Immigration: Can we talk about it?
Immigration is not what it used to be. Or, to put it correctly, it is what it used to be, plus something else. Boatloads of people still turn up at the doors of rich countries; but, to snatch a share of global pie, countries also actively pursue immigrants. The political rhetoric around them has changed too: Once the usual, comfortable issues like colour of skin and religion became politically incorrect, politicians who lack courage but seek votes have made immigration their proxy issue. It is not a subject you can easily discuss in a pub, or a coffee shop or gym. If you do, everyone will look at you as if all issues around the subject have already been settled.
As if, immigration is BAD, everyone knows! One needs to only look at how crowded the buses are, no parking spaces, getting into school is a hassle and a lottery, no jobs, house prices are well beyond middle class salaries - the ill effects of immigration are just too obvious. Conveniently, all the things that could be blamed on the government of the day can be ascribed to rising immigration. It is also one of those propositions which can't be falsified: If an overwhelming number of nurses, bus drivers and teachers are immigrants and keeping the hospitals, buses and schools running, they are the ones stealing jobs and taking parking bays. The tabloid description of immigrants is absolutely on the money - they are the shop workers who take away jobs from the local people and the rioters too, who burn the same shops down, making themselves jobless; they steal jobs and they are lazy and get jobless benefits; they are ones who drive house prices and rents up by buying or renting all the houses and then also get all the council housing because they can't find one. In the end, this is about constructing an all-consuming monster which is surely putting British way of life at risk, and keeps the politicians safe.
I am an immigrant: I am indeed biased about it and I feel angry about how immigrants are generally portrayed. I have been living in England for eight years and do not even know how to claim jobseeker benefits, as I have never thought of hanging around without a job. But this small-island-drowning-with-the-weight-of-immigrants view, the one the Prime Minister and his equally out-of-touch cabinet seem to believe in, is laughable. As the British Ambassador in China recently put it, this is 'fortress Britain' mentality, which has now been successfully inculcated to the British public by the politicians of the day and their ideologues at the Murdoch media.
However, where the ridiculous turns absurd when the immigration minister talks about attracting 'only the brightest immigrants'. This is the business bit of the Tory bench trying to make sense of themselves. The Brightest Immigrants, and I hope he does mean brightest and not just the richest, the Qataris and the Russians who buy luxury apartments and help keep the house prices stable, have all the options in the world to choose from: They are unlikely to choose a country besieged by its own fears and hostile to anyone who looks slightly different from the native stock. They won't come to a country whose education system is in a disarray via the various ideological experiments unleashed on the establishment in a hurry and without thinking, and they would certainly not come to an economy which is sinking, partly because of complete lack of imagination in policy making and mistaken assumption that rhetoric can make up for bad governance.
Talking about governance, the UK Border Agency does nothing, absolutely nothing, if someone comes to Britain and just stays on. They have no clue who these people are, and no strategy how to find them and deport them. The only thing they can do, and are doing, is to make life more difficult for people who want to come to Britain and live legally, like the students who usually have to wait for months to get a visa extension granted. The Ministers want to tighten the UK borders and bring the net migration down to tens of thousands, but they can't even manage the immigration queues at Heathrow and get some illegal migrants out of the country.
The only way a country can manage its immigration is by creating incentives for compliance and disincentives for non-compliance, which roughly translates into an welcoming approach to legal migration and tighter enforcement and penalties for law breakers. But, this is hard work, needing competence; besides, this does not make headlines and does not sell newspapers. So, UK takes the opposite approach - drives all its resources to constraining legal migration, creating disincentives for compliance, while completely missing out on law enforcement, creating great opportunities of money-making for people smugglers and illegal immigrants, even the dangerous ones. The current approach makes Britain a weaker economy, an unloved country and a place even its own brightest people would like to leave. Indeed, it buys politicians a few more months, but at the current rate, they can only hope to achieve their net migration target by destroying British Higher Education and industry, quite a costly bargain.
So, can we at least talk about it?