The Facts, the Myths and the Framing of Immigration: The Case of Britain


Kenan Malik in Eurozine:

At the heart of the current debate about immigration are two issues: the first is about the facts, the second about the public perception of immigration.

The facts are relatively straightforward. Immigration is a good thing and the idea that immigrants come to Britain to live off benefits laughable. Immigrants put more money into the economy than they take out and have a negligible impact on jobs and wages. An independent report on the impact of immigration commissioned by the Home Office in 2003, looked at numerous international surveys and conducted its own study in Britain. “The perception that immigrants take away jobs from the existing population, or that immigrants depress the wages of existing workers”, it concluded, “do not find confirmation in the analysis of the data laid out in this report”. More recent studies have suggested that immigration helps raise wages except at the bottom of the jobs ladder where it has a slight negative impact. That impact on low paid workers matters hugely, of course, but is arguably more an issue of labour organization than of immigration…

Whatever the truth about immigration, it is clear that there exists widespread popular hostility to immigrants. For some, often on the right, the hostility makes sense because, irrespective of its economic benefits, the social impact of immigration is destructive. For others, often on the left, such hostility exists because people are irrational and take little notice of facts and figures. Both arguments have little merit.