8 July 2015

How the UK’s new immigration law will hurt Britain’s economy

By Olumayowa Okediran

In 2012, the UK Home Secretary Theresa May announced that from April 2016 the United Kingdom will force non European Union immigrants who earn less than £35,000 back to their home countries. The radical anti-immigration reforms championed by Prime Minister David Cameron’s administration will bring about negative consequences for the UK economy.

The traditional anti-immigration logic of protecting jobs for natives is highly flawed; the usual narrative that immigrants steal jobs is a faulty argument and the hostility towards immigrants is unfounded, with empirical data continually disproving such views. The UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills states in its report on the impacts of migration on native employment that only 13% of new jobs in 2014 went to foreign nationals. Meanwhile, the Centre for Entrepreneurship’s report on migrant entrepreneurs notes that migrant entrepreneurs are responsible for creating 14% new companies in the UK. This implies that an immigrant entrepreneur starts one out of seven SME businesses in the UK.

Although the data demonstrates the importance of migrant workers in the UK, the general public perception has been antagonistic towards immigration. Why is immigration unpopular amongst citizens of the UK? As The Guardian’s Richard Seymour puts it “popular hostility toward immigrants is determined by the perceived big picture, which polling data also shows most people get badly wrong. These errors are not neutral. The fact that people greatly overestimate the proportion of immigrants who are asylum seekers, for instance, matters largely because of the culture of suspicion and disbelief about refugees.” The majority of the UK public want a reduction of immigration to the UK, however the hostility towards immigrants is largely based on statistical fiction.

Polling data by Ipsos Mori, a UK based social research organization, reports that the anti-immigration perception of many UK citizens has no basis. The number of immigrants to the UK is grossly overestimated, with the public’s average guess at the proportion of the UK population being foreign-born at 31%.This is far higher than the official estimate of around 13%. The UCL Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration in 2014 reported that European immigrants who arrived in the UK since 2000 have contributed more than £20bn to UK public finances between 2001 and 2011. These negate the arbitrarily held belief that immigrants are a threat to local jobs and public finance.

Experts are already warning of a potential disaster to the UK health sector if this policy is executed, as up to 30,000 nurses will be affected. The Royal College of Nurses warned that the move would put the lives of patients in danger and called on the “Government to exempt nurses from the draconian new law.” The Mirror reports points out that the £180 million spent yearly recruiting foreign nurses only to kick them out six years later will be wasted.

The UK Government also puts certain restrictions on businesses and employers. The government criminalizes the advertisement of jobs overseas before they are advertised in the UK and imposes levies on businesses that recruit immigrant workers. The consequences of these government-imposed sanctions on businesses are clearly negative.

University of Buckingham Professor Len Shackleton explains that “The new restrictions will cause considerable inconvenience to employers, and will make it more difficult for us to import talented scientists, technologists, and skilled workers of all kinds. It will send out negative signals about the openness of the UK economy and society.” Global hiring has always been a means for employers to scout for ideal candidates; unfortunately this immigration regime is costly to employers, puts a lot of barriers to their freedom to scout for suitable employees and overall results in a negative outcome for the UK economy.

Olumaywa Okediran is a Young Voices Advocate and African Programs Manager at Students For Liberty. He is based out of Ibadan, Nigeria.