10th June 2002
The Financial Times says that “Europe needs immigrants-skilled and unskilled.” Every newspaper from the Sun to the Guardian agrees, as does every mainstream political party. The Home Office says Britain needs 150,000 immigrants a year for the next 20 years. The French interior ministry has said that the EU needs 75m immigrants by 2050.
This consensus is wrong. The demographic and economic arguments for large-scale immigration are not just flawed, but damaging to the interests of the most vulnerable people already in Europe (many of them immigrants). The truth is not that Europe needs immigrants, but that immigrants want Europe.
The standard argument is that we are suffering labour shortages, and must import workers to fill the gaps. Yet unemployment is a big problem in Europe. The EU zone has 13.3m unemployed, 7.6 per cent of the workforce. In Britain, according to the Labour Force Survey, there are 1.54m unemployed. There are another 2.32m who want to work but don’t look because they do not have much hope-people such as housewives who can’t afford childcare costs, and prematurely retired men. In London, where most immigrants arrive, there are 600,000 unemployed, higher than the national average.
It is clear that there are no immediate generalised labour shortages in Britain or Europe, but rather a labour surplus, in particular of unskilled workers. Surely it ought to be a political priority to find jobs for the unemployed who are already here, or train them for the jobs that exist.
In Britain, the unskilled are four times as likely to be unemployed as the skilled, and non-whites twice as likely as whites. It is they who will suffer from an influx of unskilled immigrants. There is incontrovertible evidence that increasing the pool of unskilled labour lowers unskilled wages and raises the level of unskilled unemployment. Blue collar workers in the US have suffered falling real wages and high joblessness because of the big influx of unskilled workers from Latin America.
It is true that there is also evidence of a shortage of skilled workers, from IT specialists to doctors, and we should bring them in where necessary-which is what the government is doing. If companies can’t find particular types of workers in Britain, they are free to get work permits for any candidates they find abroad, and they are doing this in large numbers. Increasing the size of…