Mass Immigration - Costly and Unsustainable
Migration between countries is a normal and desirable freedom. People move in search of work, for education, for family reasons, to retire or to seek protection. The economy can benefit, scarce skills can be provided.
The problems arise when migration flows become very large and unbalanced, especially from poor countries from which large inflows normally come. Then the population grows in a manner unexpected and unplanned; services, transport, housing, medical care become overstretched.
The recipient country, starting with its great cities, begins to change permanently its ethnic and religious character in ways that the local population does not like and on which it was not consulted. Economic benefits to the average person are relatively minor and may be negative. The benefits of diversity, celebration of which has become almost compulsory, rest on weak and partial evidence.
The claim that Britain has always been a country of immigration is unsustainable. For centuries this has been a country of emigration – 12 million Britons departed between 1815 and 1930. Net outflow of British citizens continued throughout that period and, with a few notable but transient exceptions, immigration to the UK was always modest.
That changed in the late 1950s with new inflows, then uncontrolled, from the New Commonwealth. Annual net immigration was about 40,000 in the early 1990s, even negative in 1993. But with a policy change after 1997, net migration has increased to about 200,000, mostly from outside Europe, adding three million to the UK population.
On the latest (2012) official projections, assuming future annual net migration of 165,000 (in 2013 it was 212,000), the UK's population would grow from 64 million today to 77 million by mid-century and then on well into the next century.
Such growth brings no benefits to the inhabitants of a small island - quite the reverse. Certainly the age-structure is made slightly more youthful by immigration, which improves the dependency ratio. But that cannot solve population ageing; maintaining the status quo requires infinitely increasing migration. In countries like Britain, management of ageing must depend on non-demographic measures.
Recipient countries can benefit greatly from professional and other skilled migration and also from talented students (although the countries from which they come, if poor, may not). No-one who works in a university can be unaware of that. Such exchanges, usually balanced, have been normal between the developed countries for a very long time.
Many migrants, however, do not enter specifically for employment. Dependents and spouses may be ill-equipped to work or barred by culture from working. Immigrants are welcome to many employers particularly in low-productivity enterprises if they will accept low wages and conditions unattractive to locals. The only unequivocal beneficiaries are the immigrants themselves (who may earn several times their wages at home), their employers, and the consumers of their output. The local poor risk being excluded from these benefits.
Overall, as studies by the House of Lords and others have concluded, there is little or no net benefit for the average inhabitant. Arguments persist on the fiscal benefit of migration (services consumed by immigrants minus taxes paid by them). Most studies show it is small, some that it is negative. The better off may gain, the poor do not. Most evidence shows only a small loss of UK jobs to natives, but most created since 2001 have gone to immigrants and one million young people remain out of work, neither being trained nor educated.
Employers like willing immigrant workers but some clearly have become dependent on them. Easy access to immigration, especially of low-wage workers, distorts the economy and creates dependency. Low-wage, low-productivity, low skill enterprises flourish. That is not the future for a modern economy aspiring to be knowledge-based. In the long run such jobs cannot be sustained at acceptable living standards without welfare. Their proliferation risks increasing working poverty and income inequality. Abundant immigrant labour distracts attention from urgent domestic reform.