Since the Brexit debate, mentioning the word immigration has become akin to spitting poison. Those who bring it up are associated with xenophobia, racism and closed mindedness. This has led to an unhealthy inability to have a rational discussion about where to take our immigration policy in a post-Brexit Britain. Whatever your position in the Brexit debate, immigration represents a wider argument about the British growth model and we must debate how to attract and keep skilled migrants and reduce the number of unskilled migrants into the UK.
Well-respected think tank Policy Exchange has today released a paper by David Goodhart which discusses the possible options that lie ahead for the UK’s immigration policy. Goodhart has highlighted the need to not give “automatic right of residence for EU citizens coming in the future; have a “light-touch” five year work-permit for future EU professionals to be cleared in less than a month; create more restrictive two year permits for unskilled workers with preference for those willing to work anti-social hours; continuing visa-free travel for tourism and continuity for EU students; and the creation of new temporary work programmes including in agriculture and for young people.”
Goodhart proposes that there should be a continuity in arrangements for EU students in terms of fees and access to the government loan system and crucially we should extend the current Youth Mobility Visa that offers two year access to the UK for 18-30 year olds from places like Australia and Taiwan to all EU states, which should allay the fears of the hospitality sector.
Goodhart argues that taking some of these steps should alleviate concerns that we will have a mass exodus of EU citizens in March 2019.
But he highlights the need for a wider debate on this issue, it’s time to put down our swords and get serious about addressing issues in the system. He argues that we have become dangerously dependent upon EU immigration:
EU citizens make up about 7 per cent of the UK workforce, rising to 17 per cent in London, and some sectors such as food manufacturing (30 per cent) and London house-building (56 per cent) have become damagingly over-dependent on EU labour.
He also argues that the culture behind immigration that has emerged over the years has caused a degree of uncertainty in the British community, as it’s created a “neither one thing nor the other” resident. As a result there is a culture where we don’t understand if someone is a tourist, temporary visitor, or permanent resident in the UK. This has led to many people taking full advantage of free movement to the expense of British citizens.
Immigration is an important and necessary part of society moving forward, we need immigration and no society would be prosperous without immigration. But it would be foolhardy to say that it hasn’t presented some problems and we must acknowledge these issues and work out how to address them. It’s time to get serious, pull the fangs out of each other with useless name-calling, and find some pragmatic solutions to problems that have been ignored for too long.