It’s now clear that Tuesday’s immigration proposals were pure dog whistling

We should be promoting integration and replicating success, rather than issuing unworkable policy statements.

David Cameron was evidently in a panic on Tuesday. He had 50 or so of his back-benchers chomping on their bits and demanding amendments to the Immigration Bill that would call for a continuation of transitional controls on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals.

The quarterly migration statistics were due and he was also expecting a visit from Laszlo Andor, the EU Commissioner on Employment.

There is growing concern about Roma immigration. And then there is UKIP and the lifting in the new year of transitional controls on Romanian and Bulgarian nationals.

Yet the statistics tell a more complex picture and a consensus is emerging that Tuesday’s proposals are either ineffective, unworkable, or a re-articulation of existing policy.

As such, they will do little to allay public concerns about migration.

The migration statistics paint a complex picture. Net migration has increased, but this can mostly be explained by a decrease in emigration. This only highlights the perversity of the net immigration policy.

Overall, immigration has fallen, but compared with the previous year to 1 September there has been an increase in work visa migration (up 5 per cent), student migration to the higher education sector (up 7 per cent) asylum migration and EU migration. When these statistics are broken down further, the increase in asylum migration can be explained by an increase from a small number of countries, particularly Syria.

Trends in EU migration are interesting when set alongside the DWP’s National Insurance Number (NiNo) data. Over the last 12 months to September 2013 New National Insurance number registrations from Bulgarians and Romanians have fallen by 17 per cent and 22 per cent respectively. This suggests that the Bulgarians and Romanians who have arrived are return migrants, having come to the UK on a previous occasion (the peak year for Romanian National Insurance number registrations was 2006/07).

The NiNo statistics show a large increase in new registrations from nationals from the ‘old’ EU, from Spain (up 50 per cent), Italy (up 35 per cent), Portugal (up 43 per cent) and Greece (up 44 per cent). So today’s immigration statistics are a story about the Eurozone crisis and the weak economies in southern Europe. This makes the Cameron proposals – targeted at Bulgarians and Romanians – somewhat irrelevant.

Tuesday’s proposals include a suggestion that no EU migrant will be able to claim jobseeker’s allowance for more than a maximum of six months unless they can prove that they have a genuine prospect of employment.

Yet 2004 Treaty regulations mean that new migrants forfeit their European Economic Area (EEA) worker status – which gives them freedom of movement – if they lose their job. Essentially, a new migrant must be in employment in the UK to secure EEA worker status. Already any protracted period of unemployment of an EEA national who does not have settlement rights in the UK is likely to disqualify that person from benefits and rights of residency in the UK.

Cameron also suggested that any EU national sleeping rough or begging will be deported and barred from re-entry for 12 months “unless they can prove they have a proper reason to be here, such as a job”. Any mass round-up of rough sleepers would be very difficult to implement, as some London local authorities have discovered.

In summary, Tuesday’s proposals are pure dog whistling. A more considered approach is needed. If Cameron wants to reduce EU immigration he needs policies that focus on the ‘push’ factors that cause migrants to move to the UK. EU migration is a European issue and economic policy needs to focus on youth unemployment in southern European.

If we want to reduce immigration from Romania and Bulgaria, we need to improve the lot of the Roma population. In Romania, where this minority makes up an estimated 7 per cent of the population, recent research showed that just 10 per cent of Roma adults had regular work and 52 per cent had no work at all.

Even though educational outcomes have improved recently, some 20 per cent of Roma adults are illiterate and access to healthcare and education, particularly for those who have moved to the cities, is difficult. It is unsurprising, therefore, that Roma move to the UK.

Instead of empty rhetoric, the government needs to use its foreign and economic policy, and the institutions of the EU to improve conditions in eastern and southern Europe.

In the UK there are real concerns about the integration of Roma immigrants, particularly from Romania. Yet some Roma have integrated into their new neighbourhoods. This has been achieved by the hard work of community leaders, teachers, police, third sector organisations, Brits and the migrants themselves.

We should be promoting integration and replicating success, rather than issuing unworkable policy statements.

6 Responses to “It’s now clear that Tuesday’s immigration proposals were pure dog whistling”

  1. Adam

    Thank you for a great article which I enjoyed reading. When I saw the PM’s comments re immigration on Tuesday my first reaction was one of dismay because I wish the PM paid as much attention to youth unemployment as he did to Immigration.

  2. Simon Masters

    Good to read your words Jill. LFF!

  3. Dave Roberts

    He is paying attention to immigration as much as Labour is because it is a hot button issue. People are genuinely concerned about the level of immigration and it is useless to try and say anything else. While we are on the subject can someone tell me what whistling dogs has got to do with this issue?

  4. TM

    ‘EU migration is a European issue and economic policy needs to focus on youth unemployment in southern European.’
    Yes agreed. And perhaps also focus on youth unemployment in North West Europe as well, and the growing class and wealth divides across North West Europe too. Instead of flying off somewhere and being the saviours of the world, the leaders of the West would do well to sort out problems in their own countries. And that’s aimed at both the Left and the Right.

    ‘If we want to reduce immigration from Romania and Bulgaria, we need to improve the lot of the Roma population.’
    Yes agreed. And perhaps we also need to improve the lot of the poor, the disabled and the pensioners who can’t afford to heat their homes in the UK as well. All this do gooding is welcome but where are the concerned voices for the now tens of thousands of pensioners who will die this year? The Bible says charity begins at home. Again and again, we wake up to the fact that if we want a fairer and more equitable Europe, we have to ensure that wages in wealthy countries are living wages, and that checks and balances have to be in place, and these things have to be paid for in the first place by the acceptance of a fair tax system. Because if we don’t pay now, we will pay later, in ways we might unforeseen. Greed will destroy everything.

  5. Dacus

    Thank you for the links to the DWP, they gave me ammunition in all discussions.

    The number of Romas in Romania has been greatly exaggerated, they are less than a million . roughly 4% of the total population. Yet the British Media has presented all Romanians as Romas (all recent newspaper pictures show exclusively Romas, not Romanians).

    Finally, Cameron’s legislation meant to “deter” Romanians and Bulgarians will end hurting Italians,Spaniards and other old EU citizens far more. Now, that is hilarious!

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