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The immigration debate is
extremely misleading



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

Comments directly to

July 12th, 2011
The big immigration debate is often the big obscurantism debate. The wool is pulled over our eyes and even for the best informed obtaining clarity is not so easily done.
The vested interests in continued immigration are enormous - first and foremost the migrants themselves who are seeking an escape from poverty and lack of opportunity at home. But they are supported in their quest by governments at home who look at the remittances that bail out their balance of payments problems without looking at the other side of the balance sheet - the effect that emigrants and their money have on raising the desire of their populations for imported goods, the lost of the “bestest and brightest” from their own economies, the often sad and destructive impact on family life and migrants spending when they do come home on a house, consumer items, such as cars, large screen tvs or a fancy wedding rather than on investment either in their farm or in a small business.

Of course there is always the 15% who seem able to juggle all the balls at once - keeping their families content, investing in an auto shop, an internet café or new techniques and tools for the farm, but this minority can give a misleading impression of the impact of migration on the home society.
Likewise, governments and employers in receiving countries tend to look at immigration in a lopsided way. For them it is a short cut - to keeping wages down, to filling jobs that locals would rather be unemployed than do, to working night shifts or filling the shortfalls in seasonal labour on the farms. Not least it helps keep inflation down.
It is the easy way out. Job retraining on a massive scale, persuading companies to initiate work methods that attract native workers, and raising the retirement age so that the older, but often still very physically and mentally fit, members of society can continue to be contributing workers, seem to be problems that the more developed economies of the world have difficulty in initiating.
Receiving countries have long taken a simplistic view of the long term costs of immigration. The benefits are obvious - first generation immigrants are young and vigorous, are prepared to work long hours at unpleasant jobs, do pay taxes and draw less on social funds and health services. Their crime and unemployment rates are low and they dream of retiring back home.
But governments have ignored for too long the costs - in particular the attitude of the sons and daughters of immigrants. After poor education they have adopted the attitudes of their local working class peers. They are not going to do the base work their parents were prepared to do. They would rather be unemployed than sink so low. A good number turn to crime. On balance their’s can be a negative contribution to society- taking out more of the social, educational and health services than they put in.
Governments faced with uncompetitive industries have heaved a sigh of relief that immigrants can keep the show on the road. In the UK in the 1960s it was easier to allow the cotton and wool mills of northern England to import workers from remote Pakistani villagers to work long hours and night shifts than allow the industry to go bust. But go bust it eventually did, in the face of overwhelming competition from Third World producers and a reduction in trade barriers. The legacy is a bitter second generation who feel betrayed by their parents and the government. No wonder they are ripe for picking by Islamist militants.

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Did Western governments think for two minutes what the build up of large flows of migrants was having on their own population? Rarely. Right of centre politicians thought of the economic benefits to the economy. Left of centre politicians thought of the value of diversity, emphasising the cause of non-discrimination and conflating in their minds the real needs of refugees (who deservedly need a refuge, albeit one that should be only temporary) with those who were just economic migrants. But the local working class who rub their shoulders with the immigrants became tired of taking the brunt of policies imposed by the elites who don’t. Hence the rise of right wing political parties in Europe.
But some good news arrived last week. According to a long investigation by Damien Cave of the New York Times the great migration of Mexicans to the US is now a trickle- mainly because of fast growing work and educational opportunities at home, a sharp fall in the birth rate and a desire to avoid the drug and people traffickers on the border. Twenty years ago the same thing happened with Puerto Rico. There’s the answer - economic development in the sending countries and retraining and upping the retirement age in the receiving countries.


Copyright © 2011 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172
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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"


Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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