Tougher immigration controls are having a negative impact on the high skilled migrants our economy needs

integration, migration

Author(s):  Tim Finch
Published date:  14 Jul 2009
Source:  Progress
‘I have worked and paid top tier taxes from day one without access to any benefits. Yet the Home Office has done its best to get me to go back.’

‘I have worked and paid top tier taxes from day one without access to any benefits. Yet the Home Office has done its best to get me to go back.’

This is what Mohammed Ali Dada, a qualified accountant, head hunted to work for a top British company, told me after reading press coverage of ippr’s report on re-migration, Shall we stay or Shall we go?. His experience of how tougher immigration controls are having a negative impact on high skilled migrants was echoed by others who contacted me. Their views should concern the government because our research shows that the migrants who are most likely to leave the UK after a short stay are those that the economy most needs. In a world in which competition for highly skilled migrants is hotting up, the government should be looking to implement policies that encourage these people to stay, not policies that cause resentment and frustration.

In all the debate around the issue in recent years it is too often forgotten that migration is a two way street. Those who come also go – in large numbers. Our report showed that more than 3 million immigrants to the UK in the last thirty years have subsequently left - around half the total. Only around a quarter of those who came in 1998 were still here a decade later.

More significant now is that the size of the exodus is increasing. We estimate that over the last two years (2007 and 2008) some 400,000 migrants have left – a population the size of the cities of Southampton and Portsmouth. With Britain in recession, the outflow in 2009 is likely to be higher still. Migrants staying only four years in the country doubled in the last decade – with the latest statistics showing that EU migrants are particularly likely to stay for only short periods.

Two way flows or ‘circular migration’, as it is known in the jargon, is not of course inherently a bad thing. We have long argued that the gains from migration are like the gains from trade – so just like free trade, free movement of people is good for our economy. The problem for ministers is that the migrants going are very often those the new points based system is working hard to attract in the first place. That is not surprising. It is the highly skilled who are the most likely to be ‘super mobile’ – meaning they have options to move home or to a third country. This is why we are arguing that the government may have to look at targeted incentives to encourage in-demand migrants to stay.
What we need to avoid is a situation where the government’s new stricter control and management of immigration ends up having the unintended consequence of pushing out migrants like Mohammed. An immigration system that keeps out people you don’t want to come makes sense; but a system that kicks out those you want to keep is just plain crazy.

Tim Finch is head of migration, equalities and citizenship, and director of strategic communications at ippr.


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Tim Finch, Director of Communications and Associate Director for Migration