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Immigration in the slump: Newcomers still needed says Guardian | Immigration Matters

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The Guardian Editoral this week seeks to put into perspective the correlation between migration and the effect on local jobs.

History is replete with evidence that the mixing of mass unemployment and xenophobia can prove poisonous, and new figures last week underlined the potential for joblessness to translate into hatred once more. The number of UK-born employees is down by 625,000 over the last year, while the number of foreigners working in Britain is actually slightly up. In these circumstances, it would be easy to whip up a sense of jobs being stolen, and to win cheap political points by restricting the rules – but much more difficult to do anything meaningful for UK workers who are out of a job.

Sensing that something must be done in the face of recession, back in February the then-home secretary, Jacqui Smith, asked the migration advisory committee (MAC) to examine a range of options for significantly tightening the already-tight points-based system for awarding work visas – which had only been introduced the previous autumn. Yesterday the committee reported, marshalling powerful evidence to reach its conclusion that only modest changes were justified. It is more than capable of taking a hard line, as it showed in the spring when it proposed barring foreign workers from tens of thousands of construction jobs.

The truth, however, is that it is now generally only an elite of highly-trained staff that is still eligible to come to Britain from outside the EU purely in order to work. Indian IT workers, for instance, who are shipped in by their firm, or those highly skilled in particular types of medicine or engineering where the UK is short on knowhow. Slamming the door shut – or even leaning on it any further – would do nothing for most unemployed people, who are unable to step into such roles. But it would deter international investment from those Indian firms and could also create recruitment bottlenecks, draining momentum from any recovery.

Total immigration, it is true, has been high by historical standards over the last decade, but the great driving force has been the eastward expansion of an effectively borderless Europe, together with the flow of students that our universities have come to depend on. Already by 2007, there were more Britons going abroad for work than there were non-EU nationals arriving here for the same purpose – and the gap between these two figures will have increased since then. The MAC suggested some tweaks – such as requiring firms to advertise in jobcentres for a little longer before they hunt for staff overseas – which represent a reasonable response to recession, but it rejected a more drastic changes. It was right to do so – keeping out the skills that Britain lacks can only hinder the economy and so, in the long term, the prospects of those without work.

Source The Guardian

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