A few days ago I previewed a new ippr report and Channel 4 programme on migration: Britain's immigrants: they're not all the same. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, one of the authors of the report, has an article on the Guardian's Comment is Free website on Immigration's bonus:
New research published by the Institute for Public Policy Research this week shows that on many criteria, most immigrant groups do better in economic terms than the UK-born population. As discussed last night on Channel 4's Dispatches, the average immigrant earns more, works longer hours, is better educated and makes a stronger fiscal contribution than their British-born counterpart. Even relatively low-paid immigrants make important economic contributions by staffing public services. One in two working-age Filipinos and nearly one in three Jamaicans, Nigerians and Zimbabweans work in health or social work.
Sriskandarajah notes "the immense heterogeneity between immigrant communities":
For example, seven of the 25 largest immigrant groups are half as likely as the UK-born population to be living in social housing, while seven other groups are more than twice as likely. This heterogeneity also suggests that, despite doing better on aggregate, there are some immigrant groups that face serious socio-economic problems. These groups cannot be identified on the basis of race, as some might have us believe - for example Ugandan-born immigrants earn more on average than French-born. However, there are communities whose employment levels, benefit reliance and educational attainment are a cause for concern - these include the Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Portuguese, Somali and Turkish communities.
There are many who will see this as proof that there are some communities who are indeed a drain on society and whose members should be refused admission or even expelled.
However, this overlooks an important fact. Immigrant groups whose members tend to be admitted on the basis of economic criteria tend to have very favourable economic characteristics. On the other hand, many of the groups that frequently appear at the bottom of the rankings tend to contain high proportions of people admitted on the basis of an asylum claim, family reunion, or European Union citizenship.
One might reasonably conclude from this that Britain should favour immigrants "whose members tend to be admitted on the basis of economic criteria". They are more likely to have jobs and not be a burden on the taxpayer. Indeed, the UK government's move to a points-based immigration system is just such an approach. But no - that's not what Sriskandarajah meant:
All this begs the question of whether the government's new zeal to tighten up the rules governing the admission of workers from outside the EU is necessary. Indeed, the most effective way to improve the economic impact of immigration would be to apply economic criteria to the admission of other categories of entrants. Such measures would be deeply problematic in terms of the human rights of asylum seekers and foreign spouses and in terms of EU free movement rights, but left unchecked this is where the current emphasis on the economics of immigration may lead.
Any decent migration system must of course leave a place for refugees and asylum seekers. But let's not ignore the economics. The current UK migration system is not just byzantine in its complexity and inconsistency; it also does little to favour the skilled over the unskilled, or those who speak English over those who don't. That hardly favours the economic success or integration of migrants, and it risks undermining community cohesion. If we are to sustain relatively high levels of immigration without a major backlash then a better balance in the migrant intake must be struck. If Canada, Australia and New Zealand can do it, so can we.
Footnote: I accept Chris Dillow's point that the UK cannot 'control' migration - at least within the European Union. But one can certainly seek to manage non-EU immigration better.