Research shows immigrants help the economy

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Immigration is vital for the health of the economy, helping to tackle jobs shortages, according to new academic research.

Immigration is vital for the health of the economy, helping to tackle jobs shortages, according to new academic research.

The study also warns that the scale of immigration is vastly over-estimated by indigenous populations across Europe with the result that politicians are at risk of basing immigration policy on "ill-informed evidence".

The report comes after a bruising election campaign in which race and immigration took a central role. Its prominence dismayed ethnic minority groups who warned that the exchanges could foster prejudice against blacks and Asians.

Academics from University College London (UCL) examined migration trends since the Second World War and compared them to economic trends of different nations across the continent, including Britain.

They dismissed the idea that there is a fixed number of jobs in an economy and that an influx of foreign workers simply increases the competition for them.

They argue that much of the large-scale economic immigration into Europe, and between European nations, has been driven by labour shortages in the recipient nation.

The report concluded: "An economy embedded in a competitive international market can always expand production, absorbing new workers by creating new jobs."

It acknowledged that immigration could initially depress wages for lower-skilled workers, but said the effect was temporary. "The economy reacts by expanding production in the sector that uses unskilled workers more intensively," it said.

People born abroad make up about 8.3 per cent of the British population, a smaller proportion than in France (10 per cent), the Netherlands (10.1 per cent) or Germany (11.1 per cent), but higher than in Denmark (6.7 per cent) or Spain (5.3 per cent). The figure for the United States is 12.3 per cent.

The study found, though, that people in various European nations "vastly over-estimate the true size of the number of immigrants and the foreign-born population".

The report warned: "It is important to bring detailed information relating to immigration to the attention of the electorate.

"It is likely that residents' perception of immigration is more important for policy than evidence that has been established by social scientists.

"As a consequence, policy-makers may react to beliefs based on ill-informed evidence and may, therefore, create inappropriate regulations and legislation."

The analysis was welcomed yesterday by the Government, which has argued that controlled economic migration is essential for prosperity.

A Home Office spokesman said: "Tourists, students and migrant workers make an important contribution to the UK economy. We cannot simply be a 'fortress Britain' if our businesses and economy are to grow and thrive."

He said the Government's five-year plan for immigration, published in January, would "deliver a rigorous and flexible system of controls that operates in Britain's interest, allowing in those with the skills and talents to benefit the UK, while preventing abuse."

The research also found that Britain is well down Europe's asylum-seekers "league table". Between 1990 and 2003 this country received 14.4 asylum applications per 1,000 head of population. That compares with 51.3 for Switzerland, 26.3 for Germany and 15.2 for Ireland. It is above France [8.1].

Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "This is further evidence that the Government must make a positive case for migration and not pander to prejudice.

"Many hospitals, care homes and business could not survive without migrant workers."

The study was carried out by UCL's Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration and financed by the Economic and Social Research Council.

How foreigners fill health service gaps

By Jeremy Laurance

* One third of the 212,000 doctors on the medical register qualified overseas.

* Of the almost 20,000 nurses who joined the register in 2003-04, more than 15,000 were from overseas. They are prepared to go where British-trained staff are reluctant to work - traffic-choked inner-cities and rundown housing estates - where health needs are greatest.

* Home Office figures show the annual number of work permits issued to healthcare staff from outside the European Union has risen 27-fold since 1993, to more than 40,000.

* The chief source of this vast overseas labour force is the developing world, with the Philippines topping the league, followed by India and South Africa. This has led to charges that Britain and the West is stripping the developing world of its skilled staff. Ministers have banned recruitment from the hardest-hit countries since 2001. But they have struck deals with others, including the Philippines and India, which claim to have a surfeit of trained staff. British recruits remit money home, which helps to support the local economy.

* The numbers coming from overseas are still a small proportion of the 1.3 million NHS staff but they perform a vital role in sustaining it.

Commonwealth influx to the classroom

By Sarah Cassidy

* The education system depends on the skills of the thousands of teachers from overseas.

* During a teacher recruitment crisis in 2001, foreign teachers were credited with keeping British schools open.

* Young teachers from Australia and New Zealand in particular teach in Britain to fund their travels in Europe.

* The largest single source of overseas teachers is South Africa, although Africa as a whole is short of five million teachers if universal primary education is to be achieved by 2015.

* Some 5,560 work permits were issued in 2003 to people from Commonwealth countries to work as teachers in the UK.

* Last autumn the Government agreed to clamp down on the poaching of overseas teachers for British schools.

* Education ministers from 23 countries agreed that countries such as Britain which receive high numbers of teachers from abroad must provide them with extra training to improve the education systems of their countries when they return home.

* Overseas teachers say that they do not get enough training in the national curriculum or in the British education system when come to the UK.