate problems of refugees. BUT we are contributing relatively little compared to the much poorer countries of Lebanon and Turkey.
We debate whether we can take in 5,000 survivors from the overcrowded boats that profiteers leave adrift in the Mediterranean when other Countries are taking in millions. Of course we can afford to do so. We are a wealthy country – the problem is that too much of that wealth is in the hands of too few people.
So how do we benefit?
Firstly, immigration has improved the demography of the Country. The fact is that like Japan and Germany our population would be in decline if it was not for immigration. On a very practical level that means we will have workers to pay the taxes and provide the services for the increasing number of elderly indigenous people.
Secondly, we get their direct services. Our NHS and building and agricultural services really would be in a crisis if we did not poach people from other Countries. For the past 20 years we have consistently failed to train enough medical people, enough engineers, in fact enough training in a whole range of necessary fields from plumbers to doctors. We have spent our education money in providing bankers and media studies in far too great a proportion. This is not a new comment people have been making them for 20+ years.
Thirdly, we make a profit from them. The vast majority of people come here when they ae young. They pay taxes and National Insurance and then they go home and will not make a future call on our services.
Fourthly, most of them are resourceful, innovative and imaginative. Just the attitudes that we need if this country is to prosper. So many of them who do stay set up legitimate businesses or contribute to other businesses. They bring new ideas and vitality to a nation which seems to have set education up as an inhibitor of resourcefulness rather than a crucible for resourcefulness.
In the short-term uncontrolled immigration causes problems. Too many people end up in areas where there is too much of a pressure on resources. If we managed immigration properly including those getting off the boats in the Med we could really see what a potential source of richness immigration could be for us.
I was proud of the fact that Nick Clegg called for a rational debate on immigration and migration generally and am equally proud that both our leadership contenders continue with the same viewpoint. If my Country is to be a World Leader it will only do so if it engages with the rest of the World in a spirited but enthusiastic debate. Little Englanders will not strengthen our Country but weaken it. Let’s hold our head up high, accept the Judaeo/Christian roots of our Country and not walk by on the other side of the road.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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