Tagged: immigration

Stopping in-work benefits for EU workers

It’s been widely reported (for example, in the Times, the Mail and the Sun) that Theresa May has plans to restrict in-work benefits to EU workers, putting them on the same footing as non-EU claimants.  I’ve been puzzling about what this means.  The only benefits specifically mentioned in the reported briefings are Tax Credits, which in any case are supposed to be being replaced by Universal Credit.  In most cases non-EU migrants are entitled to benefits as long as they meet the various tests – residence, presence or habitual residence,  depending on which benefit we’re talking about.  So, for example, to be entitled to Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit or Child Benefit a non-EEA migrant is expected to have lived in the UK for three months.  Refugees and family members don’t have the three month test; but both EU and UK citizens returning from abroad, who are not working, are subject to the  test.  If Ms May was saying only that there’s to be a three-month residence requirement for everyone, she wouldn’t need to wait for Brexit; it would be compatible with EU law now.

The main restriction that actively affects non-EU migrants is something quite different:  the restriction of the terms of entry on their visa, where they undertake not to be dependent on public funds and are threatened with deportation if they do.    Treating EU migrants in the same way could only happen after Brexit.  It would mean that the issue is not mainly about benefit law at all, but about the way that Britain deals with foreign citizens.  It’s only workable if we have a straightforward way of identifying who is, and who is not, a migrant, and a clear record of the terms of entry.  That could affect millions of people.

Free movement demands planning: both the EU and the UK government have muddied the water on managing immigration

David Cameron has just been to an EU summit to say that the EU must accept the restriction of free movement of labour; it’s not going to happen.  I was reluctant, during the referendum campaign, to engage in debates on the subject of immigration:  every attempt to intervene on the other side only reinforced the idea that the EU referendum was really about ‘controlling our borders’.  The debate was misconceived in three ways.  First, the UK does ‘control its borders’.  In an open society, however, people cross back and forward across borders all the time, and they are routinely checked.  Routinely, of course, means not very thoroughly, but doing it thoroughly to everyone passing a border is unthinkable.   Border controls can in theory contribute to immigration control – in theory – but, as the experience of the USA shows, this is neither practical nor effective.  All it shows, not very reliably, is that some visitors overstay.

Second, what is done at the border is of very limited relevance to the control of immigration.   An ‘immigrant’ is not just a visitor; it is someone who comes to settle, which implies living, working and participate in another society.  While the UK controls visits, it does remarkably little about immigration as such, with a signal lack of intervention in employment in particular and policies for housing and urban planning that are substantially laissez-faire.

Third, restricting the flow of migration is not the same as controlling the numbers.  Restrictions limit potential numbers, because it restricts the flow, but it does not actually bring them under control.  There is no fixed quota or number that might be achieved (let alone a figure for ‘net migration’, which depends on other factors beyond the government’s control. )  The situation is made more complex because there are several different kinds of circumstances where people come to settle.  The principal categories are economic migrants (workers and families), family reunion, asylum seekers and refugees, and students. (There were 437,000 overseas students in 2014/15, including 125,000 from other EU countries.  Education is more than a service industry, but it counts as one of our major exports.)

There is a problem with migration, but it is not the problem that the UK government has been talking about. The problem is that once migration happens, as it does all the time, there needs to be some adjustment to it.  Both the UK government, and the institutions of the EU, are in the grip of a market based ideology which thinks that ‘free movement’ of money, goods, services and people is the same thing as unfettered movement.  Markets have to be structured,  regulated and facilitated.  Where they have negative effects, those need to be managed and compensated for.  When the EU was set up, the main concern was the impact of trade and specialisation on employment, and the Social Funds were set up to deal with that.  But now, the neo-liberals are in the ascendant, both in the UK and in the EU.   When it comes to the movement of people, there is no mechanism for management, at the level of the EU, the national government or local government.

Jobs need to be in places where people can live.  There have to be houses, schools, roads.  That means either that jobs are directed to those places, or that places have to be built and developed to go where the jobs are.  I prefer the first of those options, but that’s not crucial to this argument.  The point is that there is no inconsistency between the free movement of people – a fundamental principle of the European Union – and  planning to meet population change.  On the contrary, free movement depends on such planning.  If EU rules are obstructing free movement, because they prevent planning happening, they need to be changed.  But I suspect that the problem rests, not in the rules as such, as the assumption that the principle of free movement renders everyone helpless.

Benefits for migrants

A House of Commons briefing paper details the extent to which working-age migrants from different countries are receiving benefits from the UK welfare state.  The quick answer is: to a very small extent.   Migrants are  less likely than British-born citizens to receive benefits in work, and much less likely to receive benefits out of work.  There is nothing in the figures to support the contention that the benefits system is under pressure from migrants.

The Migration Observatory at Oxford has also recently published a report on the minimum income requirement for non-EEA nationals.  They were asked to review at what level of income people wouldn’t be dependent on benefits: it’s not a meaningful question, because benefits don’t work that way.   The report cites a finding that the UK already has the most restrictive policies of 38 high-income countries.


We should let more migrants in

bildThe ‘crisis’ at Calais may be small beer by comparison with the issues in Hungary, Greece and Italy, but clearly it has implications for both the British and the French government.  My sympathies, I should declare,  are with the migrants.  I come from a long line of refugees – my father left France in 1940; I am the first male member of my family not to have to leave his country in five generations.  Some of the arguments that are being made about the ‘swarm’ of migrants are preposterous.  They should not be trying to enter the country illegally.  What options do they have to enter legally?  They should apply in their own countries through the proper channels.   So …  what do the proper channels in Syria look like?   They come with no identity papers.  A standard part of fleeing the country is that you dump papers so that you won’t be sent back to die.   The Guardian cites the UN special representative on migration:  “Many of those in Calais are refugees, just as the Jewish people were in 1939.”

The people at Calais have come from very different places – some from war zones, some from chaotic regimes, others from very poor parts of the world.   Some of them have a strong case for asylum; others may not; but the authorities in Britain and France don’t seem to be doing anything to differentiate them. The first duties fall on France, which is behaving disgracefully.  Where people are stateless, France has a legal duty to receive them.  When they are seeking asylum, France has a duty to process the application and admit them if the claim is justified.   Where there are unaccompanied children, France should be intervening to provide care.  Where a person has no case to remain, there is no justification for leaving that person to settle in a makeshift camp in Calais.   The second set of duties fall on Britain.  Britain has not yet accepted a proportionate share of people seeking refuge in the EU.  It is using border controls to make up for the inadequacy of its domestic arrangements:  people could not live and work illegally in the UK  if we applied the same rules about residence, housing occupancy and employment that are applied in most of the EU.  And, of course, once someone gains the status of a French citizen, they are legally entitled to seek work in Britain.  We might as well take them now.

4th September, 2015:  I have added a clip from the German newspaper, Bild, published on 31st August.  It refers to ‘the shirkers of Europe’ and the strapline is, ‘they help far fewer refugees than they could’.   

'A new policy on immigration and benefits, every week'

Lynton Crosby is advising the Conservative party on its electoral strategy.  Several newspapers and blogs this morning have reported, with some bemused scepticism, this from the Mail on Sunday:

Mr Crosby is said to have given orders that the party must produce ‘a new policy to curb immigrants and benefits’ every week.

This is poisonous, but I’m going to leave that aside for the while, and consider the issue solely from the perspective of the Conservative party.  This approach hasn’t worked in previous elections, notably the 2005 election where Crosby advised a campaign led by Michael Howard. It is bad electoral politics: it preaches to the converted, it alienates millions of others, and it does not offer any advantage to potential voters who aren’t already persuaded.

More simply, this is no way to make policy.  It has to lead to a flurry of competing proposals – scores of them, if this carries on for the next year.   It has to be done in a hurry, which means that mistakes will be made about facts, figures and assessments of impact- it’s happened repeatedly with policies like the benefits cap or Housing Benefit, and most recently with the farcical misrepresentaton of Romanian and Bulgarian immigration.   More is worse, as the Conservatives would have been keen to advise us in the days when there were some conservatives in the party.  A ‘policy a week’ is not a policy at all.


Some migration we can't control

There are some elements of potential immigration which the government has no real control over, but they’re not necessarily the ones getting all the publicity.  Currently there are probably more than five million Britons living permanently abroad – a widely cited figure from the IPPR was 5.6 million.   More than a million of these are in Australia, more than 800,000 in Spain and the USA, over 600,000 in Canada.  (It may also be worth noting that 18,000 British citizens live in Bulgaria, one of the countries which the tabloids have been convinced is going to disgorge lots of people into the UK.)

The picture relating to benefit dependency is slightly different.  According to current DWP figures, 1,221,000 benefits are paid to living to Britons abroad, of which 1,200,000 are pensioners.  The country with most claims in payment is Australia, with 250,000 pensioners, followed by the USA, Ireland and Spain – those four countries together account for about half the total.

It’s interesting to speculate what would happen if a significant number of these people  decided to come to Britain.  If people are already receiving benefit, the cost is mainly  going to be in other services.  But there are four and a half million Britons living abroad who aren’t receiving benefit.  How odd that they’ve been able to resist the lure of benefit tourism.

Afterthought, 9th January:   There is also an issue here which relates to the debate on Scottish independence.  Presumably an independent Scotland would have a proportion of expatriates to support – possibly 1 in 12, or 100,000.  That is likely to come at a cost of £600-£700m a year, subject to negotiation, which would need to be factored in to the budget calculations.

'Go home or face arrest'

I’m a British citizen, and have lived here all my life, but I’m also the first male member of my family not to be forced to leave his home in several generations.  My father and grandfather left France in 1940; my great grandfather left Berlin; my great-great grandfather left Posen/Poznan, now in Poland.   Like many second generation immigrants, I was raised in the expectation that the time could come when I’d have to leave, too.  It’s a tribute to British tolerance that the occasion hasn’t arisen.

That makes it all the more distressing to see the British government engage directly in actions designed to shake the security of any immigrant.  One aspect has been the vans going round London, threatening illegal immigrants with deportation. (Yougov reports that 61% of  the population think that this is not racist.)  Another has been the process of ‘spot checks‘ by stopping people who look ‘foreign’ and demanding papers.

Further link to the Mirror's article; click on the picture o go to article

There are, of course, more efficient ways of checking status than spot checks and advertisements.  The government could get people to wear a visible external symbol, in a nice bright colour,  so that checks could be done at sight.  It might even encourage some of them to leave the country.  And I’d probably want to go too.

Get ready for time limits

David Cameron’s much-trailed diatribe against migrants is taking the shape of something else.  He declares:  “We cannot have a culture of something for nothing.”  He is proposing time-limiting benefits for EU  migrants – which cannot be done legally without time-limiting benefits for UK residents as well.    He declaims:  “as a migrant, we’re only going to give you six months to be a jobseeker. After that benefits will be cut off unless you really can prove not just that you are genuinely seeking employment but also that you have a genuine chance of getting a job.”  No evidence has been given to suggest that people are coming to the UK to claim long-term-benefits; quite the reverse, because migrants are far less likely than others to claim anything at all.  (The benefit they are most likely to receive is Child Benefit, because that is also a tax allowance.)  However, if Cameron has his way, this reform will introduce time limits to income maintenance benefits, and the Vulcan tendency in the Conservative party has been pushing for time-limited benefits for years.  This seems to have more to do with that policy than anything to do with migration.

Time limits would have only a limited effect on unemployment in Britain, unless the periods were very short indeed; nine of out of ten unemployed people are back at work within a year, small numbers (less than 1 in 25)  for more than two years and and hardly any are unemployed for as many as five years.  But they would have a devastating effect on long-term support for disability and incapacity, because those are the people most likely to need long-term support before they reach retirement age.

London Metropolitan University

I have signed a petition to the UK Border Agency at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/amnesty-for-international-students-at-london-metropolit.html. It reads as follows:

We believe that it is completely contrary to natural justice that students should be punished for problems emanating from their University.
We therefore demand that the UK Border Agency agree to an immediate amnesty for the international students at London Metropolitan University affected by the Agency’s decision to revoke the University’s ‘Highly Trusted Status’. This would enable them to continue their studies while the problems at London Met were addressed.
We believe that the UKBA’s decision is a disproportionate reaction to a situation that could be addressed without the recourse to such drastic action. The UKBA’s decision punishes thousands of students who are entirely innocent of any alleged immigration breaches and sends a disastrous message to the rest of the world that UK higher education is not accessible to international students. Its actions threaten the immediate futures of thousands of London Metropolitan students, as well as the future of the University, and casts a huge shadow over the very valuable contribution that international students make to the culture and sustainability of UK higher education.