There’s currently an e-petition which aims to stop mass immigration from Bulgaria and Romania in 2014. This will be a year when EU restrictions on immigration become more relaxed. In 2014 EU restrictions are set to be removed, allowing Bulgarians and Romanians ‘free movement’ to the UK. This change will be similar to the one that allowed access to 600,000 Polish immigrants over the past few years. Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2005 and restrictions were set up to regulate the number who could move to Britain – in 2014 these restrictions will no longer be in place. As it stands, there are currently 1.5 million people seeking work within these two countries.
The Home Office has responded to the petition by saying that when the coalition formed a promise was made that, after thirteen years of uncontrolled mass immigration (due to the Labour government), the government would control the number of immigrants coming in. The coalition government claims that this tougher policy is working, with immigration having decreased by nearly a third since June 2010. While this may be true, the fact remains that these controls cannot be continued in 2014 because of the terms agreed by the previous government. But the UK is not alone. Eight other EU countries have similar transitional controls which will ‘expire’ at the same time. So despite the government promising to reduce immigration, they simply can’t do it in the long term. If anything, due to the economic recession faced by Romanians and Bulgarians, we can expect mass immigration to become a serious issue.
Under the Labour government 5.2 million immigrants came to the UK, while 2 million people left – that’s a net immigration of 3.2 million. Take into account as well that only one million British citizens emigrated during that period. The coalition government has enforced more controls, but the fact remains that mass immigration is still going on. It cannot be doubted that many immigrants deserve citizenship in this country and make great and valuable contributions in terms of their ideas, talents and culture. But while no one can doubt the benefits these immigrants bring and the multiculturalism that comes with welcoming them, the negative impact of mass immigration cannot be ignored.
The first problem is the rising population in the UK. If the growing global population wasn’t enough of a problem, mass immigration will only add to the UK becoming even more crowded. The Independent Office for National Statistics (ONS) predicts that the population of the UK will reach 70 million in 2027, compared to 62 million which it is today. To put things into perspective, the population of Birmingham is 1 million, so in 14 years time how is there going to be room for the population of 8 Birminghams? It’s just not feasible. The latest government projections show that immigration will account for 36% of all new households in the next 20 years – so that in itself will cause all sorts of problems.
Migration Watch UK blames the rise in youth unemployment as being due to mass immigration. That, however, is a bit more questionable. People try to give different causes for the state of youth unemployment, which stood at 1 million in 2012. Some of these include the financial crisis, public sector cuts, social issues, lack of qualifications and lack of experience. Of course mass immigration may play a part in the problem as well, most likely in the number of low wage jobs available, but Migrantion Watch UK seem to under-estimate other significant factors.
I strongly support the right to freedom of movement as it is laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This right gives an individual the freedom to move, live and work anywhere within their country, but also gives them the right to leave their country and later return. I think people have a right to move freely between countries as well since there are many benefits to immigration, both to the immigrant and to the country they are immigrating to. If an immigrant does become a UK citizen, they should be fully entitled to their rights and not have their movement restricted.
However, it is not practical to have completely open borders as a way to protect the individual’s rights, and there’s no use in having completely closed borders as a way to resolve the problem of mass immigration. A balance must be made which both preserves the individuals’ right to free movement (both UK citizens seeking to emigrate and foreigner seeking to immigrate) whilst controlling mass immigration in a way which avoids its negative consequences.
One sensible way to do this could involve preferring a system of ‘balance immigration’, where immigration is brought down to the level of emigration. Having the same amount of people leaving the country as people arriving seems like a fair solution. Balanced immigration would stabilise the UK population, reduce the strain on public resources and damage to the environment, enable the economy to remain competitive and improve the prospects of integrating newcomers to the country. Balanced immigration would not require leaving the EU, turning down refugees, preventing employers from choosing staff from outside the EU or prevent universities from attracting international students.
Sam Woolfe is a recent philosophy graduate from Durham University. His main interests are in ethics, science and civil liberties. He currently lives in London.