The immigration arms race continues…

Earlier today David Cameron launched another broadside at prospective immigrants to the UK. His speech in a very clear sense gives voice to the growing concerns within the party over the rise of UKIP, and is meant to address reported voter concerns over levels of immigration, or perhaps more accurately over anxieties about immigrants draining the benefits system, leapfrogging local s into social housing, and deflating local wages.

Migrants are welcome it seems, so long as they come for the right reasons. As Cameron put it,

That they come here because they want to contribute to our country not because they are drawn by the attractiveness of our benefits system or by the opportunity to use our public services.

Recognising the commonly held view that migrants are attracted by pull factors the government is attempting to combat these factors. Accordingly, Cameron announced that there are three major pul factors in his sights:

But the reality is that you can’t control immigration if you have a welfare system that takes no account of who it is paying out to.

You can’t control immigration if you have a healthcare system that takes no account of the people using it.

And you can’t control immigration if you have a housing policy that doesn’t take account of how long people have lived and contributed to a local area.

Sadly, Cameron has failed to do his homework and the tough rhetoric is at odds with the evidence. This is nothing new, as I have previously commented, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, mades spurious accusations about migrants and jobs and wages. But to return to Cameron’s speech, even the normally Tory supporting Telegraph has highlighted how the facts fail to support his claims.


Cameron’s claim: New migrants should not expect to be given a home on arrival. And yet at present almost one in ten new social lettings go to foreign nationals.

The reality: “Overall, foreign nationals accounted for around 7.2 per cent of the 247,000 social homes in England in 2010/11. Non-Britons are 13 per cent of the population of England.” And as the DCLG recently confirmed, most foreign nationals are not entitled to social housing.


Cameron’s claims: Just like British citizens, there is no absolute right to unemployment benefit. The clue is in the title – Job Seekers Allowance is only available for those who are genuinely seeking a job. You will be subject to full conditionality and work search requirements and you will have to show you are genuinely seeking employment. If you fail that test, you will lose your benefit. And as a migrant, we’re only going to give you six months to be a jobseeker. After that benefits will be cut off unless you really can prove not just that you are genuinely seeking employment but also that you have a genuine chance of getting a job.

The reality: the limits Cameron refers to already exist, and have done since 2006. But more importantly, “of 5.76 million people claiming working-age benefits, some 371,000 were non-UK migrants, or 6.4 per cent. Of those around 100,000 claimants were from the EU.” Once again, foreign nationals on average are less likely to claim benefits and generally work hard and contribute to the economy by paying taxes.


Cameron’s claims: Our National Health Service is one of this country’s greatest assets. And it’s right that when people come here legitimately they should be able to use it. But we should be clear that what we have is a free National Health Service not a free International Health Service. So we’re going to get better at reciprocal charging. Or let me put that more simply. Wherever we can claim back the cost of NHS care, we will. If someone visiting the UK from another EEA country uses our NHS then it is right that they or their government pay for it.

The reality: Pretty unclear. The statistics advanced by No10 were contradicted by Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, who suggested that rather than £10-20 million, foreign nationals were costing the NHS around £200 million. These figures come from a report in 2003. Either way, claiming the money back is complicated and seemingly discourages the NHS from recording patients’ nationality. What is clear is that with a budget of over £95 billion, the NHS probably has more important priorities to deal with.

None of the above can disguise the anxieties the present major parties are experiencing in the wake of recent UKIP gains. In times of economic hardship the politics of immigration possesses a powerful resonance. Unsurprisingly, many people, encouraged by xenophobic right-wing tabloid headlines, are led to believe that those who are different are the root cause of the economic problems that fester among the disadvantaged alleyways of communities desperate for economic renewal.

Ed Miliband’s speech in mid Dec 2012 on immigration was a more rounded affair, targeting unscrupulous landlords, employers and recruitment agencies rather than migrants themselves, but reflected growing concerns about the party’s perceived past failings on immigration.

The vast majority of migrants to the UK add value to our culture, society and economy. It is about time the leaders of our political parties began to express this more clearly and combat an increasingly xenophobic and invidious rhetoric that is permeating British politics.

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Has Clegg lost the plot? Immigration and security bonds floated as the Lib Dem leader talks tough on abuses of the visa system

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister of the UK coalition government and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, responded to growing concerns about the party’s stance on immigration in a speech on Friday. Clegg outlined plans for the introduction of security bonds for visitors from high risk countries outside the EU and abandoned the manifesto commitment of an amnesty for illegal immigrants. Liberal Democrats were aware that their proposed amnesty on illegal immigrants who had been resident in the UK for more than ten years had been received negatively by the electorate. Clegg was also aware that his boss, David Cameron, was about to up the ante in a speech to be delivered on Monday.

This is the latest example of one of the mainstream political parties attempting to talk tough on matters of migration. Of course, Clegg’s security bond proposal is not new. Labour considered it and rejected it. More importantly, for some within the party it smacks of potential discrimination – which countries will be categorised as high risk? – whilst others, notably Vincent Cable, have expressed concerns about the economic impact of the commitment to slash net migration figures – a commitment that Cable points out is not shared by his own party.

What is most disappointing about this is not the mixed messages that emanate from the Lib Dem leadership, but rather the tide of illiberalism presently inundating mainstream politics. Leading politicians are running scared in the face of what is at best right-wing populism and at worst neo nazism. It is time that people like Clegg stood up to the misinformation and propaganda surrounding immigration.

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The politics of migration: the trouble with statistics.

Migration is becoming an increasingly important political issue for the Conservative-led coalition government. With the prospect of increased numbers of migrants from Bulgaria and Romania in Jan 2014, the Conservative Party is keen to present itself as being tough on migration.

The manufacture of this public image has a long history within the party, but has become painfully acute as the party’s voters migrate to UKIP. The commitment to reducing levels of net mighration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands was firmly embedded in the party’s election manifesto, and the party has proudly proclaimed recent victories in this strategy. Net migration is down by a third for the year endjing June 2012. A fall from 247,000 to 163,000.

Despite disproportionate media attention on refugees and asylum seekers the government’s concerns lie elsewhere. The reason for this is twofold. First, the last Labour government was caught out by its own woefully inaccurate estimates about levels of immigration from the so-called A8 countries that joined the EU in Jan 2004. Ed Miliband has recently admitted that the Labour Party got it wrong. The present government is desperate to avoid repeating that error and until recently has steadfastly refused to estimate how many potential economic migrants might make their way to the UK from Bulgaria and Romania, the A2 countries that joined in 2007. The transitional controls affecting the rights of nationals of the A2 countries end in Jan 2014.

Estimating numbers of potential economic migrants from the A2 countries is more than a matter of mathematics. It has become a political battleground. Before commenting on that further, it is worth mentioning that even that mathematics are contested. Migration Watch has stepped boldly into the debate with a confident prediction that the UK can expect around 50,000 A2 migrants per annum over the next five years. This conclusion is disputed by others. Sarah Mulley from the IPPR argues, the key difference between then (A8 migration) and now (A2) is that in 2004

the UK, Sweden and Ireland were the only EU countries to provide nationals of new member states with immediate full access to their labour markets. But lessons have been learned from the large (and largely unpredicted) migration to the UK that followed – when the UK fully opens its labour market to Romania and Bulgaria next year, it will do so alongside the whole of the rest of the EU (indeed a number of EU countries have already opened up).

Additionally, A2 nationals have much stronger networks of migration in Italy and Spain. Accordingly, predicting the likely flow of migration is difficult to say the least, and the numbers predicted by Migration Watch (which are actually a median figure within a range of 30,000 to 70,000 per annum) may well be as inaccurate as the underestimates used by Labour for A8 migrants.

Contested possible migration flows have become central to recent debates on the politics of migration. I don’t see this as primarily an ideological debate if only because there is little difference between the mainstream parties on this. Politicians tread a tightrope when commenting on migration are anxious not to be seen to be playing the race card. But the battle lines have been drawn and UKIP is making political capital out of the Labour government’s perceived failings. Cranking up calls for a referendum on EU membership and bemoaning the demise of parliamentary sovereignty against faceless Brussels bureaucrats appeals to some who have previously voted Tory. In the recent Eastleigh by election, UKIP scored a notable vistory by dint of relegating the Conservatives to third place – widely regarded as hugely embarrassing for Cameron and his party.

Europe constitutes a potentially explosive issue for the Conservatives. Not only is the party fundamentally divided over continued membership, the very question and rhetoric of European membership has been plundered by UKIP who offer the general electorate a far less ambivalent position whilst simultaneously lampooning its opponents. At present UKIP is gaining support on the back of a simple and clear message about Europe, much like Thatcher made gains on the back of simple and clear rhetoric about the power of the trade unions. See Nigel Farage’s comments on Conservative immigration policy:

This concern about Europe and migration is more troublesome to resolve than the second issue concerning levels of net migration: international students. Slightly over half of the recent reduction in levels of net migration have been brought about by a decline in non-EU migration. The UKBA clamp down on private colleges abusing the student visa system has led to a significant fall in the number of visas issued. As Immigration Matters reports: “In the year to December 2012, there were 209,804 visas issued for the purpose of study (excluding student visitors), a fall of 20% compared with the previous 12 months.” See:

The economic consequences of this are substantial with a loss of approximately £2 billion to an economy that is presently flatlining. Whilst this may be causing some disquiet within BIS, it s, seemingly, hugely important for the likes of the Home Office and Theresa May to be able to proclaim some immediate success in combating net migration.

Whether the government can maintain this success is less clear. What is more concerning is the manner in which migration statistics are now being incorporated into an ideologically stagnant but politically Manichean debate.

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Resumption of aid to Rwanda

At the beginning of this month, Justine Greening (Sec of State for International Development) submitted a written statement to Parliament outlining the reasons for the resumption of aid to Rwanda. This commitment of £16 million is in part to be channeled through NGOs and targeted at the country’s most disadvantaged communities rather than general budget support. Over half (£9 million) is to be disbursed by way of cash transfers through the Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme which is owned and led by the Rwandan government. There is specific support for textbooks for school children and assistance for refugees in camps close to the DRC border.

The decision has been criticised by some as a return to old-fashioned aid policy that salves the conscience of some bur neglects the bigger picture in Rwanda. Others, like Christain Aid, have welcomed the decision to target aid towards the poorest communities.

Resumption of aid in this form obviates the need to adhere to the partnership principles that governed the aid provided under general budget support (suspended in December over concerns about Rwandan support for the M23 rebel group), and ushers in poverty reduction, the MDGs, human rights, transparency and good governance as the criterion for measuring success.

Very few will argue with the above criteria, but the decision to resume aid, whilst withholding around £5 million from general budget support, does raise questions about the UK’s relationship with Rwanda and its long-term strategy for aid in the region. In one sense it is unconscionable to see the poorest communities in this country suffer because of alleged government support for groups in the DRC. Aid does not come without conditions. But it is intriguing that only three months after suspending aid to the Rwandan government most of it has now been restored.

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Home Secretary Speech on ‘An Immigration System that Works in the National Interest’

The UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, delivered a speech today outlining the government’s progress on tackling net immigration levels and announcing significant changes to the Tier 4 student visa application process, whereby UKBA officers will undertake an additional 100,000+ interviews in high-risk countries. It is an interesting speech, that resonates with right-wing ideology that panders to the tabloid press and her own backbenchers that UKIP are eyeing enviously.

The ideological message begins in earnest when May provides her rationale for why controlling immigration is important: “I believe there are three main reasons: its effect on social cohesion, on our infrastructure and public services, and on jobs and wages.” This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Tabloid newspapers like the Express and Mail frequently repeat this rhetoric, and MigrationWatch has been expressing concerns for a number of years about the impact of migration on the UK.

The supposed link between levels of migration and jobs, particularly the claim about the displacement of jobs, is an interesting one. I’m not an economist, but my sense is that the evidence on this is disputed. However, according to the UK Home Secretary, the evidence is clear cut. She explains that the government “asked the migration advisory committee to look at the effects of immigration on jobs, and their conclusions were stark. They found a clear association between non-European immigration and employment in the UK.” She continues: “Between 1995 and 2010, the committee found an associated displacement of 160,000 British workers. For every additional one hundred immigrants, they estimated that 23 British workers would not be employed.”

The report Theresa May is referring to certainly does cite those statistics, but not in quite the same language. It is unsurprising to discover that a politician will select the aspects or passages of a report that vindicate his or her own ideology, but the message is far more complex than May’s speech reveals.

As with any piece of empirical research, the methodology used can impact on the results that researchers subsequently find. The MAC report acknowledges that other researchers*, using a slightly different methodology, found that “migrants had little or no overall association with native employment rates over the period 1983 to 2000.” (p.118) The data that May cites is drawn from one of a number of models that the researchers used to interrogate the employment data, and the admit that using other models there is no significant association or correlation. More importantly, the MAC report also acknowledges the limitations of their own methodology:

“The key problem for studies considering the impact of migration on the native employment rate is that of endogeneity. For example, a negative correlation between the
native employment rate and the migrant stock is consistent with the hypothesis that migrants reduce the native employment rate, but also consistent with the hypothesis that migrants move to regions with lower employment rates. It is therefore difficult to measure the impact of migration on the native employment rate accurately.
“4.27 This study attempts to address the problem of endogeneity by controlling for time-invariant differences in the native employment rate across regions which may affect the location choices of natives and migrants. Nevertheless, our results may still be influenced by endogeneity bias due to regional labour demand shocks, measurement error, or simultaneity of migrant location choice and local area economic performance. Our findings should therefore be considered as estimating the association between migration and the native employment rate rather than the impact of migration on the native employment rate.” (p.62)

Another MAC working paper from November 2010, ‘Which sectors and occupations use more immigrant labour and what characterises them? A quantitative analysis’, also highlights that “Empirical evidence from the UK to date suggests
that, at an aggregate level, immigration has not resulted in significant
undercutting of wages or displacement of native workers” (p.2)

Naturally, such methodological concerns and counter examples won’t bother a politician bent on making political capital out of immigration issues. The impact of immigration on the UK is complex and changing. If you are interested in this topic, then try reading Dustmann and Fratinni’s report to MAC ‘Can a framework for the economic cost‐benefit analysis of various immigration policies be developed to inform decision making and, if so,what data are required?’ ( ) Jonathan Portes, writing in The Guardian also debunks some of the myths propounded in May’s analysis.

* Dustmann, C., Fabbri F. and Preston, I. (2005). The impact of immigration on the UK labour market. CReAM discussion paper series 0501, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London.

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Further evidence of Rwandan involvement with M23

The DRC are claiming to have captured 20 Rwandans that were alongside M23 rebels in the assault on Goma. Undoubtedly, this will strain the negotiations currently underway in Kampala between DRC and M23. M23 were reported to be absent from the negotiations on 10th December, but present today. See @CaelinBriggs on Twitter for info.

In other developments, the US is facing criticism for its failure to intervene in the crisis in the eastern DRC.

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India and the FDI retail debate

After many years of debate, India has finally passed legislation allowing retail giants like Walmart and Tesco to trade, with Delhi most likely to be the first city to open its doors to these retail giants. The legislation on FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) retail bill has now succeeded in both the lower (Lok Sabha) and upper (Rajya Sabha) houses of parliament. The debate has sparked divisions within the coalition and huge concerns about the fate of India’s small entrepreneurial businesses.

The Indian press report the decision has gone down well in the US and the farmers in Punjab, often considered to be the bread basket of India, also backed the move. There has been much political opposition to the bill, with widespread anxieties that retailers like Walmart and Tesco will not buy produce from small- and medium-sized farmers.

New social movements, like IndiaFDIWatch are actively building alliances to prevent and combat the liberalisation of India’s market.

It will be interesting to see how farmers in India come out of this new policy.

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Evidence of Rwandan collaboration with M23?

A number of news reports have emerged over the last two days that report on further evidence that Rwanda aided M23 in its recent assault on Goma. Whilst the M23 rebels have retreated allowing the DRC army to retake control, reports have emerged of hundreds of Rwandan Defence Force troops crossing into DRC to assist M23. The Guardian reports that over 1000 RDF troops took part in the assault on Goma. Those statistics are also supported by Aljazeera Both news sources rely on UN sources. Rwanda contests the reports as it contested earlier accusations about its involvement.

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Is suspension of aid to Rwanda about political leverage?

In a newspaper article published in The Rwandan New Times on 3rd December, the Rwandan High Commissioner to the UK, Ernest Rwamucyo, argues that the decision taken by Justine Greening (DFID) to suspend aid was essentially about the exercise of political leverage.

This is an interesting piece and Rwamucyo provides a powerful articulation of Rwanda’s progress and its transparency on aid. He is also correct to identify that aid comes with political strings. As Rwamucyo claims: The decision on Rwanda affirms that aid remains very highly politicized. It demonstrates that donors, at the expense of the poor and vulnerable, will use aid to push for political objectives or to reward compliance and punish non-compliance depending on “development partner” interests. There are stronger examples of this than Rwanda, Pakistan being perhaps the most obvious, but the point is well made.

In one sense the aid that the UK and many other countries have donated to Rwanda is the price they are paying for lack of appropriate action as the genocide unfolded in 1994. Creating a political and social environment that prevents a repeat of the horrors that Rwanda faced at the close of the 20th century is a political objective worth paying for. However, aid does not come without strings, and the strings in this instance were the principles embedded in the MoU that governed the disbursement of aid. According to the United Nations and other organisations like HRW, Rwanda is not innocent here. Sadly, it’s innocent citizens are the ones that will suffer.

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HIV/AIDS in the UK

For a breakdown of the latest data on HIV/AIDS in the UK see the following website:

The HPA site offers a detailed analysis, including the following

Key findings: HIV in the United Kingdom, 2011

• An estimated 96,000 (90,800-102,500) people were living with HIV.
• The overall prevalence in 2011 was 1.5 per 1,000 population with the highest rates reported among men who have sex with men (MSM) (47 per 1,000) and the black African community (37 per 1,000).
• 24% (18%-30%) were unaware of their infection.
• 6,280 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in the UK.
• Measures of incidence show HIV transmission is in MSM remains high.
• Over half of heterosexuals probably acquired their HIV infection in the UK compared to 27% in 2002.
• Less than 1% of infants born to women diagnosed with HIV prior to delivery acquired perinatal infection in 2010/2011.

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