Ignore the immigration rhetoric: Record UK net migration is a cause for celebration

Tory immigration minister James Brokenshire blames business for rising net migration (Source: Getty)
Listen to the political rhetoric and one thing seems clear: immigration is bad, and we have way too much of it.
Every time new migration figures are published, as happened yesterday, politicians call for draconian measures to be introduced to cut the numbers. And yet, with the government’s crude target to get net migration down to the tens of thousands, which takes no account of the likely contribution each migrant could bring, we are in danger of missing the benefits of migration.
The simple fact is that London – and the country more widely – needs access to talent from around the world.
In a global market, where trade barriers have been slashed and ideas can be spread within milliseconds, we need our companies to have access to the niche skills they require in order to compete.
Software companies – often creating the very latest technologies – can either secure the best talent or be left behind.
Indeed, in a survey we conducted, 80 per cent of tech companies in London cited skills gaps as a major barrier to growth. And the capital’s professional services firms wanting to sell into India may need to hire Indian-born specialists so they have the inside track on that market.
Far from stealing British workers’ jobs, as immigration critics contend, immigrants help UK firms enter new markets, produce the best products and services, and export globally.
Many are also business founders and actually increase the number of jobs for those born here. After all, there isn’t a fixed quantity of jobs: there are more than 5m more jobs in the UK today than there were 20 years ago.
Now there is a worry that immigrants just come to Britain to claim benefits and leach off the NHS.
But again, the evidence paints a different picture. Research from University College London found that migrants – both from the EU and from further afield – made a net positive contribution to the public finances.
And the OECD has found that immigrant households don’t just contribute more in tax than they receive in benefits, but also make a bigger contribution to the economy than households of those born here.
Of course, the government is right to clamp down on illegal immigration, and there need to be better measures to know who’s in or out of the country. And understandably, when the public is concerned about an issue, the government needs to be seen to listen.
But we must be careful that the debate isn’t off-putting to those considering making a positive contribution to our country by investing, studying or holidaying here.
Despite the education of foreign students being a £2.3bn a year export success story, our market share of students has flatlined, whereas the US, Canada, Germany and Australia are seeing their shares increase.
Much more needs to be done to separate out legitimate concerns about migration from those spurious arguments that simply hinder rational policy-making.
Yesterday’s figures can be interpreted as only bad news – but the fact that Britain is good at attracting global talent should be a cause not of misery but of celebration.

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