Migration is one of the most important issues facing international politics today and is becoming more prevalent an issue every year. In 1980 the estimated number of refugees was 8. 2m, 1990 — 15m, 1992 – 20m (Castles and Miller, 1993, p 84). In our society there are a lot of preconceptions and prejudices about immigration and its effect: “they are stealing our jobs! ” “They are all scroungers” and “we are to generous to them”.
It can be argued that these all arise from institutions such as the tabloid media and right wing political groups, but also from past Government policy hich took a hard line on immigration and old colonial ideologies of mistrust and suspicion towards foreigners which have been passed down through the ages.
So what is the true economic impact of immigration on a receiving country Where does it have effect Is it substantial or minimal Is it positive or negative As immigration affects different countries in different ways, and as there are so many different forms of immigration e. g. sylum seekers, refugees, temporary settlers, permanent settlers, illegal immigration and immigration from one part of a country to nother, it is impossible to give universal answers to these questions.
However I will examine the arguments for and against immigration to try establish a picture of whether the economic impact on the whole is positive or negative for a receiving country. I will focus primarily on the UK and USA for case studies but will also look at the effects of immigration on third world countries. One of the most common arguments against immigration is that it puts a strain on government expenditure.
Some economists argue that “social capital expenditure on housing and social services for mmigrants reduced the capital available for productive investment” (Castles and Miller, 1993, p 76). In Britain, the current media scare is “bogus asylum seekers” and how they are a huge drain on the social services. A quote from the BBC web page sums up the anti immigration feeling in this country: “We are too soft. I’m happy for the government allowing genuine asylum seekers into this country. However something has to be done about the scroungers who think they could make a better life here.
There’s nothing for them – our classrooms are over-crowded, our hospitals can arely cope and our social services are on the brink of collapse such is the demand for pensions and benefits. It’s hard enough making a life for yourself when you live here by right. Simon Skelton, UK”. The British National party claim: “The procedure of investigation of ‘refugee’ claims, together with the job of attempting (mostly in vain) to track down the bogus claimants is, needless to say, a big drain on the public purse”.
Also in the USA, There is idespread opinion among Americans that “most immigrants wind up on welfare” (47 percent, according to a 1986 poll; New York Times, July 14, 1986, 1)”. White extremist groups, such as Combat 18 claim “Allowing illegal aliens to stay within our borders while using technicalities and legal resources paid for by our tax dollars is bad enough, we allow them to move here, but we give them tax-free loans, jobs, free housing and welfare!
So, just how valid is the argument that immigration puts pressure on a receiving country to look fter them When migration occurs on a major scale it creates major problems. Almost every conflict or war creates huge numbers of refugees. This was the case in the Kosovo conflict when Albania and Macedonia were overwhelmed with the number of refugees, and during the Rwandan civil war, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled to neighbouring Zaire causing major humanitarian catastrophes.
In these circumstances immigration has a considerable effect upon a countries budget. However, in both these examples and in many other conflicts the countries that bore the brunt of the refugee flow were neighbours. Refugees do require a certain degree of spending from the state, but the levels of refugees in Western Europe and America are slight when compared to the number of native persons who are dependant on welfare.
However, how much an impact does immigration on the whole make on government spending In a 1994 study entitled, Immigration and Immigrants – Setting the Record Straight, by Michael Fix. Jeffrey S. Passel, it is argued that, “when all levels of government are considered together, immigrants generate significantly more in taxes paid than they cost in services received. This surplus is unevenly distributed among different levels of government, with immigrants (and natives) generating a net surplus to the federal government, but a net cost to some states and most localities” (Fix, M and Passel, J. S. Immigration and Immigrants – Setting the record straight. 1994- www. urban. org/pubs/immig/immig. html).
They also argue that when refugees are not included, immigrants of a working age are considerably less likely to receive welfare than natives. It is argued that the misconception that immigrants are likely to live on welfare results from major laws with the way in which research is carried out. Passel and Fix argue that the research ignores that the integration of immigrants is dynamic.
That their incomes and tax contributions both increase the longer they live in the United States, and that, incomes vary considerably for different types of immigrants and also that the studies do not take into account the indirect benefits of job creation from immigrant businesses or from immigrant spending. They also claim that the negative impact of immigrants are overstated for a number of reasons, including: tax collections from mmigrants are understated, service costs for immigrants are overstated and that benefits of immigrant-owned businesses as well as the economic benefits generated by consumer spending from immigrants are ignored.
Although it is difficult to find truly impartial data or research on the matter, it can be argued that immigration does not have a substantial negative effect on government spending, due to the amount of money generated by immigrants. In the USA alone, it is estimated that annual taxes paid by immigrants generate a net surplus of $25 to $30 billion (Fix, M and Passel, J. S. Immigration and Immigrants – Setting the record straight. 1994-http://www. urban. org/pubs/immig/immig. html).
In the UK also, it is debatable as to how many people who argue that immigrants are scroungers have tried living on the government’s income support of 51. 40 p/w. So whilst immigration appears to have a slightly positive impact on government spending, how does it affect the economy as a whole, in areas such as employment and GDP The biggest and most beneficial economic impact of immigration on a receiving country is that it can solve labour shortage problems that a country may face. The best example of this is in post war Europe.
Immediately after World war two, the British government brought in 90,000 workers from refugee camps and Italy (Castles and Miller, 1993, p68), through the European Voluntary worker scheme, however these were tied to designated to specific jobs and had few rights. This scheme was operated only up to 1951, as it was easier to utilise colonial workers. As well as the Voluntary worker scheme, a further 100,000 Europeans entered Britain on work permits and by 1961 there were approximately 541,000 workers from the commonwealth. Some had come s a result of direct recruitment by London transport, whilst most came spontaneously due to the demand.
In Britain almost all migrants came in a 10 – 15 year period, the introduction of such acts as The 1971 Immigration act and the 1968 Commonwealth act has resulted in there being very little migration since the 70`s, except for the consolidation of immigrant communities and of skilled labour. Switzerland also made use of foreign labour in the post war period, whilst they initially imposed a lot of restrictions on foreign workers, by the 1970s foreign workers made up almost a third of the labour force (Castles and Miller, 1993, p69).
Other countries that used foreign labour to relive labour shortages included the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Sweden. Whilst migrant labour made up roughly 9% of some post war European countries labour forces (Bali, 1997, p210), in the Gulf States it made up the “overwhelming majority of the work force: 70% in Kuwait, 80% in Qatar and 85% in United Arab Emirates” (Bali, 1997, p210) In all countries there is an acceptable threshold of immigration, and when the number of immigrants within a country goes over this conceptual limit, public opinion and government policy regarding immigration become egative.
It is common for this threshold to be reached during periods of recession and economic decline. Arguments against immigration focus primarily on how immigrant labour displaces local labour due to immigrants being prepared to work for less wages and because of quota systems. “Nevertheless, it is true that in certain areas of employment Whites have suffered a lowering of job expectations as a result of the ethnic minority presence in Britain.
This has been aggravated by the policy adopted by employers in the Public sector, and enthusiastically encouraged by governments, f ‘positive discrimination’. Whereby ethnic minority members are hired according to a quota system, which takes no account of qualification or merit, and results often in better qualified white applicants being rejected for the jobs in question. ” (www. britishnationalparty. com).
However, studies in the USA have argued that “immigrants often do jobs rejected by locals because of their unpleasant nature or low remuneration” (Bali, 1997, p210). In another US study it is argued that: “Studies of specific labour markets show small negative effects of immigration on low-skilled orkers in stagnant local economies with high concentrations of immigrants, but not in other types of economies, also Self-employment is higher among immigrants than among native-born Americans. (Passel and Fix, www. urban. org, 1994).
In almost all immigrant communities there will be a lot of businesses and enterprises, which have been set up by immigrants. All generating employment and revenue for the local area, good examples of this are the Southall area of London, Rusholme in Manchester and Los Angeles where Korean immigrants have set up numerous businesses. The argument put forward that immigrants disadvantage British labour forces is also weak.
The 1976 Race relations’ act and its successive amendments have focussed on the elimination of direct and indirect discrimination towards people on account of their race. It could be argued that the claims that native labour markets are discriminated against are bias and based on questionable data Critics also argue that “importation of labour, can delay structural change in developed economies by slowing down the move towards more capital intensive forms of production”.