Arguably, voting on June 23rd for most people will be dominated by fear. Either fear about the economy or fear about immigration. One of these will trump the other.
Of course there are lots of other issues, but when they are alone at the booth, faced with putting an ‘X’ in one space or another, most voters will fall back on what they fear most. Most people are not passionate about this issue one way or the other.
It is in this context that it is worth stressing that the real immigration issue in Britain – if one is worried about immigration (which is not a major issue for me) – is immigration into the UK from non-EU countries. This key point has not been picked up by the Vote Remain camp.
These are the facts, sourced from government and anti-migration sources (see below).
1. Non-EU immigration accounts for more than half of immigration into the UK - which is entirely within the control of the UK Parliament, subject to national opinion.
The anti-migration website Migration Watch shows that even today more than half of immigrants into the UK still come from outside the EU (177,000 from non-EU in calendar 2015 against 170,000 from the EU.)
Between the 2001 and 2011 censuses the UK population grew from 58.8 million to 61.7 million. Over this time the non-EU born population grew by 1.5 million to 4.9 million (8% of the total) while the EU-born (excluding UK-born) population in the UK grew by 1.1 million to 2.6 million (4% of the population). So while immigration from the EU grew over this decade, the majority or 56% of the growth in the foreign-born UK population was due to the 1.5 million extra non-EU immigrants.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Labour Force Survey estimates for 2015, there are 3.3 million EU citizens in the UK – 1.6 million from the EU14, 1.3 million from the EU8, 300,000 from Romania and Bulgaria and the remainder from the other EU countries of Malta, Cyprus and Croatia. There are 2.1 million UK citizens living in other EU countries (http://www.migrationwatchuk.org/briefing-paper/354) so the net effect of EU migration is to increase the UK population by only 1.2 million.
2. The real cultural challenge is in integrating non-EU peoples.
I would argue that what is sparking most concern in the UK regarding immigration is the recent wave of Muslim immigrants into Europe (from Syria, Afghanistan and Africa), their relative lack of integration and the connection in many people’s minds with fanatic terrorism. This is allied to ongoing worries about the relative isolation of the large Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Somali and other Muslim communities in the UK.
There are now 3 million Muslims in the UK (5% of the total population), around half of whom were born in the UK. This is a fact which we cannot ignore or wish away, even if we were so inclined. The real challenge for the UK is how to welcome and facilitate the deeper integration of Muslims into UK life, involving compromise on both sides, and including full acceptance of key European values of tolerance, equal treatment of women and LGBTs, the paramountcy of secular law and respect for human rights.
However, this is completely irrelevant as far as the EU Referendum is concerned, since immigrants from the EU are from a European cultural and Christian heritage. There are no EU rules about non-EU migration and virtually no Muslim migrants from within the EU.
3. EU immigrants are not generally competing for housing
The majority of immigrants from EU countries do not compete with UK national for council accommodation, but go for private rented accommodation. This is because:
- they stay generally for less than 5 years (though of course others stay longer or permanently), and so it is not worth applying for council housing. Studies show that one third of EU immigrants return home after less than a year (typically, farm-workers, students, bar-istas) and more than half return home before they get to pension age.
- many are wealthier and/or get better paid jobs.
4. The NHS, schools and welfare would be worse off without EU immigrants
A persistent scare story is that EU immigrants are straining the UK’s health, welfare and education services.
This is simply wrong:
- Study after study has shown that EU immigrants contribute much more in taxes than they take in benefits, and proportionately more so than UK citizens. The UK is a net gainer in budgetary terms. EU citizens come here overwhelmingly to work, not to scrounge or get healthcare.
- EU immigrants help support the NHS since they contribute more taxes; and two thirds are in work and so use the NHS less, proportionately, than the UK-born or non-EU born populations. It should be added that the NHS would also be much worse off without non-EU immigrants, who make up a big chunk of the workforce
- EU immigrants arrive having left school and often are university-educated, so they are not using the education system. EU students are of course paying their way (through the nose).
- EU immigrants are for the most part better educated than the UK average and therefore have a broadly positive impact on the quality of the UK workforce.
Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign-born_population_of_the_United_Kingdom; various FT articles; http://www.migrationwatchuk.org/statistics-net-migration-statistics; the ONS.
 The ONS Labour market statistics estimate that of the EU born migrants in the UK, 2.1 million were working.