Rejoice! That’s what they were saying in No 10 when the latest immigration figures bounced in. This is not the moment to go through familiar arguments for or against immigration; rather, I want to highlight two hidden costs of the macho rhetoric and willy-waving of our present policy towards foreigners.
Give us your clever ones...
Net inward migration has fallen by a third to 163,000, the lowest level yet under the current government, though well short of the target of below 100,000. This is mainly because of a fall in immigration. Whereas emigration stayed roughly constant – going up from 342,000 to 352,000 – immigration fell from 589,000 to 515,000. Of that fall, the bulk affects two groups: students, the government having tightened up rules on who can study here; and non-EU nationals. In other words, clever foreigners and particularly poor ones.
Now you might argue – indeed, most of the public would – that fewer students, bogus and otherwise, coming here means more places for our own home grown talent. But it doesn’t work like that.
Some foreign students are, it’s true, totally bogus. Many others are very clever, or come on bursaries funded by philanthropists. If we lose them, we lose both the money that comes with them, and the contribution of those students to our academic arena. This is no small thing: clever foreign students raise standards and are often responsible for advances in research and innovation that are invaluable to our country.
... And we'll let them make you rich
The second and bigger cost is not borne here. The moral imperative behind supporting immigration is that remittances by immigrants from the developed, rich world to the developing, poor one is the most effective and life-changing form of aid we have. These remittances – money sent home, basically – feed hungry mouths, educate ambitious youngsters, and help to start new companies.
According to the World Bank, last year these remittances hit $530bn (around £335bn). That number has tripled over a decade and – fantastically – is more than three times the total global aid budget. Whereas aid is filtered through NGOs and middle men, and sometimes lost to corrupt regimes, this money is perfectly targeted. It goes straight to the pockets of the poor. My own affection for it is rooted in the fact that my parents, one of eleven and ten respectively, supported my family in India through this method.
So the strongest argument for immigration turns out to be the least cited. In all the wooping and cheering and high-fives among our political class – stuffed full of very rich people – over that fall in immigration, spare a thought for the families who won’t now benefit from the generosity of loved ones in a land far away, because we’re too narrow-minded to let them be our neighbours. Is that the country you want to live in? Apparently so.