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Government should challenge immigration myths, MPs say


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The government needs to do more to challenge myths and misconceptions about the impact of immigration to the UK, a new report by a committee of MPs says.

In a wide-ranging survey of the political landscape, the influential Home Affair Committee recommends a “more proactive” approach to fake news on immigration and asylum, together with an increased emphasis on “factual information” about its costs and benefits.

The Immigration policy: basis for building consensus report cites this blog twice, as well as referring to oral evidence from editor Colin Yeo. It points to

widespread misconceptions about immigration, including that most migrants come to the UK to access benefits, despite migration to work and to study making up by far the greatest proportion, and significant over-estimates of the number of people arriving in the UK each year to seek asylum. These misconceptions can make it difficult for some people to integrate. They can also be exploited and deliberately manipulated to increase division and accentuate fear.

Curing the disease is much harder than diagnosing it, of course. The committee’s most concrete recommendation on this front is that the government should table an Annual Migration Report on migration flows, economic impacts and government policy on managing “impacts and pressures”. The Annual Migration Report would be debated by Parliament.

Elsewhere, the committee’s report is rightly critical of the hostile environment, the system of immigration detention and the quality of Home Office decision-making. But its overall tone is constructive. The MPs’ conclusions are summarised as follows:

(a) There is a lack of trust in official data, targets and decision-making on immigration policy. We need open and honest debate informed by evidence, and a new transparent way of making and debating immigration policy.

(b) Rules are complex and hard to understand, and there is widespread concern that they are not enforced or are unfair. Immigration policy needs to set out fair rules underpinned by clear principles (including on contributions and common humanitarian obligations), effective management and better enforcement and control.

(c) Government should avoid binary approaches which treat all immigration as the same and allow the debate to be polarised. There should be clearly differentiated approaches for different types of immigration and these must be proactively communicated.

(d) Much stronger coordination is needed between immigration policy and labour market policy to ensure that immigration works for the economic and social interests of the UK and its citizens. 

(e) Action is needed to address the impact of immigration at local and national level—including appropriate investment in housing and public services, and strong local integration plans. Integration is immensely important but is not embedded in immigration policy. Immigration policy should be underpinned by a strategy to help communities faced with rapid population change, and should be responsive to local and regional issues.

As vivid illustrations of the state of British public opinion go, this passing remark from Brexit mastermind Dominic Cummings takes some beating: “all focus groups now start with immigration and tend to revert to it within two minutes unless you stop them”. If you prefer not to take his word for it, try the more understated Archbishop of Canterbury, who has said “the reality is that in many communities there is a great degree of nervousness about immigration”. Public attitudes to immigration cannot be wished away. But nor are they set in stone forever more.

Today’s report – being the result of cross-party deliberation – does not push for a shift in public opinion in any particular direction. It is about the parameters of the public and political debate rather than the substance. But those who believe that a more sane and elevated debate would lead to a more liberal consensus on policy will welcome its optimism.

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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.