How much do we know about Britain's immigrants? Not as much as we should. A new report by the ippr think tank, Britain's Immigrants: An economic profile, adds to the picture. Drawing on the Labour Force Survey, authors Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Laurence Cooley and Tracy Kornblatt analyse the characteristics and contribution of 25 of the UK’s largest immigrant communities, plus those of the UK-born as a comparator. The report was commissioned by Channel 4, who have a Dispatches programme on Monday night based on its findings, called Immigrants: The Inconvenient Truth.
The report highlights considerable heterogeneity amongst immigrant groups. it makes clear that many - though not all - immigrants have done well. Many are hard working and make few claims on the state. These immigrant groups include Australians, the French, Canadians and Poles (see chart from the Daily Mail). But other groups have very high levels of economic inactivity and/or claims on the state. The ippr report says (emphasis in the original):
It is clear ..that there is considerable variation between the economic characteristics of immigrant groups. ...The heterogeneity of immigrant groups makes any discussion of the average or overall impact of immigration highly problematic. What we can say, however, is that based on the relatively simple ranking system employed in the tables presented above, it is clear that on most criteria, most immigrant groups do better in economic terms than the UK-born population. Overall, when we take into account the relative size of the groups studied in this report, it would seem that the average immigrant has better economic characteristics than the average UK-born person.
However, this observation should not lead to complacency for those interested in promoting the socio-economic integration of immigrant communities. There are some immigrant communities who rank consistently lower on most indicators than the UK average. In some cases, these relatively low-ranking communities are predominantly made up of people who have come to the UK for non-economic reasons (for example, to join family members who are already in the UK, or to seek asylum). In others words, these communities may be made up of large numbers of people whose admission into the UK is not based on their
potential economic contribution to the UK.
While the Mail on Sunday story highlights the poor performers such as the Somalis, the ippr authors argue that account must be taken of their circumstances:
It is essential to look beyond the statistics to look at the reasons for groups’ differential
contributions. The relatively low rankings of Somalis, for example, may be down to the fact that many newcomers came to the UK as asylum seekers (and probably did not have the right to work while their claim was/is being processed), may not speak English, have few easily transferable skills, and have been housed in deprived areas.
Similarly, at the other end of the rankings, Americans may be doing very well because they are mostly elite business people and professionals who are often here to work for short periods. It is therefore important to consider the reasons why migrants are here before we decide whether to judge their contribution solely in economic terms. It may also be the case that groups with relatively poor economic characteristics are directly supporting those with better characteristics – for example, low-paid cleaners and security guards from countries such as Poland working in the offices of American bankers. It is important to recognise the broader economic contribution of these low-paid essential staff. Also, groups who are concentrated in relatively low-skilled, low-paid jobs can be ranked highly on other measures, such as incidence of public service employment.
Valid points - though these findings surely raise the issue of whether Britain's immigrant mix is optimal? Compared with Canada and Australia, for example, Britain seems to have a higher proportion of low skilled and non-working immigrants.