THE BLOG

Immigration - Let Them In!!

20/08/2013 16:26 BST | Updated 19/10/2013 10:12 BST

As Brits, the vast majority of us have grown up with immigrant friends who have personally made our lives richer. And as a nation we cheered on multi-ethnic Britain last summer as Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis stole the show during London 2012.

So it is sad to see that a year on from the Olympics the debate over immigration has descended into xenophobic accusations being banded around at the state. This is the result of the so-called "Go home or face arrest" vans, which have resulted in a step backwards in the immigration debate.

What this does demonstrate, though, is that the Conservatives do not have a mainstream product to sell. To win a majority at the next election they need to grow support amongst black minority ethnic communities, female and younger voters. Rather than rehabilitating the brand, they have in fact retrenched. What are they going to say to those communities, both minority groups and younger voters, on an issue like immigration? What is clear, is they are dangerously becoming like the Republicans in the US and will fail to be heard by the electorate.

Over the weekend I was reading an article in Time Magazine on "Why opposition to immigration reform is hurting the US economy". It showed that immigrants today are more than twice as likely to found businesses as their US born counterparts and are responsible for more than 25% of all new business creation and job growth. What is even more revealing is that these immigrant led businesses are not just startups and small businesses, they are in fact many of America's biggest companies.

In a recent study, The Partnership for a New American Economy found that more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. This includes the likes of Google and Tesla Motors whose founders Sergey Brin and Elon Musk are both entrepreneurs who were born outside the U.S.

The revenue from these companies is a massive boost to the U.S. economy, contributing to the GDP, paying taxes, helping to lower U.S. debt, creating jobs and fundamentally lifting the standard of living across the country. And I imagine the same could be said of the UK's thriving immigrant population.

It is clear to see with ever changing demographics and their policies that alienate, why the Republicans are struggling for broader appeal in the US. As long as the Conservative Party supports UKBA parading around what has been referred to as a "racist" campaign, the party can be seen as communicating prejudice and thereby re-toxifying the brand.

Britain's immigration reform debate would look very different if ministers overcame their fear of the fringe. We need to stop talking about the problem of EU benefit tourism, as it is somewhat eclipsed by some Brits themselves who refuse to take low-paying work and would rather stay on the dole. We need to talk about the benefits that immigration has brought to our economy and society, and deliver real immigration reform that provides a fair, effective and common sense system.

The reform will also need to provide for illegal immigrants who are working hard and have made a life for themselves in the UK. We need to provide them path to citizenship so they can pay their taxes and play by the same rules as the rest of us - similar to what President Obama is proposing in the US.

The Mayor of London seems to be the only Conservative politician in the UK who gets immigration. He has consistently backed an amnesty for illegal immigrants who have already made a life in the UK.

As we debate immigration, understanding the contributions of foreign born entrepreneurs to the UK is imperative to ensuring meaningful reform. These individuals have founded many of our most successful companies and created jobs through innovation. Our policies must welcome the next generation of immigrants who are making even greater strides in starting companies.

And if the Conservative Party truly want to connect with a broader audience, they need an agenda that fights for the middle class and is above all inclusive.

As the grandson of two Kenyans, who emigrated as British citizens to the UK, I know they started a new life for us from scratch. I understand how many hardworking and educated immigrants similar to my grandparents really want to be in our great country, how hard they will work to succeed, and how much the UK will benefit as a result of letting them in.