A Look at Other Nations' Migration Policies – In This Case the U.K.

By David North on November 3, 2009

People interested in immigration to the U.S., and the immigration policies of this nation, might find it useful, from time to time, to look at what other democracies do with their immigration policies.

With that in mind I would like to mention People and Place, an academic, peer-reviewed quarterly dealing with immigration and related issues, and published by Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

The scholars published in this journal tend to lean towards immigration control, just as the authors of articles in International Migration Review, published in New York, tend to lean in the opposite direction.

One of the more interesting recent People and Place articles was "An Assessment of the House of Lords Report on the Economic Impact of Immigration to the United Kingdom" by Chris Wright, (vol 16., no 3). The report, the author says "found -- contrary to the assertions of the Labour Governments – that recent immigration flows have not produced significant economic benefits."

Just as Australia has a permanently open door to migrants from New Zealand, Britain, because of its membership in the European Union, has little or no control of migration from many nations on the Continent. But it does control immigration from the rest of the world, including from its former (and current) colonies, and that was the subject of the Lords report. (The article is not available free on the internet but the underlying report is.)

The House of Lords is no longer dominated by hereditary dukes and earls; while there are a few of them left, most of the members are life peers, appointed for their past service to the government and to the political parties. The Lords do not have much power, but they do have influence, as the chamber is best known for amending bills passed by the House of Commons, and for its responsible debates on public policy issues – such as immigration.

The Lords report, dated April 1, 2008, was written by its Select Committee on Economic Affairs, and relates primarily to economic issues. The Lordships' principal finding was:

"... we have found no evidence for the argument, made by the [Labour] Government, business and many others, that net immigration – immigration minus emigration – generates significant economic benefits for the existing UK population."

"In the long run, the main economic effect of immigration is to enlarge the economy, with relatively small costs and benefits for the incomes of the resident population...

"Many businesses and public services make use of the skills and the hard work of immigrants. But this is not an argument for immigration on a scale which exceeds emigration and thus increases the population."

The last sentence suggests that the British approach to immigration policy is different from that of the U.S. in at least two significant ways. First, there is still substantial emigration from Britain, (primarily to Australia, Canada, and New Zealand) and the Brits regard it as part of the overall equation. Second, there is a much greater awareness of immigrants as a factor in population growth, something discussed all too rarely in U.S. government documents.

The House of Lords also had sharp words for an open borders argument sometimes heard in the U.S., that bringing in lots of young immigrants will help fund the Social Security system: "Arguments in favour of high immigration to defuse the 'pensions time bomb' do not stand up to scrutiny as they... ignore the fact that, in time, immigrants too will grow old and draw pensions...."

The Chairman of the Select Committee on Economic Affairs, Baron Ian Vallance of Tummel, is a former chief executive of British Telecommunications, is a prominent member of the UK‘s third party, the Liberal Democrats, and is a life peer.

The Cambridge University scholar assessing the Lords' report for People and Place, Chris Wright, had mixed reactions to it.

On one hand he approves of the "bluntness of its criticism of the case made by the labour Government in support of its immigration policies." On the other he is not pleased that "the main feasible change recommended by the report is... an indicative target range for net immigration... Given that a target range would only apply to non-EU immigration, and would possibly exclude highly skilled workers and students, the probably impact of such a policy is likely to be minimal."

The U.K., unlike the U.S., currently runs its immigration program without utilizing any statutory numerical ceilings.