It's always interesting when the issue of immigration rears its multicultural head, particularly when I'm in the company of my more right-leaning acquaintances. 'What about British jobs?' one will crow. 'And the crime!' another will cry, jumping on the Daily Mail bandwagon. 'It would be fine if they would just try and integrate into our culture,' a third will comment sagely. I usually let it go on for a while before I politely clear my throat and remind them that I'm Australian. Rarely does this cause a blush or a batted eyelid, but I'm always assured of them turning to me and exclaiming in unison 'Kate, of course we're not talking about you.'
The whole scenario smacks of hypocrisy and misinformation, but unfortunately, these beliefs are widespread and deeply entrenched. After all, it's easy to blame the woes of the State on the ever-increasing number of outsiders who want to come and live on these fair shores. The government – at least the Conservative flank of the coalition – saw how damaging a fairly open immigration policy was votes-wise to its Labour predecessors, and has felt duty bound to rectify the situation starting in April with a cap on the number of skilled non-EU foreigners it's going to let across the border in 2011.
Big whoop. With an understandable moratorium already in place against visas for non-skilled workers, the cap, which only reduces the number of visas to be issued by a small number anyway, does not include those people who are sponsored by businesses to come into the country. Not to mention that the majority of foreigners who seek to come to the UK hale from other EU members states, and there's nothing the government can do about this unless they make the country a less desirable place to live in, which would be cutting off our noses despite our collective faces. Full-fee-paying students also make up a vast number, which helps to keep our universities and other institutes afloat where government funding has all but dried up.
The cap seems to be nothing more than the government looking like they're trying to do something in the face of an impossible situation. And I don't really understand why they're bothering. Immigration is actually good for Britain. It stimulates the economy. It brings in tax revenue. It builds multiculturalism and understanding, which is increasingly important in today's ever globalising world. And it embraces and nurtures international talent – just think where England's Ashes-retaining cricket team would be without it?
Perhaps Theresa May, the home secretary, would be better off encouraging her government to embrace the situation rather than spending her time and precious coffers rallying against it. Instead, she could invest in stricter screening measures (granted, there are a couple of dodgy colleges that are known to help people get 'student' visas) and cultural integration programmes to make our new friends feel welcome. These are probably pipedreams, though they seem far more sensible than anything else I've come across.
There's a new question in the immigration section of the 2011 census that reads 'Including the time you have already spent here, how long do you intend to stay in the United Kingdom?' At first this made me feel a little unwelcome – a bit like my aforementioned acquaintances – but upon further reflection, now I'm just proud to tick the '12 months or more' box. I love this country and am grateful to be able to live and work here. I, like most foreigners I know, willingly contribute and integrate into society wherever possible. What more could either side ask for?
By: Kate McAuley