Curbing immigration will hobble UK growth. That was true in the past; it is true in the present and it is likely to be true in the future. But Theresa May can’t see it. After Brexit, she and Home Secretary Sajid Javid plan to enact a proposal which will allow visas for “skilled” migrants earning £30,000 or more, but to clamp down on all the others.
There may be a one-year visa for a limited time but essentially free movement of labour with the EU will be stopped; the EU will have to take its chances with all the other nations to get into Britain, if they actually want to.
It is hard to see what else she could have done to make business less competitive, to make the economy less dynamic, to cripple the tax take of the Revenue even further, and put further strains on productivity.
Immigrants work. Most were not educated here, many will not be retiring here, but meanwhile they work and pay taxes. Indeed in 2016/17, EU migrants who came from before 2004 — long-term migrants — contributed over £3000 net in tax. EU members who have arrived here since 2004 contributed £1000. In contrast the native-born British actually did not make any net fiscal contribution at all; what they paid in taxes was more than eaten up in benefits from the state.
These figures are not mine. they are taken from the report of the Migration Advisory Committee last autumn.
The imposition of visas on EU citizens will make it much harder to get any worthwhile trade deal from them and it is also likely to mean in return that the EU impose visas on us — indeed they are already in train for holidaymakers.
A Latvian, a Pole, or any other EU national might rather not take a chance on Britain, but they will simply go somewhere else among the other 27 EU countries. This is not an option for British nationals seeking to go abroad. The whole of the EU will be closed to them.
The British seem to be under the delusion that the world’s best people will continue to come to these shores. The likelihood is that that won’t happen but instead the visa requirements on us will make this country the most restrictive, inconvenient and insular of any developed nation.
It will severely hinder fintech, where roughly half the employees are poor, young and from the EU. But then May’s pledge that Britain would attract “scientists, innovators and tech investors” is another example of empty rhetoric. Even before the visa requirements are imposed our top universities are suffering a fall in EU recruits in the current year of around 3%. This is in marked contrast to the rises of the previous and earlier years.
The biggest fall is among postgraduates, who would also normally help to fill student teaching posts, the very people May wants to encourage. And in spite of saying that the Government would make good on replacing the billions of EU cash grants which will shortly be withdrawn from the UK, there is no sign anywhere of Government actually doing it.
Javid will no doubt say of the visa scheme that it is the people earning less that £30,000 that we do not want. Well, those non-British are about half of all the people in the hospitality industry, the managers, waiters, bar and cleaning staff. They are prevalent too in the nursing and care home sectors, where caring is in many ways as relevant as actual skills and where many people will end up, ironically, though they voted for Brexit.
Younger people, if they want to buy a house, will not find even the few that we provide currently, because most of the joiners, bricklayers, plumbers and plasterers will not be admitted, and they are the majority of the workforce. The idea these people will instead all be replaced by Brits is simply not credible.
Even the skilled do not all earn £30,000 or anything like. Junior teachers are a case in point, yet between 10% and 20% of teaching staff in inner-city schools are EU nationals. We cannot fill our quota of British teachers as it is; May and Javid are likely to make it worse.
One could go on but I’ll leave it to Ian Goldin, a professor at Oxford. He has done a study for the Oxford Martin School that shows not only do countries benefit from immigration in general, but migrants overachieve in every field — economic, entrepreneurial, academic and social — compared with the native population. Cutting migration causes slower growth, wider inequality, and further undermines social cohesion.
And when this happens, no doubt the immigrants will be blamed.