EU immigration is not the problem
By Andrew Green
Chairman of Migration Watch UK
The Daily Telegraph, London, 24 August, 2006
In recent days, the press has been bursting with articles about east European immigration - but it is missing the point. Our major problems stem not from eastern Europe but from long-term immigration from other parts of the world.
The Government's incompetence is clouding the issue. To predict a maximum of 13,000 migrants a year and to be faced with some 300,000 in each of the first two years simply beggars belief. MigrationWatch said at the time that the estimate bore little relation to reality. Little did we know how right we were.
The huge numbers are one factor. The geographical spread is another. East Europeans have gone all over Britain looking for work and have arrived in relatively small communities, where their presence is quickly noticed. Hence the interest in the local press and radio.
But this is a distraction from the more serious problems stemming from a growing number of immigrants from the rest of the world. Pointing out that some 70 per cent of them come from Africa and Asia risks the accusations of racism that have closed down a necessary debate for too long. Admittedly, Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, said last year that such a discussion was not racist, and now the Home Secretary tells us that such accusations are just political correctness. But it is hard to avoid the impression that the media, and especially the BBC, are much happier discussing European immigration than the influx from the rest of the world. It is astonishing that, last autumn, when net immigration showed a 50 per cent jump in one year, it was not even mentioned on the BBC.
Indeed, it has gone largely unremarked in recent days that net immigration from outside the EU has now reached more than 250,000 a year. This is a threefold increase since 1997 and probably exceeds net immigration from eastern Europe. In the long term, this is a much more important issue. Not only are immigrants from outside Europe more likely to stay on here, but also some are from distant cultures that find integration more difficult.
To be fair, we do not know how long our new Poles will stay. Some may settle here, but many others will return to their own country - a country with a strong, perhaps old-fashioned, patriotism and firm family links. As they begin to return, and as the Polish economy catches up with the rest of the EU, these flows will even out and the whole situation will settle down. This is certainly what happened with previous enlargements of the EU. In the case of Poland, it will take at least 10, and perhaps 20 years before its economy comes near to catching up with our own; but that is the long-term prospect. We will also be helped by the rapidly declining birth rate, especially in Poland and Romania, over the next 20 years.
None of this applies to the Third World countries, from which the other flows of immigrants are coming. Their economic level is unlikely to reach ours, and in many countries the population is expanding extremely rapidly, with very few jobs for young people. The pressure to emigrate can only grow. As one might expect, the settlement figures for non-EU citizens are showing a rapid increase. Last year they rose by 30 per cent to a record 179,000 - nearly three times the level of 1996.
Why should we worry? Mainly because long-term settlement adds to the pressures on an already overcrowded island: pressures on infrastructure, public services and the cohesion of our society.
The Government still chooses to assume that net immigration will settle down at 145,000 a year, far below current levels. Even on this assumption, immigration will be responsible for nearly one in three new households in the next 20 years - and that means an extra 1.5 million houses purely for immigrants. Were it not for this factor, most, but not all, development on greenfield sites would be unnecessary. The impact of an extra six million people over the next 30 years speaks for itself, especially as 75 per cent of immigrants come to London and the South-East.
Nor are all these immigrants coming here to work. The Economic and Social Research Council reports that, in 2003, only just over one in five immigrants were workers, while just over a quarter were students. The rest were mainly dependants, likely to add to the pressure on public services.
But the most sensitive issue is community cohesion. A succession of government-sponsored reports has pointed out that many of us are living parallel lives. We work together, but then go home to our different communities. Trevor Phillips famously, and courageously, warned that "we are sleep-walking towards segregation". But the link that nobody makes is the link with immigration.
Among the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, some 30 to 50 per cent of the second and third generations marry partners from their countries of origin. In Bradford, this figure reaches 60 per cent. The effect is to increase the number of households greatly, adding to the pressure on housing, and setting back integration by a generation - assuming, of course, that people now living in those rather closed communities wish to integrate.
A recent report on Oldham, assessing efforts to rebuild community relations in the five years since the riots, found only slow progress. A key conclusion was that "a major factor in building community cohesion in Oldham over the next two decades will be the relative growth in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage population. The potential risk is that the pace of change in building community cohesion and regenerating the borough may be overtaken by the potential for population change to generate division and conflict."
What lies behind this is the population projection buried in subsidiary papers. It shows that, in the next 15 years, the Pakistani population is expected to increase by 50 per cent and the Bangladeshi population by 70 per cent, while the white population will decline slightly. How can the host community be expected to cope with that?
Put another way, the failure of immigration policy is placing the harmony of our society at risk. We cannot afford to take our eye off the ball that really matters.
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green
The Daily Telegraph, London, 24 August, 2006