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Beyond borders: Rethinking restrictive migration policies

Balot box immigration Henley H

Immigration is a central issue in the general election campaign for the first time since the EU referendum, and political parties are seizing the opportunity to make somewhat unrealistic promises with the obvious aim to win over voters by appealing to their fears and concerns about immigration. However, the Conservative Party's pledge to introduce an annual cap on migration and Reform UK's net-zero migration pledge have sparked significant debate. Both policies reflect a growing trend of using migration as a tool to play on public fears. Practically though, these policies fail to address the complex nature of global voluntary and involuntary mobility.

The impracticalities of net-zero migration

While the idea of net-zero migration may appeal to those who feel that current levels of immigration are unsustainable, it poses several practical challenges. The UK has historically benefited from the cultural and economic contributions of immigrants, and a net-zero policy would likely lead to a decline in population growth. This may have adverse effects on the economy.

Aging populations and shrinking workforces in many developed countries highlight the importance of immigration in sustaining economic vitality. Without a steady influx of young, skilled workers, the UK risks facing labour shortages and a decline in economic competitiveness.

Additionally, both policies proposed by the Conservatives and Reform UK could strain international relations. The UK’s departure from the EU has already complicated its relationship with European neighbours, and stringent migration controls could further alienate allies and trade partners. The perception of the UK as a welcoming, global nation becomes tarnished by reducing its appeal as a destination for international students, tourists, and skilled professionals.

Exploiting public fears

These policies are overly simplistic and fail to consider the economic, social, and political realities driving migration, particularly wars and geopolitical unrest beyond the UK’s control. Instead, a more sustainable solution would involve stabilising regions through active political and economic investments and adopting a strategic approach to migration that aligns with the UK’s economic and social needs.

The proposal for an annual cap on migration and Reform UK's net-zero migration pledge are politically appealing because they appear to offer straightforward solutions to complex problems. These policies resonate with segments of the electorate concerned about the perceived impact of immigration on public services, job availability, and national identity.

However, they also exploit public fears by suggesting that limiting immigration will solve issues such as an overwhelmed NHS and economic challenges. This scapegoat approach however ignores the broader historical and geopolitical context in which migration occurs.

We cannot forget the UK’s historical and political role in shaping the geopolitical landscape. The country’s involvement in international conflicts, colonial history, and foreign policy decisions have contributed to the instability in many regions that drive migration flows today. Wars, persecution, and geopolitical unrest are significant push factors for migration, often beyond the control of any single nation.

Promoting global stability

Rather than adopting restrictive migration policies that may prove unfeasible and ethically questionable, the UK should consider more sustainable and strategic solutions. One such approach is to stabilise regions of origin through active political involvement and economic investments.

By addressing the root causes of migration, such as conflict, poverty, and lack of opportunities, the UK can contribute to reducing the push factors that drive people to seek refuge and better lives elsewhere. A proactive approach not only helps stabilise these regions but also aligns with the UK’s moral and historic responsibilities. We should also adopt a strategic approach to migration that considers the UK’s economic and social needs. This involves recognising that migrants can contribute positively to the economy and society if adequately integrated. Rather than viewing migrants as a burden, the UK should focus on improving systems that facilitate faster and more effective integration.

Responsible migration policies should be grounded in a realistic understanding of global mobility and the factors driving it. Instead of simplistic caps and net-zero pledges, the UK needs a nuanced approach that addresses both the root causes of migration and the mechanisms of integration. By doing so, the UK can develop a more effective and humane migration policy that aligns with its economic and social objectives while fulfilling its historical and moral responsibilities.

Previous article in The Ballot Box series: New Towns for new times

Dr Washika Haak-Saheem

Associate Professor in Human Resource Management
Published 1 July 2024
Henley news Leading insights

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