Joining the Club
At the end of this year, immigration restrictions within Europe are set to relax, spiking fears in Britain that a mass influx of poor immigrants will arrive from the likes of Romania and Bulgaria. Britain has form, with similar circumstances in 2004 leading to a flood of Polish Citizens arriving in the country, to the point where Polish is now the second most spoken language in the country. This situation has lead to a growth in the popularity of UKIP, who campaign on restricting immigration and leaving the EU. Semi-Success in a by-election in Eastleigh, while rather meaningless in the grand scheme of things, has proved both their popularity gain and the unrest of the public. But are these fears well founded?
UKIP take advantage of public discontent.
Unhelpfully, there isn’t really any respected statistics on how many immigrants are set to hit the shores of the UK, while the government underestimated the numbers in 2004 and are wary to make the same mistake twice (with up to 13,000 projected a year but over quarter of a million arriving after the first couple of years) . A general estimate is that immigration from Romania and Bulgaria could rise to 50,000 a year for the next few years.
But why choose Britain? The economy is spluttering along, the government is implementing tough austerity measures and the public already has a negative view of immigrants. In fact the government has been advertising this in the home nations, even going to the lengths of trashing Britain’s weather. Yet Britain remains an attractive location, with low unemployment when compared to the rest of Europe, a language spoke across the continent and a welfare system made famous by its generosity.
Unemployment figures as of April 2012.
However if the public is expecting a repeat of 2004, they will be mistaken. The factors are different now. Britain was one of the fastest growing economies on the continent back then and importantly was one of the few large economies to fully open their borders at the time. Now Both Romanians and Bulgarians have a much wider choice in where they can travel, meaning the immigration figures should be split between the different countries. In fact, Germany in an economic sense is a lot more attractive; they have more impressive employment figures and a more stable society (whereas Britain has suffered from riots in recent history). Additionally, while their movement has been restricted, its hasn’t been completely stalled, so many Romanians for example have already emigrated, while countries like Spain had already allowed unrestricted immigration prior to this.
So while there will be an increase, it might not be as inflated as many are projecting. Either way, there will be more immigrants taking our jobs many will say. But that view is clearly wrong; many immigrants are either highly skilled and genuinely add something to the economy, or they are willing to do the low paid jobs many Britons would turn their nose up at e.g. picking vegetables. In fact, while locals grumble about the polish “invasion”, a reputation has spread of polish immigrants being hard workers, a term that isn’t coined so easily with British workers.
But there are inevitably those that move into the country to take advantage of a welfare system that has seen benefits grow faster than average wage. This is the worst case scenario, with immigrants draining the system and sending money out of the country to families back home. But this is more rare than many think; labour participation is on average higher for immigrants than in the general population, while those that wished to move to Britain for such reasons could have already done so – the limitations have applied only to the labour market. In total, when comparing what immigrants have contributed with their costs since 2004 in the top eight European countries, immigrants have had positive effects on the country’s finances.
Welfare cuts are being implemented now to help tighten the budget.
If this wasn’t enough, the current government’s policies have not made the country very open or attractive to possible immigrants. The welfare state is being cut drastically; with benefit growth no longer being tied to inflation and a cap being introduced on entitlements to any family up to the average salary in the UK. While immigration in general is being clamped down on, with the government sticking to a target to reduce total immigration to fewer than 100,000 by 2015. David Cameron has gone about this by making it harder to obtain visas, which has unfairly fallen upon students, the sort of immigration that the country wants, young and skilled. But it has helped encourage an anti-immigration vibe in the public, where polls have shown a majority of the public wanting near zero immigration. Not that this would have an effect on immigrants from Europe anyway, unless the government was to radically defy EU law and start denying visas to such citizens.
Growth in student immigration has been a strength of Britain’s.
So what will happen come the end of this year is still up to debate. The UK is no longer the only club in town and once you get in the locals aren’t very friendly. But then the minimum wage is fives that of Romania’s, which could be the equivalent of five more drinks…