Over recent weeks, UK politics has become increasingly dominated by excited rhetoric and angry exchanges over the predicted “influx” of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens when transitional immigration controls expire at the end of 2013.
Yet public fears stoked by the tabloid press are based on a gross misunderstanding of how immigration affects the UK. Rather than a panicked and prejudiced response, we should be looking at the facts and welcoming freer movement from Bulgaria and Romania with open arms:
1 Immigrants make a significant economic contribution to the UK…
Despite the hyperbole about immigrants milking the welfare state, they actually make a net contribution to the UK economy; constituting 13% of the total tax-paying workforce and just 6.5% of total benefit recipients. Furthermore, there is absolutely no empirical evidence that immigration reduces job opportunities for UK-born workers, with the National Institute of Economic and Social Research robustly debunking accusations from the anti-immigration lobby as late as 2012.
2 …and bring invaluable skills
Going beyond the economic figures, millions of immigrants have brought crucial experience and expertise here. Few of those who bemoan immigration have any qualms about using the NHS, despite the fact the some 30% of its doctors and 40% of its nurses were born overseas. And whilst references to Mo Farah are becoming somewhat clichéd, it is hard to ignore the fact that a Somali immigrant is one of Team GB’s greatest successes.
3 We enjoy sharing other people’s cultures
On March 17, thousands of British people with no personal connection to the Emerald Isle will join London’s Irish community to celebrate St. Patrick’s day at a huge open-air party in Trafalgar Square. Hundreds of thousands more white British will join the West Indian community for the Notting Hill Carnival in summer. Its a far cry from the ‘No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish’ signs that appeared in shop windows when these communities first came to the UK, and is a brilliant illustration that once the initial fear of newcomers evaporates, people more-often-than-not enjoy sharing their cultures.
4. Migration is not a one-way street
The easing of restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian citizens’ access to the UK is not a stand-alone measure; it is part of a wider EU framework that allows people from any member state to live and work in another. Millions of UK citizens have taken advantage of this including more than 700 000 living in Spain, almost 300 000 living in the Republic of Ireland and more than 200 000 living in France. Tens of thousands have also set up in states that joined the EU during the last round of accessions before Bulgaria and Romania.
5. Our tolerant society is something to be proud of
Hysterical media and political commentary linking Bulgarian and Romanian immigration to job losses, crime and even social unrest stands to stoke racism and undermine the commendable level of tolerance in contemporary UK society. Whilst extremist groups such as the English Defence League continually dredge up memories of 1980s racial tensions, UK society has by and large moved on. Compared to many other European states, race-related violence is rare and openly racist parties fare badly in elections.
That is something to be proud of, not something to be jeopardised by ignorant scare-mongering about the Bulgarians and Romanians who will shortly be joining the long success story of UK immigrant communities.