‘Let’s debunk the myth that mass migration brings an economic benefit,’ says former UK immigration minister

Conservative MP Robert Jenrick has slammed successive governments for their "betrayal" of voters on the issue of immigration, stating that mass low-skilled migration into a developed nation has been "a burden on the taxpayer"

FILE - Britain's former Minister of State (Minister for Immigration) Robert Jenrick arrives for a cabinet meeting in Downing Street in London, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
By Thomas Brooke
7 Min Read

The notion that mass immigration brings a net economic benefit to a developed nation is a myth that needs to be debunked, a former U.K. government minister who resigned over the spiraling numbers arriving in Britain has claimed.

In an interview with the Conservative Home website, Robert Jenrick, the Conservative MP who stepped down from his role as immigration minister in the Home Office last year, called the government’s post-Brexit immigration policy a “complete disaster” and a “betrayal to voters” who for decades have elected parties promising to cut the number of new arrivals into Britain.

“The numbers are just so large that it has a proportionally much greater impact on everyone’s lives. This cuts to the housing crisis, why we have such low productivity, and why we have concerns about community cohesion and integration,” he told the site.

Net migration is at record levels in Britain since the U.K. left the European Union, peaking in the year to December 2022 at 745,000. It subsequently fell to 672,000 in the year to June 2023, but after leaving the European Union Single Market, this is a paradox that Jenrick finds difficult to accept.

“For years, politicians made promises to cut legal migration they knew they couldn’t keep because ultimately the UK was beholden to the EU’s freedom of movement.

“The great reform was the Conservative Party delivering Brexit, which finally took back control of the levers of migration. But the decisions made in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote were a betrayal to voters — they created a system that was even more liberal than the one before by lowering the salary threshold, creating a graduate route and an unregulated social care visa,” he said.

“Frankly, these decisions were two fingers up to the public, and in public policy terms they’ve been a complete disaster.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made “stopping the boats” a key pledge throughout his tenure in Downing Street — a nod to the illegal immigration crisis on England’s southern shores as thousands of undocumented migrants are transported across the English Channel from mainland Europe where they claim asylum and use human rights laws to avoid deportation.

However, despite attempts to combat this issue through the flagship Rwanda policy — a plan to deport migrants to the African nation for offshore processing — Jenrick believes that this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tackling immigration.

“To me, legal migration has always been the more important issue,” he explained.

“I’m 42, and for my entire adult life, if not longer, political parties of all persuasions have stood at elections saying they’re going to bring down the level of legal migration.

“All alighted on this challenge, said they were going to take action, and all ultimately failed.”

The Conservative MP challenged the view that mass immigration has a net economic benefit on a developed country like Britain, highlighting that just 15 percent of non-EU migrants who came to the country last year arrived with work visas. “So, the overwhelming majority of people were students, dependants, or were those coming as refugees.”

The figure is actually slightly higher than 15 percent. In the year to June 2023, 968,000 non-EU migrants arrived in Britain, of which just 169,000 were the main applicants on a work visa, amounting to 17.5 percent.

“One can make arguments for and against each of those categories, but they’re not people who are demonstrably making an economic contribution to this country.”

He warned the economic model that Britain has adopted when it comes to immigration isn’t working.

“If importing hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to the UK was a route to prosperity, the U.K. would be one of the richest countries in the world,” he said, adding that Britain has been in a recession in terms of GDP per capita for almost the last two years.

“I care about the prosperity of our own citizens, not the overall size of the economy.”

The former immigration minister accused businesses in Britain of becoming “hooked on the drug of imported foreign labor” and said the government had done too little to “boost training for young people in our country” to take on jobs in key sectors like construction.

He urged the government to adopt a “highly selective” immigration policy that enables it to choose the types of people that will make an economic contribution to Britain, noting that there is no longer the bogeyman of the European Union to fall back on as a reason why immigration figures should remain as high as they are now.

“What we need is radically reduced, highly-selective, high-skilled, and high-productivity migration,” Jenrick added, suggesting that an annual cap could “serve as a democratic lock” on Britain’s immigration policy and ensure that promises to the electorate to bring down the numbers are met.

Several studies support Jenrick’s observation that mass immigration is an economic drag on developed nations.

In November 2021, a Danish Ministry of Finance report revealed that the net cost of immigration from non-Western countries, after tax contributions had been deducted, amounted to €4.2 billion in 2018.

Similarly, a study from the University of Amsterdam published in December last year revealed the net cost to the Dutch public sector for decades of mass immigration between 1995 and 2019 was €400 billion, averaging €17 billion a year.

The research categorized the types of migrants arriving in the Netherlands during that time by nationality, revealing that those arriving from other EU and European countries had a net positive contribution to the Dutch economy, while those coming from countries such as Turkey and Morocco had cost the Dutch taxpayer the most with a net negative contribution of €200,000 and €260,000, respectively.

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