Since last year’s Battle of Ideas debate, anxiety over immigration has continued to increase. Polls indicate that significant majorities believe there is an immigration ‘crisis’, and there is much handwringing over whether Enoch Powell’s predictions in his ‘rivers of blood’ speech 40 years ago will finally materialise. Against this backdrop, the UK government has introduced a points-based system awarding preference on the basis of migrants’ skill-level. But the arguments for and against immigration are political and moral as well as economic.
Those who want to restrict immigration think our borders are recklessly wide-open. They call instead for ‘managed migration’, arguing that we have a responsibility to our fellow citizens who face job losses thanks to competition from immigrants, with a recent Lords report insisting immigration has had ‘little or no’ positive economic impact. Moreoever, it is argued, open borders undermine concepts of sovereignty and citizenship, and weaken social cohesion. And while few express openly racist sentiments today, many worry about a xenophobic reaction from the white working class.
Advocates of a more liberal approach see the current immigration laws as inhumanely restrictive. They point to the economic benefits of immigration, and argue that in any case the character of migration is changing: we should see migrants as increasingly hyper-mobile commuters who enrich our society and culture, rather than settlers intent on transforming Britain. Furthermore, campaigners argue we have an ethical duty to asylum seekers, and even that free migration for all is a positive moral good in its own right.
Is the much touted tidal wave of immigrants a reality or an exaggeration? Would an open door be a boon or a bane? What kind of immigration policy should we adopt?
director, WORLDwrite & WORLDbytes
|Frank Field, MP
Labour MP for Birkenhead; co-chair, Cross Party Group on Balanced Migration; author, Neighbours from Hell: The Politics of Behaviour
freelance journalist; producer and reporter for Sweden's public service radio
|Professor Bob Rowthorn
emeritus professor of Economics, University of Cambridge; Fellow, King's College; author Democracy and Efficiency in the Economic Enterprise
communications consultant, researcher and blogger based in São Paulo
The thing about population projections is that they are usually wrong. Our problem in future may be getting people to stayDavid Aaronovitch, The Times, 9 September 2008
A new report argues that the number of immigrants who are given permission to settle permanently in this country should be kept to approximately the same level as the number of British citizens who are emigratingMigrationwatchUK, 8 September 2008
Far from being a problem, more people can be a boon. Other people are what make our lives special; and the more people there are, the greater the chances of coming up with the new ideas that transform our lives for the betterPhilippe Legrain, Guardian Unlimited, 5 April 2008
More human mobility has both created wealth and helped to share it out more equallyAdam Roberts, The Economist, 3 January 2008
Britain is now characterised by the unprecedented complexity and variety of different groups within its bordersSteven Vertovec, COMPAS, 2006
Transnational migration produces blatant contradictions between universal human rights and the extant set of naturalization, immigration, refugee, and asylum policies
Nadia Urbinati, Dissent Magazine, September 2005
Protectionism here is, as elsewhere, directed to fruitless attempts to capture benefits for a minority at the cost of the world at largeNigel Harris, openDemocracy, 12 June 2003