Peter Sutherland, International Chairman of Goldman Sachs, has branded efforts to curb immigration “ridiculous”.
Immigration has been a hot topic in the UK, with the electorate initially raising objections due to the large increase of unskilled and low-skilled migrants from accession countries such as Poland. This influx of migrants had a significant impact on the building trades and the service industry, with many UK citizens complaining of income declining in the face of prices being offered that they could not compete with. There is of course no minimum wage for those working on a self-employed basis.
The Governments response has been to limit skilled and managed migration. This has included attempts to limit the skilled workers coming to the UK under the Tier 1 General visa, reductions in the numbers and accepted roles for Tier 2 visas and other changes, such as making it harder for UK Citizens to bring their partner to the UK with a UK Spouse Visa. This has created resentment and consternation among many, with confusion about why a EEA Citizen coming to the UK is subjected to far less stringent requirements than a UK Citizen.
Other changes include making the UK a less attractive destination for foreign students, creating a significant reduction in income for the education sector and leading to concerns that tuition fees for UK Citizens will have to increase.
In these ways the Government have been able to say they are ‘doing something about immigration’ and reduce the numbers coming here. The question is whether they are doing the right things, or, indeed, if anything needs to be done at all.
The question of freedom of movement is a complex issue. When this was originally introduced the member countries had broadly similar economic status and thus migration was naturally at a reasonable level across the various member states. With new members somehow meeting the financial requirements for entry in to the EU, despite being significantly poorer, it is no surprise that freedom of movement has become such a significant issue and that it is causing such concern. Unfortunately the steps taken to limit migrants coming to the UK does nothing to address the real concerns that the public have. This is not an issue confined to the UK.
Peter Sutherland addressed this situation during the World Economic Forum in Davos, saying:
Right across Europe there is a negative view about migration which not merely contradicts some of the values which many of us associate particularly with the European Union but more generally with civilized society.
It is ridiculous to stop migration when the demographic profile of so many countries demands it.
The evidence is overwhelming that migration plays a very positive role in the development of countries. And that migrants generally play a positive, constructive role in economic activity.
The perceptions are totally out of line with reality.
It is already evidence that in the European Elections there has been a significant rise for parties which I would consider to be advocating xenophobic responses rather than positive responses to immigration.
I think that this is extremely unfortunate, and I think it is time for the debate to be carried directly to those who advocate these positions.
There is a general feeling that the things being done about ‘immigration’ are not addressing people’s concerns and avoidance of the real issues by politicians has simply fostered a general anti-immigration feeling that is not constructive or realistic.
It is a debate that will continue!