THE debate on whether immigration is good or bad for the economy has been raging for decades. The truth is that most studies come out quite balanced.
That’s because what really matters is the composition of migrants. For example, one of the most successful waves of migration was the exodus of European Jews to America during the early 20th century. They consumed little in the way of social services, but contributed a huge amount of brainpower. Europe’s persecution handed the US the world’s leading scientists, gifting the country a global lead in technology that has lasted to this day.
Contrast this with Emad Al-Swealmeen, a failed asylum seeker born in Baghdad who hung around in Britain for six years before attempting to blow up a maternity hospital in Liverpool and killing himself on Remembrance Sunday last year.
In the UK, the composition of migrants is changing. The fastest-growing sectors are direct asylum (up 57-fold on the 2015-20 average), Channel crossings (up 20-fold in three years) and the dependents of foreign students (up fivefold in three years). While all these groups consume public services, none is likely to contribute much to our tax system.
Of course, people would be willing to accept more immigration if it could fix the NHS. Yet in spite of demand, the number of doctors in the UK is falling. It is not just doctors who aren’t coming. The government introduced several visa schemes to attract the ‘brightest and best minds’ from around the world, including the UK innovator visa, the UK Start-up visa and the Global Talent visa. All proved to be flops in terms of attracting many applicants.
In fact, a visa scheme for the world’s most prestigious academics had precisely zero uptake. In the year to June, the Government issued a record 1.1million long-stay visas. Of these, just 2,678 were Global Talent visas (the flagship visa scheme for top-tier workers).
This completely undermines Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s model of bringing in as many migrants as possible to grow the economy. Something the Treasury orthodoxy has consistently failed to grasp is that quality matters, not quantity. To the bean-counters at the Office for Budget Responsibility, a wannabe terrorist has the same value as a scientific genius. With standards having fallen so far, any plausible economic case for immigration has been shot to bits.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. In Brexit Britain we were promised a new system that would see hospitals packed with consultants, cafes buzzing with tech entrepreneurs, and our broken infrastructure eagerly rebuilt by world-class engineers.
The truth is that these people are choosing not to come to Broken Britain. The sort of migrants we want are the same migrants every country wants: young, healthy, highly paid, highly skilled professionals who will pay tax and consume little in the way of public services. They have far better opportunities elsewhere.
After Hunt’s latest Budget, no bright and aspiring individual would dream of coming to the UK. The combination of extortionate tax rates and sky-high living costs mean you cannot work or save your way to prosperity.
Even the jobs are no longer desirable. The General Medical Council has been chastising the NHS for haemorrhaging doctors. Working for the NHS means endless bureaucracy, constant surveillance, zero autonomy and pay that doesn’t keep up with inflation. Every day, the Confederation of British Industry and NHS beg for more migrant workers, yet they never care to retain the ones they’ve got, let alone train the 5.3million jobless Britons on benefits.
So instead of choosing between oncologists and anaesthetists, we are arguing over farm pickers. Post-Brexit migration criteria have been constantly cut, with lower pay thresholds, relaxed language requirements, fewer background checks and a list of ‘skilled jobs’ that now covers more than two-thirds of the UK workforce.
Cutting standards like this means the new wave of migrants are more likely to be a burden than a benefit. On the migrant pay threshold, cut to £20,480 by Boris Johnson, a migrant worker would pay £2,628 in income tax and national insurance. UK per capita public spending is around £16,000 to £33,000 per worker, hence low wage migrants and their employers are not even close to paying their fair share. By the time you take account of possible lifetime costs (e.g. settlement and dependants) and the extra pressures on the country (integration, housing, environment and infrastructure) the economic costs far exceed the benefits. That sort of immigration will significantly increase rather than decrease government debt.
This should come as no surprise. As Nordic nations discovered, welfarist countries are a magnet for low-value migrants and anathema to high-value migrants. This is entirely rational. Low-value migrants come because they and their families can claim more in public services than they pay in tax. Meanwhile, the bright young migrants we want have no interest in a system that will extort half their earnings to pay for public services they do not require and benefits they do not receive.
To make matters worse, the emigration side of the equation is equally gloomy. In an impassioned article for the Spectator, Stephen Daisley observes that we have reached a tipping point. If you are young and ambitious, you simply cannot stay. House prices are fast being overtaken by emigration as the staple conversation topic of middle-class dinner parties. The two-bed bungalow bore now holds forth on Australasian tax rates and Canadian visa requirements.
I work in finance and my wife is a doctor. Every conversation we have had with our friends and colleagues over the past two weeks has involved the subject of leaving the UK. These are hard-working, well-qualified, higher rate taxpayers, and they see no hope of prosperity or even enjoyment from their work.
The papers are full of it. Google searches on moving abroad are through the roof. Unsurprisingly, the country’s millionaires are already pouring out. Because most countries have tougher migration criteria than the UK, it is the best who can leave, and right now we can’t get out fast enough.
This is not just selfishness. It is hard to see much of a future here for our children. It is not just that hard work and talent will not pay; toxic identity politics means their success in life may depend more on skin colour than work ethic or talent.
No one wants their children to grow up in that world. If the Government was not so blinded by its own cynicism, it might have taken note of one the key insights from Frank Luntz’s 2021 landmark survey of British voters: Children are the great political unifier. Across all voter cohorts, Britons care deeply about their children’s futures.
A Daily Mail headline writer might put it this way: We are importing the families of Albanian gangsters and exporting oncologists and millionaires. The hard-working doctor or IT programmer arriving legally will face cramped housing and 60 per cent marginal tax rates. The illegal immigrant who burns his passport gets free legal advice and a four-star hotel. That may be hyperbolic, but it is certainly the trajectory we are on.
It is ironic that Jeremy Hunt – who has advocated for mass immigration at huge electoral cost – has utterly destroyed the economic case for it. For the UK, both immigration and emigration have become an economic and political catastrophe.
In this new reality, the only beneficiaries amongst us are those who have the means to escape. It is fitting that until last year the Prime Minister held a Green Card, allowing him to live and work in the US.
On the off-chance there isn’t already a blackout, would the last to leave please turn out the lights?