Since the 1990s, there has been a notable increase in the popular stigmatisation of immigrants to the United Kingdom, with substantial sections of the mass media turning terms such as ‘asylum seeker’ – the usage of which was previously the prerogative of the courts or human rights NGOs – into insults to be hurled across a playground. However, perhaps the acme of this trend was not reached until very recently, when the UK government – which seemingly overnight became aware once again of its obligations under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‘TEFU’) – seriously considered launching an advertising campaign in the EU’s two newest (2007) members, Bulgaria and Romania, attempting to dissuade prospective (and, from no later than 1st January 2014, entirely legal) economic migrants from attempting to seek their fortunes on this shores.
The presumptions behind this line of thinking appeared to be numerous, but two in particular stood out: ‘lazy’ immigrants are a drain on the United Kingdom’s benefits system; and they will ‘flood’ into the country (immigrants never settle somewhere – they always flood it). However, unlike the policy wonks who clearly never meet an immigrant knowingly, we at Mediolana had another – and dare we say, more empirically-sound – perspective:
1. Adding Up. The Financial Times recently reproduced official government statistics showing that a mere 7% of foreign nationals resident in the United Kingdom claim working-age benefits – as opposed to 17% of British nationals. The idea that immigrants as a group move to the UK for the purposes of exploiting an ever-more parsimonious system of state aid (financial institutions excluded, natch) is simply untenable.
2. Entrepreneurial Zeal. The above-mentioned figures do not encapsulate the tiny percentage of immigrants who fill (often, though certainly not always) unproductive positions in the state bureaucracy – jobs coveted for, amongst other things, their short hours and minimal risk. Conversely, one cannot walk down a high street in reasonably-sized British town without coming across an entrepreneur – whether it be a restauranteur, shopkeeper or pizza delivery person – willing to work insane hours just to make something more of their lives.
3. Geography Lesson. Are people more likely to move to countries with which they have strong linguistic and cultural links, and where there are already substantial communities of compatriots present? Will people move to the other side of the continent to find work when they have a booming megalopolis next door?