The migration advisory committee (MAC) has done a great service with its latest report into the effects of European migration. We have been accustomed to unsubstantiated assertions, wild generalisations and dog-whistle politics about migrants, including from the EU. The MAC provides analysis and evidence.
It would be a major departure if this government based immigration policy on evidence or expert advice. Its current policy is designed to create an artificial panic about migration and migrants, despite their positive contribution to our society, our culture and to our economy and public finances.
The government’s never-achieved net migration target of below 100,000 is not a workable policy. Any serious efforts to achieve it would hugely disrupt important sectors of our economy and exacerbate the crises in the NHS, social care and other areas.
But the target does allow a permanent campaign against migration and migrants in general. Philip Hammond talked of “marauding” migrants threatening standards of living, Theresa May introduced “Go home” vans and the entire Tory party supported the 2014 Immigration Act and the “hostile environment”.
The MAC report reveals this campaign is based on falsehoods. The evidence shows that migrants have little or no impact on the employment or wages of UK-born workers. It is not clear, according to the report, that there is even any impact on lower income groups.
The report goes on to say that migration is not a major determinant of wages, it may have a positive impact on productivity and there is no evidence that it blocks training; it may actually increase it. On public services and public finances the report is unequivocal: European migrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits and public services. Through their work in the NHS and elsewhere, it is also clear that they are net contributors to our key pubic services. Finally, the MAC shows there is no increase in crime resulting from this migration.
The government is due to produce another immigration bill before the end of the year. Far from “never talking about immigration”, this will be the third such piece of legislation since 2010. The government suggests that it will be based on evidence. This would indeed be a first. We shall see.
Recently, I set out Labour’s new, fairer, simpler immigration policy. It is designed to address our economic needs in a post-Brexit world. The government has numerical targets (which it never even nears). We will have rational criteria. You cannot have both, and numerical targets led this government to blocking much-needed doctors and nurses from coming here, and deporting our own citizens in the Windrush scandal.
The criteria are simple. First, we have existing moral and legal obligations to all Commonwealth citizens. We have similar obligations to the 3 million who came here in good faith under freedom of movement, as our citizens did the same in the EU. The final Brexit deal and future trade deals will probably include some measure to allow migration between our country, the EU and those other countries. Our immigration system cannot be an obstacle to striking those deals. Unlike the Tories, Labour will always put the living standards of our population first. I also set out how we will provide work visas for doctors, nurses, social care workers and any other areas where we might still have labour or skills shortages after those Brexit and trade deals have been struck. Each of these categories will be subject to agreed access, based on what is right and what benefits us all.
The term “preferential treatment” is not really a helpful one. It conflates movement of people with their rights and obligations once they are here. Instead, Labour will have agreed access to determine who is entitled to be here, and equal treatment of all citizens once they are here.
The MAC has come under attack from some business groups for making a distinction between high-skilled and low-skilled workers. Yet we will almost certainly need social care workers and others in future. And when business says it needs workers in other sectors, we will definitely listen. We will also insist on more training, better rights and higher minimum wages for workers already here. This is rational immigration policy, determined by our needs and that works for all of us.