Key myths on the negative impacts of EU immigration have been blown apart by a major report commissioned by the government.
The document found EU citizens have little impact on UK workers’ wages, pay more in taxes, have no adverse impact on young Britons’ schooling, are not linked to increasing crime and contribute “much more” to the NHS than they consume.
It did highlight how immigration helped push up house prices, but concluded the rise is directly linked to a broader failure to build new homes.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recommendations, which will inform the UK’s new post-Brexit approach, included scrapping visa caps for skilled workers, whilst blocking most low-skilled individuals from entering the country – raising concern in the construction industry.
It also paved the way for the UK government to use any preferential treatment for EU citizens as a bargaining tool in negotiations over future trade further down the line.
MAC chair Professor Alan Manning said: “The MAC’s core recommendation is for the UK to be more open to skilled workers from around the world and to limit access to low skilled workers.”
The committee was tasked to analyse the impacts of immigration from the European Economic Area, with a report following a year-long study published on Tuesday.
It goes to the heart of many of the arguments on immigration made by Leave campaigners during the Brexit referendum – including those involving claims about the burden immigrants place on public services and resources.
A key argument deployed was that cheap EU labour depressed British workers’ pay, but the report said: “In terms of wages the existing evidence and the analysis we present in the report suggests that migration is not a major determinate of the wages of UK-born workers.
“We found some evidence suggesting that lower-skilled workers face a negative impact, while higher-skilled workers benefit, however the magnitude of the impacts are generally small.”
But the benefits to the public purse were clear with the report concluding that EU migrants contribute £2,300 more to the exchequer each year in net terms than the average adult.
Over their lifetimes, they pay in £78,000 more than they take out in public services and benefits, while the average UK citizen’s net lifetime contribution is zero.
The impact of migrants on the NHS is often cited by those arguing for lower immigration, but the MAC report said: “EEA migrants contribute much more to the health service and the provision of social care in financial resources and through work than they consume in services.
“EEA workers are an increasing share of the health and social care workforces though these sectors employ greater numbers of non-EEA migrants.
“There is no evidence that migration has reduced the quality of healthcare.”
Turning to schools the report said: “We find no evidence that migration has reduced parental choice in schools or the educational attainment of UK-born children.
“On average, children with English as an additional language outperform native English speakers.”
In terms of any extra pressure on the police, the document stated that “migration does not impact crime and there is no evidence to suggest that migrants are linked to any increases in crime in England and Wales”.
Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors, said the report “punctures” the more negative stories around the impact of overseas workers in the UK.
He added: “The conclusion in particular that migration does not impact the training of the UK-born workforce bears out the evidence from business leaders.”
Best for Britain champion David Lammy MP called the report a sledgehammer to government policy, adding that tighter immigration would see the “most vulnerable” pay.
He said: “As the report shows there is not one iota of evidence that European migration has damaged life in the UK.
“In fact, European migrants have greatly enriched our economy, as well as our social and cultural life. The government’s Brexit policy doesn’t reflect this.”
But critics of free movement will seize on the report’s findings that “migration has increased house prices”, estimating that a one per cent rise in the population due to migration leads to a one per cent rise in prices.
That equates to immigration pushing up prices by 2.6 per cent between 2004 and 2017, a period when they soared by some 45 per cent across the UK overall.
But the report highlights how there is a greater impact in “local authorities with a higher refusal rate on major developments” and adds that the effects of immigration are mitigated in part by “migrant construction workers” who actually help build new homes.
The report goes on: “Our analysis suggests that migration has increased house prices. The impacts of migration on house prices cannot, however, be seen in isolation from other government policies.
“The evidence points towards a higher impact of migration in areas with more restrictive planning policies in which it is harder for the housing stock to increase in line with demand.”
Looking at policy recommendations, the report sets out what the government should do if it is to create a system in which migration is excluded from Brexit negotiations, which is unlikely as talk turns to future trade arrangements.
In this scenario, MAC says EU citizens should be given no preferential treatment, paving the way for the government to offer better access for some Europeans as part of a future negotiation.
More specifically, the report suggests scrapping visa caps on skilled “tier 2” workers, and opening up these visas to medium, as well as high-skilled individuals from all over the world.
It advocates the abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test – in which companies must prove there is not a domestically based person who can do the job before offering to someone from abroad.
Instead, it suggests rolling out the Immigration Skills Charge, which can see companies pay up to £1,000 a year to hire foreigners, rolled out to EEA citizens.
In a finding that is likely to spark opposition from some sectors, MAC concluded that there is no need for a specific migration route for low-skilled work, with the possible exception of a seasonal agricultural scheme.
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said: “Today’s report makes very worrying reading for the tens of thousands of small construction firms across the UK who are already deeply concerned about the skills shortage.
“Its recommendations ignore the pleas of construction employers who have called on the government to introduce a visa system based on key occupations rather than arbitrary skill levels.”
He went on: “It’s not at all clear that EU workers with important skills already in short supply, like bricklaying and carpentry, will not fall foul of a crude and limited definition of ‘high skilled’ worker.”
A Home Office spokeswoman argued that the UK’s new immigration system would work “in the interests of the whole of the UK”.
She added: “The government is clear that EU citizens play an important and positive role in our economy and society and we want that to continue after we leave.
“We will carefully consider the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendations before setting out further detail on the UK’s future immigration system.”
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