Migration: time for a King Canute moment?
Net annual immigration rose from 153,000 in the year to September 2012 to 176,000 in the year to December 2012, mostly as a result of fewer people leaving the country. In fact, the annual number of people arriving dropped too, from 566,000 to 497,000 – but the outflow dropped by more. And the number entering the country from Eastern Europe – the part of immigration most commonly identified as difficult to manage – actually saw a fall from 77,000 to 58,000.
What this shows is that it is incredibly difficult to deliver on the current Government’s promise to reduce net migration (as we have suggested before!) And the target of ‘tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands’ by the end of this Parliament looks ever more unlikely, unless Government immigration policy becomes even more counter-productive than it already is.
The Government’s ‘foreigners not welcome’ signs already include eye-catching (sorry, eye-watering) policies such as the doubly cheap ‘Go Home’ vans, the plans to charge a bond for visa applicants, and the advertising in Bulgaria and Romania about how bad Britain’s got under the Coalition. It also includes the tougher line being taken on overseas students which saw the number arriving to study fall from 232,000 in 2011 to 180,000 in 2012.
In exactly the same way that the Government’s austerity measures have backfired by prolonging the recession and forestalling a return to trend rates of growth, its immigration policy is having a devastating impact on higher education, Britain’s diplomatic capital and possibly even productivity, too. Instead of trying more and more desperate measures to reduce migration, the Government should be working on ways to address the challenges it poses by cracking down on exploitation and undercutting, building more houses, and tackling tax evasion that costs us billions more than so-called health and benefit tourism.
Surely it is now time for someone to show leadership like King Canute, who famously positioned his throne in the surf and commanded the waves to turn back just to show how little control he had? Of course, his move was widely misinterpreted as suggesting he actually thought he could control the tides. If he had thought that, he would have fitted right in at the Home Office.