By Guest Blogger, on 12 February 2014
Some 30 London-based foreign correspondents of media including El Pais of Spain, France’s Europe 1 and Xinhua of China came into UCL this week (10 February) for a briefing designed to shed some light on the often controversial topic of migration to the UK.
“UK migration: separating facts from fiction”, headed by Professor Christian Dustmann (UCL Economics and Director of the Centre for Research and Analysis for Migration), took place the day after the Swiss electorate voted to bring back quotas for EU migrants, underlining that this is a topical issue beyond the UK’s shores.
Professor Dustmann kicked off by stating that the briefing’s objective was to bring facts into a debate “that is often emotional and based on anecdotes rather than factual analysis.” His presentation set out how, since 1989, there has been global acceleration of migration, both across frontiers but also internally (notably China) and that if anything the UK’s percentage of migrants in the population is relatively modest in comparison with a range of OECD countries (at just over ten per cent), whereas today over one in four of the Swiss and Australian populations were born abroad. The UK is also among the smaller number of countries whose migrants are on average more highly educated than the native population.
In terms of the economic benefits of migration, Professor Dustmann and his panel colleagues – Professor Tomasso Frattini of the University of Milan, and Professor Ian Preston, UCL Economics – highlighted their research findings that migrants are net contributors to the UK economy. European migrants have paid more in taxes than they have drawn out of welfare, while for the UK non-migrant population the opposite was the case, reflecting that on average this group of migrants are younger and generally better educated than the wider population.
This begged the question as to why, if the economic benefits are so unambiguous, politicians and the wider public are so staunchly opposed to further migration.
While migration does create a huge surplus, how this surplus is distributed is a key factor in how immigration is perceived. “It is controversial because there are some who believe they may lose out, even if overall they are losing far less than those who gain,” believes Professor Dustmann.
“Further, our own research shows that attitudes towards migration are only partially determined by economic concerns. The main driver of such attitudes are non-economic in nature, and related to concerns that immigration impacts on homogeneity, common language and religion, culture, etc. Some therefore believe that migration is economically positive overall, but still don’t really like it.”
Additionally, he noted that larger inflows of immigrants, as experienced by some communities, may take some time to adjust to, as society’s transition to take account of the arrivals enabled by free movement of labour will take time, using the struggle some councils have faced dealing with pressure on school places as an example.
However, this should not stop us looking at the overall, positive picture, he says, given that these new immigrants also pay taxes to finance such expansions, indeed, on average contributing far more in taxes than they receive in public services, benefits or transfers.
“The Foreign Press Association exists to help journalists from overseas gain access to people, places and information,” said Christopher Wyld, director of the FPA. “One of the ways of doing this is briefings with experts, people who can bring insight and facts to issues in the news. No issue is more of the moment, or more clouded by political argument and controversy than immigration. The briefing at UCL by Christian Dustmann and his colleagues was a brilliant example of what the FPA looks for: facts, information and cool opinion presented calmly and without hyperbole.”
A selection of international coverage from the briefing: