28 February, 2017
1. In August 2016 the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration launched an inquiry into how immigration policy could more effectively promote integration. Their interim report sets out six principles that they believe could promote better integration, by which they mean the extent to which people conform to shared norms and values and lead shared lives.
2. The six principles are outlined below:
a) The government must develop a comprehensive and proactive national strategy for the integration of immigrants from an economic, civic and social perspective. This should focus on access to the labour market; awareness of the UK’s laws, traditions and culture; democratic participation; and the extent to which people of different backgrounds come into contact with each other.
b) Local authorities must be required to draw up and implement local integration action plans. The Controlling Migration Fund should be implemented and consideration given to an Integration Impact Fund.
c) Government must reassess its current ‘one size fits all’ approach to immigration policy. Consideration should be given to co-designing a regionally-led immigration system, with devolved and local authorities, drawing on the Canadian model.
d) For new immigrants, integration should begin upon arrival in the UK. Migrants should speak English on arrival or be enrolled in compulsory English lessons and should be automatically placed on pathways to citizenship
e) Better data on the integration of immigrants.
f) The government should demonstrate strong political leadership on immigration in order to build public confidence and facilitate successful integration of new arrivals at a regional and local level. Integration as a two way street should be promoted as should the role that migrants play in the local and national economy. Immigration policy and rhetoric should not be conflated with issues of counter-terrorism.
3. The third principle outlined by the APPG suggests that a regional immigration policy could better support the integration of migrants. They argue that such a policy could direct migrants to areas that do not at present attract large numbers supporting regional development and minimising strain on public services in areas of already high migration. Such a policy would also impact the public debate by tailoring immigration to local needs and creating incentives for politicians to make the case for immigration to their area.
4. It is suggested that the current system encourages migrants to go to areas with an already high concentration of migrants, hindering the integration process. The current system has also brought friction between the needs of different parts of the country, such as Scotland where the Scottish government wishes to attract more migrants which runs counter to the overall objective of the UK government to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands.
5. A regional system could form part of the devolution agenda with regional immigration policies devolved to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and newly constituted English metro areas. Consideration should be given to the regions setting their own criteria for migration as well as setting their own quotas. The Canadian system is suggested as a possible blue print. The region of Quebec has vast power to define its own immigration needs, set criteria and is responsible for the assessment of visa applications.
6. It is highly questionable that a regional policy could help integration. Madeleine Sumption notes in a 2015 Migration Policy Institute report that encouraging migrants to move to places with fewer economic opportunities does in fact lead to poor integration outcomes.
7. A regional policy in which devolved governments decide on quotas for their region is incompatible with having a net migration target to reduce overall net migration. The commitment to reduce net migration to sustainable levels was a manifesto commitment on which the Conservative Party won a majority at the 2015 election.
8. Migrants go to where there is an availability of jobs. There is nothing to stop Scottish companies from recruiting skilled workers from overseas and it already enjoys free movement yet the Scottish government suggests that they need more migrants. In fact Scotland does not need to increase immigration to grow its population, which is set to grow by 7% by 2039 on current trends. Even if EU migration was reduced by a half, the Scottish government admits that the population will continue to grow.
9. Without a very high level of enforcement, more open immigration policies in one region can allow the system to become a back door to another region undermining the rule of law.
10. A regional policy has the potential to seriously distort the market, allowing companies in one area access to cheap overseas labour (if a region decides against imposing a skills or income threshold) whereas competitor companies in other areas might face more strict immigration controls placing them at a disadvantage in the domestic market.
11. There are indeed similarities between the UK and Canada in the sense that a large number of migrants go to London in the same way that they have tended to go to Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. However there are also significant differences. Canada is over 40 times larger than the UK yet its population is just over half the level of the UK. They have a population density of 3 people per square kilometre. Canadians are therefore unlikely to feel as if their country is overcrowded as people do in the UK.
12. Canada has had problems with enforcing their regional policy with many migrants simply moving to another region upon arrival. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows all Canadian residents to move and live freely across the provinces.