Immigration became an increasingly important, and toxic, issue this past year. To mark the end of 2014 we’ve compiled our top articles on the topic, ranging from EU migration and ‘benefit tourism’ to detention centres and the business of building fences. To view all our articles on immigration, click here.
1. It is important to move away from ambiguous concepts such as ‘benefit tourism’ and focus on actual numbers
Politicians in the UK of all stripes have voiced conern about ‘benefit tourism’. But how many people actually come to take advantage of the UK welfare system? One possible way of informing the debate is to move away from vague concepts and estimate the number of people who may fit the media narrative. Looking at recent EU migrants of working age who are not students, not in employment and receive some kind of state benefit, Yvonni Markaki and Carlos Vargas-Silva get an estimate of 39,000 people. This is less than 1% of all foreign nationals in the UK and 1% of all EU nationals in the UK.
Looking at the data on attitudes towards immigration, Bobby Duffy highlights ten significant findings. The data shows deep concern about immigration in general across large parts of the population, while also clearly indicating more nuance in specific views.
In trying to understand the dynamics of the public debate on immigration, Alex Balch and co-author Ekaterina Balabanova analysed over 500 newspaper articles in 2006 and 2013 to see the range of moral justifications employed when discussing immigration controls. They found a reduction in the range and balance of ideas informing the debate by 2013, with more liberal parts of the press following the right-wing focus on domestic social justice and security threats. He argues that this can be linked to the tactics of the then Labour government, which defended its policy on free movement with evidence of economic benefits, avoiding any moral or rights-based justifications that might have provided a different foundation.
Mary Bosworth‘s research investigates immigration detentions centres in the UK. She argues that the potentially open-ended nature of detention has a profound effect on staff and detainees, making it difficult for the former to plan a regime while, for the latter, creating an environment of uncertainty. The current system is not inevitable, and so, she argues, we need to spend more time thinking about why we detain foreigners and treat them in the way we do.
Immigration policy has repeatedly failed to fulfil the ambitions of its advocates. Successive governments have neither willed the means nor been open about the obstacles in their way to restricting immigration. Disappointing results have contributed to disillusionment with the political system and help to create the ground on which UKIP has prospered, argues David Feldman.
In recent years, fence-making has become a booming business despite it being quite clear that they do not work; migrants inevitably find ways around. So how come fences keep being built? Ruben Andersson writes that it is high time that we “unfence” our views of migration.
In new research, Dora-Olivia Vicol and William Allen examine how the media reported on Bulgarians and Romanians in the run-up to transitional controls being lifted. A textual analysis revealed that the nouns identified as explicitly ‘Romanian’ tended to centre around criminality and economic poverty, and this was especially the case in tabloids.
While national politicians continue to speak about immigration in negative terms, the academic evidence is overwhelmingly positive. Migrants tend to be highly-skilled on average, contribute substantially to the economy, and do not compete with natives for social housing. Moreover, there is no evidence that crime rates have been on the rise as a result of new immigration waves. Neli Demireva writes that there is a real danger the immigration debate will turn sour and have spill-over effects in unexpected places.
An increasingly narrow UK migration debate is centred on the shared desire to keep poor migrants out, with many arguing that mass immigration exacerbates inequality. But, as a new book by Katy Long shows, there is in fact overwhelming evidence that enabling freedom of movement can play a vital role in combating poverty and opening up opportunity, not just for immigrants and foreigners, but for the poor here too. Restrictive migration law only serves to entrench divisions between citizens across both economic and social spheres, she argues.
With fevered political debate about EU migration to the UK, it is important to take a step back and analyse what we know. Carlos Vargas-Silva gives us the complete run-down, providing the numbers, showing where EU migrants live and what occupations they tend to work in, and explaining why EU migrants come to the UK and their economic impact. He concludes that EU migrants are a heterogeneous group and doubts that policies aimed at restricting their access to the welfare will dissuade them from coming to the UK.