Why we need a fairer immigration system

Immigration was one of the most prominent issues of the EU referendum campaign – and has been one of the British public’s biggest concerns for many years.

To some Remainers, this has been taken as an invitation to portray our vote to Leave as an attempt to “pull up the drawbridge” and close Britain off from the world. But that was never what the campaign was about.

Instead, a proper Brexit offers us the opportunity to take back control of our borders and implement an immigration policy which is fair both to British workers and to people across the world who wish to live and work in this country.

How is freedom of movement bad for local workers? Simple: it pushes down wages. By allowing EU citizens to come to the UK to look for work – rather than only if they have a firm job offer – our membership means that there are always tens of thousands of extra people competing for British jobs.

In the year ending March 2018, when Project Fear 2.0 was at its height and potential migrants were deterred by uncertainty about their future status, 34,000 jobseekers entered the UK from the EU. Now that the Government has quite rightly made clear that nobody is going to get ‘kicked out’, that number is only going to rise again.

All this reduces workers’ bargaining power and allows bosses to hire on the cheap – and according to research from the Bank of England, the lowest-paid are some of the worst affected by the wage impacts of immigration.

This lack of control also means that the Government can’t tailor immigration policy to the needs of our economy, issuing more visas for industries that need vital skills whilst protecting local low-wage workers.

Europhiles might argue that this concern with fairness is parochial or nativist, but in fact European freedom of movement is also deeply unfair to would-be migrants from the rest of the world.

As a country with a global history, the United Kingdom is home to citizens and communities from all over the globe. As a major global economy, possessed of some of the world’s best universities and biggest companies, it is also a beacon for talented individuals of every stripe. But freedom of movement locks us into a system which gives EU migrants priority – and often makes it very difficult for Britain to turn down mediocre European workers in favour of world-class talent from elsewhere (see our article on the NHS’s immigration problems).

Post-Brexit, the best and brightest EU migrants will still be able to come to Britain. The only difference is that an application from France, Germany, or Poland will go through the same process as one from India, China, or Brazil. Rather than being locked into a preferential relationship with a disparate collection of countries which happen to be nearby, everybody will have a fair shot.

Freedom to attract the very best, and to protect low-wage workers from mass competition which drives down wages and increases pressure on the public services they depend on. That’s the post-Brexit immigration policy we need.

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