Migration to the UK – Controversies and Evidence

Notes from RGS Lecture, Monday 21st March 2011

Below are a summary of my notes from tonights lecture at the Royal Geographical Society by Heaven Crawley, Professor of International Migration at Swansea University. These notes are based on my hand written scrawls and therefore there may be mistakes and misquotes.


Heaven began by introducing unscientific measures of public opinion on Migration:

  • Taxi Test – what the opinion of your taxi driver is.
  • Tabloid Test – how many tabloid headlines are devoted to migration.
  • Conversations with friends in a social setting.

She then stated that ‘strength of opinion on migration is inversely proportional to knolwedge’

Attitudes to Migration in the United Kingdom

  • Negative attitudes to migration are not new; there are historical records of negative attitudes towards migration. The example given were the inter-war period and racism towards Jewish migrants; and the race riots of 1950s.
  • Although migration and attitudes has has a long history the attitude has become increasingly negative since 1997.
  • This is evidenced in academic surveys such as ‘British Social Attitude Survey’ and ad-hoc opinion polls.
  • There has been an increase in the British public who see immigration ad the most important issue facing the UK.
  • Lack of knowledge over immigrations issues; typically people over estimate number of immigrants; typical estimate 40%, actually 8-10%.

  • Recent decrease in concern about immigration due to increase in concern about economy.

The Evidence Base; Myths and Reality

  • There has been a shift towards evidence based policy; therefore making policy should be based on evidence not what our own opinions are.
  • There has been an expansion in evidence in the last 10 years; despite evidence public opinion is still driving policy.
  • Migration elicits strong and often emotive responses which are polarised to the extreme.
  • There needs to be an understanding that correlation and causality are not the same thing.

Migration Myth 1 – Weak Border Controls

  • Situation stirred by tabloid headlines such as ‘soft touch Britain’ or ‘66,500 more asylum seekers can stay.
  • Migration has increased despite rather than government policies.
  • The scale of intentional migration has increased due to: regional economic integration, increasing political stability; persistent differences in living standards.
  • However despite all the above only 2.5% of the worlds population choose to be international migrants.
  • The UK does not have an ‘open door’ policy; 500,000 people were refused visas in 2010 and 28,000 people were retained.
  • UK has a lower proportion of immigrants than many other countries (9.7%); compared to USA (12.8%), Australia (23.8%), Canada (19.1%).

Migration Myth 2 – UK Supports a Disproportionate Amount of World’s Refugees

  • Tabloid articles like the one above (click image for full article); contain a large amount of perceptions and assumptions.
  • Global refugee population has decreased since 2001; however number of IDPs has increased. (Internally Displaced Persons).
  • Forced migrants mostly (90%) remain in country or region of origin.
  • Most wealthy countries have few refugees per head of GDP.
  • The UK accepted 24,250 refugees in 2009, down 3% on the previous year.
  • ‘There is little or no empirical evidence that welfare support is a principle motivation for choosing the UK’ (Crawley 2010).

Migration Myth 3 – Migration increases unemployment and decreases British Wages

  • Effect of labour migration on jobs is central to debate on migration in the UK.
  • Migrants either do dangerous, undesirable and dirty jobs, or high value activities that fill the skill gap.
  • There is a fallacy that there is a single pot of jobs.
  • The 2004-2005 economic boom has been credited to the increased migration from the new European countries.
  • There is no evidence that migration is forcing down wages except for limited cases with very lowest wages that were already extremely low.

Migration Myth 4 – Migration Increases Crime and Take more than they put in.

  • Headlines such as “Brutal Crimes of Asylum Seekers”; and “Bombers are all sponging asylum seekers”.
  • Research by chief police officers show that evidence does not support high crime by migrants, though resentment brings crime to migrants.
  • Migrants on average pay higher tax as on average they are highly skilled and therefore higher earning.
  • International students contribute £3.74 billion to universities plus £1 billion to GDP.
  • Migrants tend to be 24-40 and therefore have already received education and initial healthcare.
  • Evidence of poor planning of services at local area has lead to some local shortages of services.
  • Lack of housing is down to lack of investment in social housing in the last 30 years and changing householdstructure.

Migration Myth 5 – Migration Creates Parallel Communities

  • Migration / racial diversity is viewed as a threat to British way of life as undermines British Values.
  • The argument that ethnic segregation is increasing in the UK is flawed.
  • Between 1991-2001 indexes of segregation fell between 1991-2001.
  • The most segregated communities in the UK are the Jewish and Sikh communities.

Why is Migration so Controversial?

  • Attitudes to migration and asylum are interconnected.
  • People’s attitudes are rarely the case of people’s first hand experience.
  • ‘Migrants and refugees are the new folk devils’ (Cohen, 1972, 2002)
  • Construction of a discourse of managed migration, good migration and bad migration.
  • Migration debate embodies broader concern about implications of globalisation on both economy and society.

More information on this topic can be found at http://www.swansea.ac.uk/cmpr/


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