The principles of migration policy

Following this week's IPPR paper on the subject, Jill Rutter looks at the principles of migration policy.

Those of us disillusioned by this week’s empty rhetoric from Eric Pickles may take some consolation from a new think piece on migration principles from the Labour-leaning Institute for Public Policy Research.

The paper, authored by Sarah Mulley and Matt Cavanagh, a former special adviser on immigration, aims to provoke debate about the core principles or ‘tests’ that should underpin migration policy in the UK.

As many commentators would argue migration policy from all recent governments has been reactive and driven by the need to appease public opinion, a more principled and pro-active approach is sorely needed.

Many will disagree with the principles outlined in the IPPR paper, but this thoughtful piece is a welcome addition to a policy area largely characterised by its absence of principles.

The IPPR paper sets out ten principles on which migration policy should be based. It needs to be established in a democratic manner and governed by the rule of law. Migration policy should be underpinned by human rights and equality.

The paper also argues for migration policy to focus on delivering a competent immigration system, and one not subject to operational disasters, for example, missing overseas students, that play so badly with public opinion.

Four of the principles in the IPPR paper focus on the costs, benefits and distributional effects of migration, with the paper arguing migration policy should aim to increase net economic and fiscal benefits, both in the UK and globally, by looking at the effects of brain drain and remittance incomes on developing countries.

The final two principles focus on the migratory movement itself, with Cavanagh and Mulley arguing policy must respond to the scale of migration – that numbers matter. Finally, they make a plea for political honesty as a core principle, stating governments should not promise to stem migration flows they cannot hope to control.

The challenge now – for IPPR and hopefully for Labour – is to translate these principles into policy and practice. It will be difficult to apply some of these principles to the most intractable immigration problems confronting government such as undocumented migration and asylum determination in situations of mixed migratory movements.

Previous Labour administrations failed to make much progress on asylum. We still have an asylum system characterised by poor quality decision-making – a quarter of initial decisions are overturned in appeal – and we largely failure to remove those at the end of the asylum process. It will also be difficult to apply some of these principles to policy when UK Border Agency Funding is being cut. Competent immigration control is not cheap.

But perhaps the biggest question raised by the IPPR paper is how governments should react when migration principles cut across each other. This is an area the IPPR paper fails to address.

Much of migration policy is about conflicting interests – the human rights of individual migrants versus the rights of receiving communities. The IPPR paper asserts human rights should underpin migration policy, but does not develop this argument. Yet human rights instruments have been used to strike out immigration legislation.

Legislation that has passed democratically through Parliament often renders asylum overstayers destitute, yet food and shelter are surely a basic human right. Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to family life, is sometimes used by judges to halt the removal of foreign national prisoners from the UK.

At a time when human right has become a dirty word of the political lexicon and the tabloid press, we need a much more mature debate on this issue. The task for Labour thinkers is to consider human rights policy.

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8 Responses to “The principles of migration policy”

  1. LB

    Measure what can be measured – policy should aim to increase net economic and fiscal benefits


    That means you have to pay more tax than you consume in government spending, and when you don’t you have to leave.

    Establish clear democratic accountability for migration policy

    It also means that voters get to have a say, and if they say no, then migrants have to leave, and the government has to kick people out.

  2. LabanTall

    It’s good to see the “left” so firmly on the side of the (foreign) workers and the employers whose income has rocketed even as working wages saw real-term declines.

    “The main purpose of the bourgeois in relation to the worker is, of course, to have the commodity labour as cheaply as possible, which is only possible when the supply of this commodity is as large as possible in relation to the demand for it”

    The libertarian economist Bryan Caplan agrees with you, if not quite for your reasons (that’s not quite fair as I couldn’t really find much reason above … “mature debate”, “a competent system” aren’t reasons for anything).

    “Diversity undermines solidarity. People don’t mind paying high taxes to support people “like them.” But free money for “the other” leads to resentment and political pushback.

    That’s exactly what we’re seeing in the UK, and why Osborne and Shapps will get away politically with a real-terms benefits cut. They noted the outrage among working people in 2011 when benefits rose by 5% at a time of static wages.

    If you’re a social democrat, this implies a tragic trade-off between social justice for natives and social justice for potential immigrants. But if you’re a libertarian, the opposite is true. The welfare state doesn’t make open borders impossible. It’s open borders that makes the eventual abolition of the welfare state imaginable.”

    Prof Caplan, note, sees this as a Good Thing. He amplifies here :

    “The claim isn’t that open borders will “destroy” solidarity or the welfare state, but merely that open borders will undermine both. And while free-marketers may well agree that some degree of solidarity is good, it’s also hard for free-marketers to deny that current levels of solidarity are excessive. Solidarity stands in the way of free-market reforms in pensions, education, health care, taxation, agricultural policy, and much more.”

    Can’t say we weren’t told, can we ?

  3. LabanTall

    An immigration policy based on maximising the welfare of the existing inhabitants?

    It’ll never catch on.

  4. Newsbot9

    It’s not, it’s a policy were millions die and we get sanctioned. Killing every low-earner in the country is an stupid idea.

  5. Newsbot9

    Ah yes, you think that only the rich can vote, and you can then slaughter the poor by kicking them into the sea.

  6. Newsbot9

    That’s right, the left generally don’t want to collapse the economy, as you do. And how DARE benefits keep pace with the money needed not to starve and freeze, you need to lash out at that, you anti-British zealot. You’re loving it!

    And yes, your right keep wanting to inject capitalism (not the free market) into everything. You can’t stand the free market, which is why you’re blocking it to fund your buddies. That’s what your right wing buddy, Caplan, means of course.

    He’s typical cato swine…heck, he’s a randroid and a far right anarcho-capitalist. There’s a reason Brad DeLong called him the most stupid man alive…but thanks for talking his views up!

  7. LabanTall

    I think you misunderstand. Whether that’s deliberate or not I’m not sure.

  8. Newsbot9

    I understand perfectly, I’m just not you.

    Thanks for posting a propaganda site there, identifying your friends. Your UKIP are anti-Welfare, and pro-Immogration. You are using excuses to kill off the poor so you can replace them, excuses to starve the poor you hate.

    Other countries are doing fine, with far greater immigrant populations. It’s your pure moral panic which is justifying your War On The Poor.

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