The ‘debate’ – and this label is highly questionable – over immigration in the United Kingdom has come to establish a strong foothold in contemporary political discourse. But beyond the cheap populism which plays to the misguided perception of immigration being a negative phenomenon, migration represents a social imperative which we must defend earnestly.
The Conservatives have launched an all-out assault on immigration, seeking to curtail the right to free movement in the European Union, taking steps to combat the virtually nonexistent benefit and healthcare ‘tourism’, and aiming to reduce net migration to an arbitrary level. On the other side of the political divide, Labour has sought to apologise for New Labour’s stance on immigration, promising instead to in some way curtail low-skilled immigration, and to be more aware of the social impact of immigration on communities. Most senior figures in both parties recognise the myriad benefits of immigration, but have opted to embark upon the politically expedient path of immigrant-bashing, seemingly failing to recognise the immensely pernicious long-term effects of doing so.
The much more politically challenging, but ultimately just stance, is to defend migration as a social imperative. Migration is not merely economically beneficial, but also hugely culturally enriching as well. Moreover, migration has powerful philosophical and ethical groundings.
The economic justification for migration is a straightforward one – it greatly expands the range of individuals able to occupy vacant positions in the economy. The greater the number of people available, the greater the chance that vacancies in the economy will be taken by truly committed, proficient, and astute individuals. With proficient individuals driving the economy forward, the economy produces more advantageous and beneficial results for all in society.
Although rarely mentioned in contemporary political discourse, there are also manifold cultural benefits to society stemming from migration. Nigel Farage took many political observers by surprise when, in an interview with the BBC’s Nick Robinson, Farage suggested that ‘there is more to life than money… the social side of this matters more than pure market economics’. In the wake of this comment, some commentators have suggested that those in favour of migration simply cannot effectively counter those who oppose immigration from a sociocultural standpoint, as Farage has done. Quite to the contrary, the cultural dividends of migration are immense and hugely beneficial to society. The globalised nature of the modern world has made it such that many modern societies have evolved from being mostly monocultural, to being truly multicultural. These societies have been hugely enriched by the diversity of the many cultures that exist within them. Beyond the immediate cultural reward of multiculturalism which manifests itself in the proliferation of alternative ideas, lifestyles, art, and creativity, embraced multiculturalism also fosters much more tolerant, liberal, and open societies which are able to be much more aware of the world around them, and much more willing to engage with ideas which might otherwise be considered to be unusual or different.
Finally, the philosophical and ethical basis for migration is hugely powerful. Although the members of humanity are born into different societies and cultures, we are all fundamentally human and inhabitants of the same planet. Thus, it is difficult to justify from an ethical perspective strict border controls which curtail immigration and prevent people from migrating to other parts of the world to build a better life for themselves, their families, and ultimately the global citizenry. Indeed, in this light, the nation-state’s ability to in essence discriminate against individuals from other countries is deeply archaic and unreasonable. In the globalised economy, there also exists a disparity between capital and people – in a world where capital increasingly knows no borders, nor should people. The European Union is a bright beacon for progress in this sense with its right to free movement for all European citizens within the EU, which forms not just a central component of the Single Market, but also a central component of the EU’s constellation of social rights.
Taken together, these aspects of migration make a powerfully positive case for migration. The rise of nationalistic, protectionist, isolationist, and anti-immigrant political movements was an inevitable byproduct of the global financial crisis, foreseeable as a distinct possibility by any student of history. It is notable that the United Kingdom has fared relatively well in its ability to eschew the sort of extremist politics which have come to threaten peace, safety, and order in some other European countries such as Greece. However, many mainstream politicians have found it politically expedient to appeal and provide succour to the reactionist anti-immigrant movement precipitated by the global financial crisis. In times of great economic hardship, the fear of ‘outsiders’ may be easily exploited by those seeking the most expedient path to power. While this may be politically advantageous in the short-term, such a course of action will be deeply pernicious in the long-term. Fundamentally, migration is a social imperative and to allow it to be strictly curtailed is to betray this imperative. Migration must not be sacrificed in the pursuit of short-term political expedience.