The Blog

Frank Field MP and Immigration - My Reply

A couple of weeks ago, Frank Field MP wrote an open letter to David Miliband about taking a harder (might I say UKIP) line on immigration. I wasn't impressed and wrote a reply - and Mr.Field subsequently replied to me. Below is my response to him.

A couple of weeks ago, Frank Field MP wrote an open letter to David Miliband about taking a harder (might I say UKIP) line on immigration. I wasn't impressed and wrote a reply here - and Mr.Field subsequently replied to me.

Below is my response to him.

Dear Mr. Field,

thank you for taking the time to reply to my questions, though as you state, "I am sure you realise that MPs are not here as unpaid research assistants to the interested public," I assume that the information you put forward to Mr. Miliband in your open letter was not readily to hand. I note you only claimed just over £5000 in the past year on office expenses, and so I'll do my best to check it for you.

One of the questions I posed was what net contribution immigrants from the EU8 countries had made to the British economy. You conceded that they had made a net contribution, but it was 'pennies'. Actually, it was a great deal more substantial than that.

This paper published in Fiscal Studies in 2010 researched this point in detail and found that:

" each fiscal year since enlargement in 2004, irrespective of the way that the net fiscal contribution is defined, A8 immigrants made a positive contribution to the public finances despite the fact that the UK has been running a budget deficit over the last few years. This is because they have a higher labour force participation rate, pay proportionately more in indirect taxes and make much less use of benefits and public services."

You said that there were 3/4m immigrants from Europe working in the UK last year, and I asked how many were seasonal workers or students. You replied by mentioning the work that the Balanced Migration Group was doing to ensure that university students returned to their country of origin after graduation (as if this was a major reason for limiting the number of foreign students).

Well, I wasn't referring to university students, I was thinking more along the lines of the EFL industry, with approx. 0.5m students coming to the UK for summer schools and the like; an industry worth somewhere in the region of £2.5bn per year.

But seeing as you brought it up, one of the main reasons students come to the UK in the first place is to get a British university degree which will greatly increase their chances of employment after returning to their country of origin. In a survey last year, only 6% of international foreign students expressed any interest in remaining in the UK.

There have been moves by the government to limit post-graduate work placements - something that international students found extremely attractive and this again gave them better employment prospects at home. These courses also crucially introduce the graduates to British businesses, setting up long-term economic benefits for those companies and the UK economy as a whole.

It seems the government strategy has been successful; the number of post-graduate applicants has declined for the first time in 29 years, with approx. 25% less students coming from China and India - both markets identified as vital to the British economy by the ConDem coalition.

I'd recommend this document which was the submission by Universities UK to the government for the Tier 4 visa consultation, something that I was closely involved in. It details why students should not even be counted as migrants, addresses the myths surrounding non-compliance with visa applications and the vital contribution that international students make to local and the national economy.

You mentioned the damage done by immigrants coming to the UK for 'poverty pay', I said that surely this was a matter of law enforcement to make sure that the Minimum Wage is paid and that immigrant workers are not exploited. This week we have seen companies rightfully fined, named and shamed.

I think we will have to agree to disagree on the term 'mass migration'. As the UK has one of the most mobile populations in Europe - 2m living in mainland EU; 4,000 a week applying for work visas OUTSIDE the EU - you could say we have mass emigration. The UK is 38th for net migration on the CIA league table (the top and bottom of that table tell a sad story, by the way).

You recommended that I look at your website again for answers to the question I posed about 'poverty pay' and 'affordable housing' but I'm afraid I couldn't find any justification for your point. I would refer you however to the paper I referenced above, where it found that immigrants from EU8 countries were "59 per cent less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits and 57 per cent less likely to live in social housing."

The UK is currently in the middle of a housing crisis, caused by failures in central government policy and bank failure, not as far as I can see attributable in any respect to immigrants who have been supporting our economy over the past ten years.

You said you would like to see the basis for my assertion that the effect of immigrants on the NHS is almost negligible. Leaving aside the fact that roughly 20% of NHS staff ARE immigrants, there is this from the Nuffield trust

The paper referenced above and the Nuffield research reveal the same thing. Immigrants use the NHS disproportionately much less than comparable UK nationals. This is one of the things that adds to the net economic contribution of migrant workers. They are generally young and healthy when they come here. Also a large proportion of them actually return home for medical care.

I asked what immigration would have on the transport infrastructure. London's transport system coped very well with 590,000 foreign visitors during the 2012 Olympics (and that was 5% less than they usually get in August), not to mention the nationals who travelled to London for the games.

(And the Labour Party has said they support HS2 - how much pressure would that put on London's transport?)

I also noted from your Balanced Migration website that you are in favour of zero net migration. This would be catastrophic for the British economy. We have an ageing population and a long-standing trend to small families, meaning that we simply do not have enough economically active people paying tax to support society as a whole.

This graph, from Migration Observatory demonstrates what would happen:

To sum up, I would agree that mass migration would have significant negative effects on our society and economy. However, mass migration isn't happening - furthermore, as immigrants contribute positively to the British economy both immediately and in the long term, and given the increasing demands of our ageing society, we will actually need high net migration to break even - though even this wouldn't solve the long term problems.

Also, as we have observed since the misleading and highly damaging focus on immigration by UKIP, incidents of victimisation and racial abuse are on the rise, with people emboldened to proclaim quite abhorrent racist views as if these were once again respectable. Adding fuel to the fire at this point is the last thing we need - when if anything we need to ensure that the truth about immigration is broadcast more widely and the international image of the UK, as welcoming and open for business, is restored.

Best wishes,