While yesterday’s overall net migration figures aren’t statistically significant, there is much we can learn from them, in particular the response from government officials.
Immigration minister Brandon Lewis is “encouraged” by the mere fact that the figure is falling, claiming “there is still more work to do to bring net migration down further to sustainable levels”.
This idea that there is a “sustainable” target for migrant numbers that can be determined by government policy is patently absurd. The government struggles to address current public policy issues, so it is heroically optimistic to assume it can plan for the type of labour market needed in future years.
Most reasons for arbitrarily reducing immigration, particularly from an economic standpoint, turn out to be misleading or wrong. And yet immigrants are increasingly scapegoated for the problems we face.
These perceptions must be corrected; it starts with calling out bad policy, and we don’t need to go any further back than this week to flag two key examples.
The first is a story of incompetence. On Wednesday it was revealed that the Home Office sent out roughly 100 deportation letters to EU nationals living in the UK – who were never meant to receive them. What the government described as an “unfortunate error” has had serious repercussions for the individuals to whom the letters were addressed. Eva Johanna Holmberg, who has lived with her husband in the UK for years, working as a visiting academic fellow at Queen Mary University of London, had already contacted her local MP to testify on her behalf before the mistake was clarified.
A government policy that strives to reduce immigration figures for political purposes is worrying, but officials who carry out their power to do so in such an incompetent manner are borderline dangerous. The threatening “Go Home” vans – brought in by then-home secretary May in 2013 – proved to be an example of both “Big Brother” and total ineffectiveness at the same time.
Both then and now, the trend towards immigrants seems to be increasingly power-heavy, with little thought given to how that power is wielded.
The second story highlights how misleading the debate can be. The talking point of the government for years has been to suggest that tens of thousands of students “vanish” after their degree is complete, presumably taking up illegal residency in the UK. On Thursday, we got some clarity: contrary to popular (or cherry-picked) belief: there is no epidemic of students studying in the UK overstaying their visas.
As it happens, border checks implemented last year found that almost 97 per cent of international students left the country. But the deeply-flawed theory, up to this point, has had a substantial impact on immigration policy. The Home Office has held strong to keeping students part of the net migration figures, inflating the perception of overall immigration statistics.
It’s easy in the UK to look across the pond and assume the real scapegoating culprits are the ones who are loudest. President Donald Trump would serve as a prime example, with vile characterisation of foreigners – particularly his description of Mexicans as “rapists”.
But many of Trump’s tactics are by no means exclusive to him or US politics. UK politicians across the spectrum are just as guilty of feeding into to anti-immigrant rhetoric: like conflating the impact of automation with the impact of immigration – the former playing a large role in the disappearance of certain jobs, while the latter does not.
Those who propose “controlled” or “sensible” immigration policies should start embracing those definitions, and stop re-defining them to mean “capped” or “extreme”. As we saw this week, the more one fights against the facts of immigration to suit a political end, the more misguided and problematic the policies become.
To continue down this road is not simply to promote economic quackery, but to insult human dignity.