Because of our neotenic development, we humans tend to be a charge on the state for the first couple of decades of our lives, but more than repay this in the remainder of our lives. This means that, if a young adult migrates from country A to country B, the economic effect is the transfer (over the long term) of a considerable amount of money from country A to country B. Indeed, some economic historians consider one of the main causes of the huge increase in prosperity of the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to be the very substantial immigration from Europe at that time. (Of course, the forced immigration from Africa in the preceding century would have had a similar effect.)

There are several official statistics showing that this effect of immigration applies in Britain today. Nevertheless, manipulative politicians from Enoch Powell to Nigel Farage convince people that the statistics are lies but their gut reactions are true.

I have been too busy over the last year to spend much time reading the news, but have caught up with a few things over the holidays. One thing I read about is a small spat between two departments of the British government. This would be funny if it were not so tragic.

Universities are overseen by the Department of Business, Industry and Skills (I’m not kidding). Naturally, such a department has no time for the real purpose of universities, seeing them simply as cash cows; the most profitable part of their business is educating foreign students, who can be charged much higher fees.

However, the Home Office (which, ironically, produces some of the statistics I referred to above) sees its mission as reducing or reversing the flow of immigrants. It is terrified that foreign students might wish to take jobs in Britain after their degrees, and contribute to the economy. Hence it wants to bring in a rule that foreign students should return home after their studies, and (if they wish) apply for jobs here from their home countries; if successful they could re-apply for visas.

The problems with this are obvious. I, for one, would almost certainly not have had a career in Britain had this rule been in force at the time.

The effect of such a rule would be that home students would face less competition from foreigners for academic jobs. This might sound good, but would inevitably lower the standard of people appointed to these jobs a bit. This would then lower the international standing of British universities, which would not work in the long-term interests of the existing staff.


About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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6 Responses to Immigrants

  1. Jon Awbrey says:

    The U.S. would have dried up and blown away a long time ago if it weren’t for the constant transfusion of new blood.

  2. Mark says:

    I can see your point, but your argument show symptoms of that modern disease: assessing everything by its “contribution to the economy”. Unless you assume that a larger economy automatically benefits everyone (the largely discredited “trickledown” hypothesis), there is no contradiction in believing simultaneously that immigrants both (i) strengthen the national economy overall and (ii) worsen the economic position of existing residents (or a large subset of them) by reducing their employment opportunities.

    Personally I’m a big fan of immigration for many reasons, and would hate to see it further restricted. But I’m not sure one can quite so easily dismiss the arguments of those opposed.

    • I am going to try to put the other side shortly. But if you could persuade me that BIS think of universities in any other than business terms (plus a little skills training on the side) you are welcome to try.

      • Mark says:

        I certainly don’t disagree with you about BIS, but maybe rather about the Home Office, and your implied characterisation of its position as absurd or self-contradictory (“terrified…contribute to the economy”). BIS is of course concerned with business and sadly views universities only in this context, but the Home Office needs to take into account a wider range of factors, including both non-economic issues and more complex economic factors which don’t show up in crude measures of prosperity such as GDP (e.g. effect on distribution of employment and wealth within society). There is nothing inconsistent in them reaching a different conclusion (even though you and I both disagree with it). Nor does it imply that they disbelieve their own statistics on economic impact: they may just believe this is outweighed by other factors.

  3. Colin says:

    There is a reasonable argument that immigration tends to increase inequality in the host country, because immigrants tend to compete more for low-paid jobs (they lack the contacts, recognised credentials and local know-how to get the higher-paid jobs), which can depress wages, while the economic benefits of immigration accrue mostly to business owners who employ these cheap workers. The US as a whole has got rich through immigration, but in the last few decades, it seems the median American citizen has not. There’s also an instance of Simpson’s paradox: if say a middle-class Nigerian moves to the UK and is only able to get a fairly low-paid job by UK standards (but still better-paid than his job in Nigeria), it could happen that both the UK and Nigeria have lost GDP/capita even though no person’s economic output has gone down.

    Still, none of this explains why any country would want to get rid of its university graduates, whether immigrants or citizens, unless we now consider university graduates to be ‘low-skilled’. (The current system of student loans in England also seems to be designed to encourage citizen graduates to emigrate, as they have a much better chance to avoid repaying the loan if they work abroad.)

  4. Perhaps you haven’t been on the receiving end of the Home Office as often as I have. It is much better now, but on one occasion an immigration officer at Harwich told me that he could exclude me from Britain with no right of appeal, and threatened to do it. If I am a bit sensitive about my status, this is perhaps part of the reason. (After I had grovelled for a few minutes he allowed me in. Not fun!)

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