In the post-Brexit era of British politics, anti-immigration sentiments amongst voters are more prominent than ever. June’s referendum results have been interpreted as a clear rejection of the EU and its freedom of movement, and even those on the left have discussed the failures of globalisation. The aftermath has seen politicians and parties from across the political spectrum desperately trying to reduce immigration figures to appeal to a disenfranchised electorate.
The failure to acknowledge how fundamentally essential migrants are to British society is worrying however, and the callous approach to reducing numbers will have a serious effect on the country as a whole.
One striking example of such callousness was highlighted by former Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander in January. Now the vice-principal of the University of Dundee, Alexander accused the government of restricting the number of visas awarded to international students due to it being the ‘easiest way’ to cut numbers. Writing in board papers for the university’s governing court, she explained how the ‘government does not have grounds under international law to refuse those legitimately claiming asylum as they flee from war zones and international conflicts (…) Hence the renewed focus on reducing overseas students’.
It’s widely accepted that international students contribute far more to the British economy than they take from it. Statistics provided by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills reinforce this notion. They estimate the total value of ‘education and training exports to the UK’ to be around the £14 billion mark. For the government to attack such a profitable industry simply to be seen as being tough on immigration is a bizarre tactic, particularly when the economy continues to flounder with post-Brexit uncertainty. Furthermore, when the public voice concerns over levels of immigration, it is not overseas students whom they have in mind. The view that restricting the amount of student visas will curb the public’s longstanding concerns over immigration is not only naïve; it’s also incredibly insulting to voters’ intelligence.
The Conservatives are far from the only mainstream party seeking to tackle immigration. Labour MP David Lammy’s recent article in The New European heavily criticises the route his party is taking on the issue, claiming it has led to him feeling ‘like an outcast’ in his own party. He highlights the hypocrisy of being tough on immigration whilst simultaneously wanting to protect the NHS and improve social care.
‘It makes little sense to, on the one hand, rail against the way the NHS is falling apart under this government, and yet also want an end to free movement, because that would simply bar from entering the country the very people who keep our overstretched and under-resourced health service afloat (…) We have a ticking time bomb created by an adult social care system that is on its knees in combination with an ageing population — so why are we turning our back on millions of young people who want to come here to work and pay the taxes that will ultimately pay for our rapidly-rising pension bill?’
Lammy continued, ‘The simple fact of the matter is that our economy can’t exist without immigration and people coming here to do jobs that people in this country either don’t want to do or don’t have the right required skills to do’.
Statistics collected by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development highlight just how reliant the NHS is on ‘foreign trained’ staff. They note that 28 per cent of all NHS doctors trained abroad, higher than all other EU countries. With the ongoing crisis leaving many hospitals stretched to breaking point, restricting the flow of workers will only exacerbate the problems.
There is no doubt that the issue of immigration needs to be brought to the table. The public have made their feelings clear on the matter and a rational, in-depth debate must take place. However, rushed, poorly thought out policies intended to cut numbers regardless of the consequences are in danger of seriously damaging the British economy while it’s at its weakest. If decisions are made without acknowledging how fundamentally essential migrants are to the country, they will simply add fuel to the fire of Britain’s ongoing race to the bottom.