Dispelling the myths of immigration

Given Britain’s imperial past and 47-year membership of the EU, it comes as no surprise that it now ranks amongst the world’s most multicultural societies. However, as the number of immigrants entering the UK has risen, so has public sentiment against immigration: this, of course, was mirrored by the result of the 2016 Brexit vote. Unfortunately, misconceptions around immigration have spread throughout British politics and society, leading to a number of anti-immigration policies and campaigns. The truth is that immigration is largely beneficial for our economy, and this article will tackle and debunk some of the most common myths about the subject.

One thing we often hear is that migrants steal jobs from natives, when in reality this is certainly not the case. Immigrants actually help to create new jobs for two main reasons. Firstly, by purchasing UK-made products, they generate a multiplier effect: a manufacturer will respond to an increase in their workload by employing more people, as well as ordering more from their sub-contractors; the sub-contractors will subsequently need to hire more workers in order to deal with their increased workload. Secondly, it has been found that immigrants tend to have more entrepreneurial acumen than natives due to their higher willingness to take on risk. The result of this is that despite only 14% of UK residents being foreign-born, as many as 49% of our fastest-growing businesses have one or more foreign-born co-founders. These findings show that immigrants play a huge part in job-creation in the UK.

But what about British wages? Many people say that immigration drives wages down. This seems to be a reasonable claim- ask any A-level economics student, and they’ll be able to explain (with the aid of a supply and demand diagram) that an increase in the supply of labour would lead to a drop in wages. However, something that people often seem to disregard is the increase in demand for labour that occurs at the same time. 

As shown on the diagram, this results in both the supply curve and the demand curve shifting- the subsequent change in the wage rate (if there is one) depends entirely on the magnitude of each shift, meaning the effect of immigration on wages is ambiguous. Studies conducted by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford indeed suggest that immigration has very little overall effect on wages, with slight negative effects on low-skilled workers and slight positive effects on high-skilled workers. This may seem worrying at first, but only 9% of native Britons are actually in low-skilled jobs. Most immigrants possess skills that substitute those of other immigrants, meaning the majority of natives are simply customers of immigrants, not competing for jobs with them.

Another common misconception is that immigrants are taking advantage of our welfare system. In reality, quite the opposite is true- immigrants are more than capable of carrying their own fiscal weight. Firstly, they have an important role in reducing pressure on government debt. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that if current immigration rates remain relatively stable, then by 2067-68, government net debt will be 30% lower. This estimation is driven by the fact that incoming migrants are more likely to be of working age than native Britons and thus more likely to be working and contributing to public finances. Secondly, despite what many people claim, medical tourism in the UK is negligible. The government themselves report that misuse of the NHS by overseas visitors accounts for only 0.3% of their budget. Immigrants also pay more for the NHS than natives- on top of taxes, they pay a surcharge of £470-£624 a year as part of their visa application. In fact, immigrants from the EEA pay more taxes as a whole than the average taxpayer.

My final point concerns more of an exaggeration rather than a misconception. Ever since the Al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001 on the USA, security and protection of citizens has become an increasingly prevalent argument for limiting immigration. Whilst the relationship between immigration and terrorism is undeniable, it is often overstated by politicians; the reality is that immigration restrictions have little to no effect on international terrorism. If foreign terrorists feel strongly enough about their causes, they are unlikely to be put off by the illegality of their actions, and most of them will make it into the country as illegal immigrants anyway. What’s more, those who are unsuccessful can easily enter the country legally by posing as businesspeople, tourists or visiting students. 

Misconceptions about immigration are incredibly common, and it is of paramount importance that we separate myths from facts. In doing so, we can ensure that any future immigration reforms made by the government are based solely on the truth.

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