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Social Sciences - Hot Topics - Immigration


african immigrants on a boat to Europe

The UK has always had immigration as part of its history. Romans, Vikings, Saxons and Normans have come from mainland Europe to Britain (albeit usually as part of an invading army!). In later times Britain became home to people escaping persecution, like Jews and Huguenots and famine and economic poverty, like the Irish in the 1800s.
During the 1900s Britain continued to become home to many Europeans. However modern immigration took hold after the Second World War was over.

Many Caribbean people came from that part of the world in the 1950s and often took low paid and menial jobs, not wanted by the majority population. In the 1960s and 70s Asians from Uganda, formed another large wave of immigrants.
Recently however, immigration has become a major political and logistical issue once again. Thousands of African and Arabic people have come to Europe to escape conflict or poverty. Many people are also coming over to work in the UK as the EU expands to the East.

The issue of immigration has started to concern some people.

"I have never agreed with the lazy elitism that dismisses immigration as an issue, or portrays anyone who has concerns about immigration as a racist … Immigration is … a question to be dealt with" -Prime Minister Gordon Brown . November 2009.

Immigration Act 2006
Pro-immigration argument

This side of the argument says that the UK needs immigrants. Many of them take on low paid jobs which the existing population don't want. Also some people come over with skills that are in shortage in this country.

For example, nurses and doctors come over from African countries. Thirty per-cent of doctors and over ten per-cent of nurses are non-UK born. Overseas teachers also make up a growing number of school staff.

The government continues to seek highly skilled foreign workers and is seeking to attract them as well as those who want to set up businesses here, which will result in economic and taxation benefits to the UK.

In Europe the number of people of working age is declining as birth rates fall, in 2001 a United Nations Population Division study said that within 25 years the EU will need up to 159 million immigrants to keep up the current ratio between working and retired people. This will mean economic growth should be stable and the retirement age should not have to rise.

There can also be cultural benefits from adding to the mainstream. For example, Asian food and cooking are now part of the British way of life.

The anti-immigration argument.

There are those people who see any non-European immigration as an erosion of white culture as the UK becomes ever more multi-cultural. Some of the white population feel afraid of their culture and way of life being taken away and swamped by new foreign cultures.

Those of a more central way of thinking see immigration only as a problem when the pace and scale of it becomes too much for the host country to take.

Migration Watch say that Asian and East African's arriving in the mid-1970s were about 27,000. Yet in 2004 immigration came to 342,000. The Government estimated just 13,000 Poles would come to work in the UK in 2005/6, when in fact 600,000 came over. Government figures from the Office for National Statistics put immigration for 2005 as1,500 a day, whilst 1,000 people a day left the country, this meant a rise in the population of 500 people a day through immigration. By 2010 net immigration rose to 252,000 in the UK.

Migrationwatch says that legal immigration at the present rate will require about 1.5 million new houses, adding to pressure on land availability. England is now twelve times as crowded as the USA and equals Netherlands as the most crowded country in Europe. It also argues that economic benefit from new arrivals may be limited as most send money back home to aid their families.

Added to this there are a large number of illegal immigrants estimated at 50,000 a year and they too need housing and jobs.

Of course any newcomers to the country will need access to healthcare and education and all these resources will be stretched and possibly not be able to cope with the population growth.

What's to be done?

At present the UK government has introduced a points system which will let in workers whose skills the UK needs. There seems to be a desire to look at limiting immigration. Pressure has come from an estimated figure of a 70 million UK population by 2029 given by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in which migration will play a large part. Politicians of all parties are concerned that the issue should be looked at ,to counter the rise in public support for right wing parties like the British National Party (BNP). Recent measures have also included a crack down on bogus colleges running short courses as a way of entering the country. A Migration Watch paper in 2010 put the figure of a quarter of a million student applications from abroad and called for a check that they were genuine. The Conservative government was also concerned about this and student entry is being monitored.
Some people argue that immigration is a Europe -wide problem and needs to be dealt with on an inter-governmental scale by discussions between European states.

"Indeed, in my view mass migration and the management of immigration is now the greatest challenge facing all European governments. "Dr John Reid, Home Secretary August 2006.
In 2010 the new Conservative Government planned to put a cap (limit) on the number of non-EU economic migrants admitted into the UK to live and work as well as other measures designed to limit legal and illegal immigration. There was some controversy in 2011 about how effective the UK Border Agency was in it's checks. The topic of immigration continues to be one which is of concern to public and governments alike.

Border and Immigration Agency


Migration Watch UK


New Internationalist




New Internationalist

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Social Sciences - Hot Topics!