As a trainee solicitor at Danielle Cohen Solicitors, I recently had the opportunity to attend a policy based event considering the future of immigration policy in the UK. This is clearly an area undergoing considerable change and the coalition government has very boldly stated their wish to reduce the figure for net migration from the hundreds to the tens of thousands. It is the reasons behind making such a drastic change that I have sought to understand and I wish to focus on what I see to be a key disconnect between the reality of immigration and the perception of it and why I believe that the wrong factors are influencing the decisions being made about immigration policies in Parliament today.
There were two trends which for me emerged from the policy event and I believe that, not only are they inextricably linked, but they implicate our policy making processes and outcomes. The event began with the presentation of the economic impact of net migration on the UK. The conclusions drawn from these findings were that immigration has impacted positively on our economy and that in both the public and private sector we are dependant upon the skill sets found in migrants.
However, what was then worryingly apparent was that the policy objectives and the policies going forward are very clearly not grounded on these clear economic realities.
We are repeatedly told in the media that people have ‘real concerns’ about immigration and that it is one of the most important issues to the UK electorate. We are told that the majority of the UK does not see the benefits of immigration.
Yet, these references to the concerns of the public at large do not appear to correlate to the evidence pertaining to the economy and the benefits that immigration has had on the economy.
While I can accept it is important to recognise the public may have concerns about immigration, surely we should first consider whether these concerns are legitimate and justified rather than simply pandering to their mere existence. It may be, upon closer inspection, that much of this worry can be dealt with through education and greater investment in policies promoting social cohesion rather then drastically cutting immigration in what may amount to simply a reckless exercise in manipulating the figures to satisfy the popular press and the public at large.
This leads me to the second trend which has emerged in recent amendments to the immigration policy in the UK, disguised discrimination. Many of the recent changes target, though not explicitly, specific nationalities of immigrant. The English language requirement for spouses being the most obvious example. This requirement clearly has a disproportionate impact on applicants from Asian and African countries. Similarly, the decision to cap tier 2 applications but exempt intra company transfers will benefit to a greater extent countries which benefit from branches of UK businesses and in effect drastically limit access to the UK labour market for applicants who do not have the benefit of hailing from a country deemed worthy of international business investment.
There is no doubt that a proper debate about immigration needs to take place. However, unless and until any such debate is grounded firmly in considerations of the hard evidence of the impact on our economy, resources and is undertaken with an eye on human rights, I feel that discrimination will continue to play a concerning, distorting and damaging influence.
Danielle Cohen Solicitors