Thursday, January 24, 2013
Immigration into Britain from Eastern Europe
An upbeat view -- but time will tell
On January 16th Stewart Jackson, a conservative member of parliament, presented a bill calling to limit the immigration process for Romanian and Bulgarians coming to Britain: “We don’t want to make the same mistake that we made in 2004, which was to import a very large number of low-wage, low-skill workers and embed welfare dependency in our indigenous workforce.” In a speech last month, Theresa May, the home secretary, said that migration puts a downward pressure on wages and has a bad influence on the social cohesion of the country.
Mr Stewart and Ms May omit to mention the positive effects of the last big influx of workers from new EU member countries. It was vastly higher than predicted, but it was also more successful than forecast. According to a study conducted by The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford migrants from so-called A8 countries (the eight countries that joined the EU in 2004) have made a positive contribution to the country’s public finances in each fiscal year since their EU accession. While they mostly work in the lower wage sector, their labour-force participation and employment rates tend to be higher, which offsets the impact of their lower wages.
A number of studies show that immigrants are slowing the ageing of Britain’s population. And despite the popular belief that a new wave of immigrants will increase unemployment the National Institute of Economics and Social Research states that there is no aggregate impact of migration on unemployment.
Maybe most importantly, Britain today is less attractive to would-be immigrants than ten years ago, In 2004, only Britain and two other countries did away with almost all restrictions for workers from A8 countries. Since it was the largest economy of the three and its economy was booming, Britain became a magnet for them. This time, all EU countries are opening their labour markets Romanians and Bulgarians. And Britain’s economy is in dire straits.
Titus Corlăţean, Romania’s minister of foreign affairs, believes figures of Romanians immigrating to Britain next year circulated in the British press are wildly exaggerated. According to Mr Corlăţean the issue has become a British domestic political “game”, kindled by the United Kingdom Independence Party, an insurgent outfit devoted to Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. He is relying on the British government that it “will respect what is written in the European Treaty for the accession of Romania, that from January 1st 2014 there will be a free access for Romanians to the labour market in Britain,” he said.
Surveys show that immigration is one of Britons’ biggest concerns. A report by British Future, a think tank, has revealed that people worry more about immigration as a national than as a local issue. Its State of the Nation poll found that 19% chose immigration as a top local worry while 30% placed immigration first when thinking about tensions facing British society as a whole. This suggests that immigration is more a problem of perception than of reality.
Obama wants it all -- so may get nothing
President Obama’s second inaugural address was heavy on the theme of unity. He used the word “together” seven times in the 15-minute speech. But tucked inside was a prelude to a contentious fight he’ll soon have with Republicans—the battle over reforming the nation’s immigration laws.
Obama couched his comments about the issue in uplifting language: “Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity,” he said. “Until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce, rather than expelled from our country.”
On the surface, there’s nothing controversial about that. Increasing the number of visas for highly-skilled immigrants is one of the few policy goals Obama and the GOP agree on. That reflects a big change in Republican thinking in recent months, as party leaders saw support among Hispanics drop in the face of tough anti-immigrant rhetoric. When Mitt Romney talked about immigrants during the Republican primaries, he focused on undocumented workers, suggesting they should “self-deport.” By the summer, he had softened his tone, saying he wanted to “staple a green card to the diplomas” of all foreign math and science grads who study at U.S. universities.
If visas for highly -skilled workers were the only issue on the table, Democrats and Republicans could solve it fairly quickly. The GOP would need a little time to convince the staunchest conservatives to sign on. Democrats would have to win over unions, but that might not be too difficult because most science and engineering grads work in fields with few union jobs, anyway.
But that’s not the way it’s going to happen. What Obama didn’t say in his speech, and the thing Republicans will latch onto in the days ahead, is that he wants to tie the popular idea of raising visas for skilled workers to making broader changes in immigration laws—to which that Republicans strongly object.
Last week, administration officials—speaking anonymously, of course—”leaked” to reporters some of the details of Obama’s immigration plan. For the first time, the White House made clear that the president won’t agree to raise the visa caps for highly skilled immigrants unless it’s part of an overall reform plan that includes a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S.
These immigrants aren’t the “bright young” future job-creators Obama lauded in his speech. Most work dirty jobs for low wages, and many lack high-school diplomas. They’re the undocumented workers that Republican governors in Arizona, Georgia, Alabama, and other states have driven away with tough anti-immigration laws.
Obama’s insistence on an everything-at-once approach puts Republicans in a difficult position as the party struggles to settle on a policy that its different factions can rally around. For many House Republicans from Southern and border states, such words as “legalization” and “citizenship” are non-starters. But increasingly, party leaders and other prominent conservatives—House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Charlie Spies, counsel for the pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC, even Bill O’Reilly–are advocating for a compromise—yet to be defined—between “throw them out” and “let them stay.”
This means that skilled would-be immigrants hoping for the door to open could be in for a long wait. They’ve become the essential bargaining chip in what will likely be a tense, protracted negotiation—not just between Democrats and Republicans, but among Republicans themselves.
Posted by jonjayray at 12:13 PM