Sir: The coverage of the influx of Romany refugees has highlighted the suspicious tenor of the British response to claims of asylum. Implicit in the negative tone of the national debate on immigration is an extremely primitive view of the economic effects of any population movement into this country. It is assumed that migrants are parasites; that they are unassimilable; that they are, in fact, thieves who have roamed in order to "steal our benefits". These myths should be dissected and examined critically.
It is true that in areas where immigrants are initially concentrated, housing and welfare resources can be strained. However, such expenditures should be regarded as an investment. Immigrant communities tend to be relatively young; the more mobile are usually the better educated; and the dynamic psychology of building a new life contributes towards entrepreneurialism and a stronger work-ethic. I do not claim that these generalisations are invariable, merely that they are true often enough to make immigration a net contributor to economic growth.
Setting aside the question of our duty towards the persecuted, the time has come for a coherent national policy to be formulated on economic immigration. We face structural problems of an ageing population, skill shortages and the stagnation of certain regions. A properly worked out quota strategy would go a long way in helping to ameliorate some of these (and other) problems. A Royal Commission on would be an appropriate first step.
Balliol College, Oxford