6.7.4.1 The Politics of Immigration

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6741a.htm)

Immigration is unavoidable.  At a minimum it will include filling skills shortages and, if the country is one of the 142 signatories to the Geneva Convention of 28 July 1951, providing asylum for refugees (5.4.7.6).  It is going to increase as a result of economic pressures, including climate change.  It can have broadly positive effects on an economy (3.4.3.3) in the medium term but, especially when large numbers of people are involved, public hostility can be aroused (4.4.5) and there are practical issues to address.

Politicians are responsible for setting an asylum policy that is compatible with the country’s international undertakings and the population’s capacity to assimilate the refugees – taking the rights of current citizens into account.  David Miller’s book, Strangers in our Midst: The Political Philosophy of Immigration starts with the “realistic premise” that the “immigration regimes of most liberal democracies are under extreme stress” – but Matthew Lister’s article, Alien Ideas, questions Miller’s divisive language:

“I do … question the role of “national identity”. Miller sees it as “an additional source of value”, one that leads to a “more communitarian” society. (28) However, if a national identity can provide a sense of unity, it may also serve to divide a society, marking certain members as ‘outsiders’ who are not part of the majority nation. It’s not clear to me why a so-called “political” identity – one based on civic values and commitments rather than cultural and ethnic ones – could not serve as well with less chance of the disruptive and exclusive features that all too often accompany nationalism.”

Asylum-seekers have to be housed immediately, at least on a temporary basis, whilst their requests for asylum are being assessed.  If this results in them ‘jumping the queue’ for social housing, those who would otherwise have been re-housed are understandably upset.  They also need jobs if they are not to need benefits; many are keen to work and, if allowed to, quickly find employment.

All immigrants create an immediate pressure on public services, as they may need access to medical care and their children need schools.  If the authorities have made insufficient provision for receiving people, it is they who deserve criticism – not the immigrants.

Security checks are necessary at a country’s borders, or at the borders of the EU’s Schengen Area, so that people who are a threat to national security can be turned back.

Arbitrary national targets for immigration are impractical.  Employers should be allowed to fill their vacancies – but local politicians should take account of the availability of public services and accommodation before granting permits for economic expansion, to prevent job-seeking immigrants from overwhelming an area such as Shirebrook in Derbyshire for example, as described in the BBC article Immigration: threat or opportunity.

Economic migrants might be deported if they fail to find work soon enough, to prevent them from becoming “an unreasonable burden” on the social assistance system – within 3 months, for example, as catered for in EU directive 2004/38/EC.

Asylum-seekers need an induction into society.  They may find that it is easiest for them if they settle near to people from the same ethnic group, so that they can receive moral and practical support and can speak the same language.  They need different lengths of time to adjust, but it is preferable that they don’t remain separate from the rest of society for any longer than necessary because that undermines social cohesion (6.6.3.4).  If they are allowed to find work wherever it is available, they will gradually disperse and can be absorbed.

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