Integration should be the focus of immigration policy, not posturing

Poverty and job insecurity are more strongly associated with support for UKIP than migration.

Poverty and job insecurity are more strongly associated with support for UKIP than migration

The media has made much of an immigration stand-off between David Cameron and retiring EU Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso.

With an eye on the Rochester and Strood bye-election, Cameron has put forward some vague-sounding suggestions to limit EU migration.

Barroso has responded by arguing that attempts to limit the free movement of people within the EU would also certainly be illegal.

UKIP must be delighted, as the argument backs their position that only a British exit from the EU can control migration.

This whole debacle and UKIP’s results in Heywood and Middleton show that a new approach is needed and one that helps communities manage migration.

Two Tory proposals are floating in the media and it should be stressed that these are not from the coalition.

One suggestion is that the government caps the issuing of new National Insurance numbers from certain EU countries, for example Poland. But this would only impact on younger would-be migrants who do not already have a National Insurance number.

Between July 2004 and March 2014 some 2.64 million numbers have been issued to nationals of Europe’s newest member states, mostly in the years immediately after 2004. Apart from Romania and Bulgaria, the numbers of new numbers issued to citizens of new member states has fallen since then. And many of the first migrant have returned home, temporarily or permanently.

Capping National Insurance numbers will have little impact because many would-be migrants already have them. It would also be diplomatically hard to single out countries for this policy. Why cap National Insurance numbers from Lithuanians, where just 22,440 were issued in 2013/2014, when many more (45,624) were issued to Spaniards?

Moreover such a move would drive some migrants underground, into unregulated and untaxed parts of the labour market.

The second mooted proposal is the introduction of a points-based system for EU migration, mirroring the approach to labour migrants from outside the EU.

Here points would be awarded for qualifications, language proficiency and a job offer. But the bar would have to be set very high if it was to bring down the numbers of migrants from countries such as Poland. Census data suggests that 71 per cent of those who speak Polish have a higher level qualification (A-Levels or above) compared with 47 per cent of those born in the UK.

It looks like Cameron’s proposals will not bring down numbers. Nor will suggestion to limit benefit payments to EU migrants, because there is simply no evidence of large scale abuse of the benefits system. EU migrants come to work or sometimes to study.

For anyone committed to remaining in the EU, new approaches are needed. These should address the root causes of anxiety about migration. May’s election results suggest that poverty, alienation and job insecurity are more strongly associated with support for UKIP, rather than migration.

The party did particularly well in the North East, which has seen very little EU migration, with just 16,000 migrants from new member states in the latest ONS estimates. The local authority with the largest population of EU migrants – Newcastle – was the area where UKP’s vote was lowest. In contrast, the UKIP’s share of the vote was highest in Harlepool.

The need to promote social and political inclusion in deprived areas that feel left behind was a key message in Revolt on the Right, an important book by Rob Ford and Matthew Goodwin. It is worth a read for anyone interested in migration policy.

But communities need better support to be able to manage existing migration. My work on integration and social cohesion suggests that two sets of attributes help this happen.

First, meaningful social contact between migrants and longer settled residents – at work, collage, parks and pubs – can help dispel misconceptions about migration and migrants.

Proactive local political leadership also helps manage the impacts of migration. This is important in relation to the messages that it sends out, as well as policy and planning to deal with sources of tension such as school place shortages.

Some areas have been able to manage migration well. Measures to ensure integration and social cohesion should be a core component of managed migration policy, not Cameron’s present posturing.

Jill Rutter is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.