Letter: Public need for information on the effects of immigration policy

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Sir: The contrast between the balanced approach to immigration advocated by the European Commission and the exclusive 'focus by its Member States' on measures of entry control would indeed be encouraging if there were any immediate prospect of the Commission being allowed to take a lead in this area ('Rights boost for Europe's immigrants', 28 January). The Commission's comprehensive approach, addressing the root causes of involuntary migration and the integration of existing immigrants, as well as the need to manage migration flows, is not only more humane but more likely to succeed.

In one important section of the communication the Commission observes that society's perception of immigrants is more often based on feeling than fact. It concludes that a good information policy is indispensable and emphasises information on actual and potential migratory flows.

Here, it could usefully have gone further. Having argued that governments should put more emphasis on the economic and social benefits of immigration, it could have drawn attention to the urgent need for information which governments could use to educate public opinion. In the UK for instance, we do not know what impact immigration has on economic growth or unemployment. We do not know whether immigrants will be needed to compensate for the fall in population of working age or to fill specific skill shortages. Nor do we know the relationship between the amount of taxes immigrants pay and their take-up of state benefits.

There has been no research to establish whether rich tourists from the Indian sub-continent are deterred from visiting the UK by our entry-control procedures or whether refugees and migrants would contribute more to the economy if they were provided with language tuition. In short, we do not know what kind of entry and settlement policy would meet the needs of our economy; nor are we well informed about the humanitarian obligations under international law that must underpin any immigration policy.

The Commission believes that the polarisation of public opinion on immigration 'may even come to threaten democracy itself'. Some of the heat could be taken out of the debate if governments were to provide the public with the facts about immigration and to explain the rationale for immigration policy.

Yours sincerely,

SARAH SPENCER

Research Fellow

Institute for Public

Policy Research

London, WC2

31 January

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