If Boris Johnson accepts the recommendations of the government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), published on Tuesday, he is frankly insane. A clear recipe for driving further rises in already unsustainable immigration levels, this would be catastrophic for his support among his new working-class voter base.
The headlines are these: no overall cap on migrants, lower salary requirements, and the abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test which prevents employers bypassing British workers entirely. In a political climate desperate to see overall immigration reduced along with competition for jobs and pay, these appear to be the recommendations of madmen, deaf to what the country is crying out for.
Alp Mehmet, Chairman of Migration Watch UK, says this:
‘These are dangerous proposals. They would see the main route for work having much lower salary and qualification levels than apply to non-EU migrants now, and jobs will no longer need to be advertised first in the UK. All this with no annual cap on the main route. Without this there can be no control. The MAC have also left open the possibility of low skilled workers coming for shorter (undefined) periods. There must be a considerable risk that the numbers will run away as they have on previous occasions.’
The report is not even internally coherent. It claims that its evidence shows that immigration plays only a ‘relatively small role . . . in determining wages’. Yet it contradicts this when it defends salary thresholds as preventing ‘undercutting in the labour market, ensuring that employers are not hiring migrants simply because they are cheaper’. And also when it voices some ‘concerns’ that ‘migrants are often employed at the bottom of pay scales leading to lower pay for migrant workers’, worrying that this will ‘hold down public sector pay’.
They are right second time: high immigration does indeed drive down wages and increase competition for jobs. It also allows companies to get away with not investing properly in training, while stripping poorer countries of their skilled workers and leaving them short. It increases the pressure on the NHS, schools and public services, and housing and infrastructure. It undermines social cohesion by fragmenting communities and hampering integration. Already in 2018, 14 per cent of the UK population was born abroad, rising to 37 per cent in London. This extreme level of diversity and population growth does not lead to a happy, cohesive society.
Boris has been very keen to introduce an Australian-style points-based system as the supposed answer to Britain’s immigration worries. The report largely pours cold water on this idea, observing that an ‘Australian points-based system’ was introduced by Tony Blair in 2008 but has since become points-based ‘in name only, with successful applicants having to meet all criteria’. The authors say they ‘do not recommend changes to this framework’, though add that the ‘current packaging’ as a points-based system is ‘pointless’ (groan) and should be eliminated.
The report claims Blair’s points-based system let in too many low-skill immigrants, so they rightly advise against it. This doesn’t stop them, however, arguing for a general loosening of the entry criteria so that immigration will inevitably rise.
Furthermore, this report just covers worker migrants, who in 2017 made up only 38 per cent of the 438,311 visas issued to non-EU citizens. A further 11 per cent were family visas for their dependants, while the largest portion were student visas at 51 per cent. Then there are the estimated 800,000 to 1.2 million illegal immigrants living in the UK.
This is no immigration solution. The UK needs to wean itself off its addiction to cheap foreign labour and invest properly in its own workforce and families. It needs to get serious about enforcement. It also needs to prioritise immigration from culturally similar countries to aid integration and reduce social fragmentation.
As far as I can tell Boris is a sane man, and if he knows what’s good for him he will ignore this report and its toxic recommendations and start over. Most of all, he will recognise that if he doesn’t bring overall migrant numbers down to sustainable, pre-Blair levels, he will be deemed a failure and will pay for it dearly in votes.