Monday, April 24, 2006

Immigration Policy and the Points System

Eventually the Conservatives will have to form an immigration policy. I am entirely with the Cameron strategy of spending as little time talking about immigration as possible. The political benefits of increasing the enthusiasm of a few core voters can't be worth trading for losing the chance to fight our reputation as the nasty party. Equally, the argument that we need to focus on immigration policy in order to undermine the BNP seems to be predicated on the idea that the BNP are highlighting reasonable concerns about immigration; they are not. The proper response to the BNP is to explain why they are wrong rather than attempting to reassure people that mistaken notions of our country being swamped are being taken seriously. However, it is still important that the Conservatives have a policy offering on such a contentious issue. To be without a convincing policy on immigration would be a dismal failure of imagination.

A few axioms from which policy formation can begin:

1) Immigration is generally good for the economy as it alleviates skills shortages in key sectors of the economy.

2) Too much immigration places a strain on the ability of any society to integrate the newcomers and ensure smooth community relations.

3) We have a moral duty to provide safe haven to those fleeing persecution abroad.

With axiom 3) in mind it is pretty clear that leaving the 1951 convention would be a dereliction of duty. We do not take a particularly high number of asylum seekers relative to the rest of the world so have no substantial grounds to complain. There are justified complaints about the failure to deport those who are judged to not be genuinely seeking asylum but other than that complaints about asylum seekers are morally bankrupt.

With 2) in mind it seems sensible to have some kind of limit on the numbers of economic migrants allowed in. I am not sure of any way of 'automating' this decision so I think it is probably necessary to set a limit for total immigration of X thousands. The number of economic migrants allowed would then be X - asylum seekers. If asylum seekers exceeded X then some flexibility could clearly be shown as that would probably mean an exceptional humanitarian crisis.

2) also begs the question of how we deal with those with no desire to integrate and form a constructive member of British society; the Germans have a, fairly radical, solution that I mentioned in a previous post.

The final question is therefore how to allow for 1) and ensure that economic migrants are allowed in who provide the greatest benefit to the UK. The problem with using a points system, as we have recently introduced, is that we are relying on the government to predict and ration out a valuable economic resource. Government is very bad at this and makes mistakes, as it has in Australia, which leave sectors of the economy without the workers they need and others oversupplied with immigrant labour.

The best solution would seem to be to auction off slots for economic migrants to employers who wish to employ migrants. Once a company has bought a slot that entitles it to bring in an economic migrant and it should advertise for migrants abroad as it would for workers in the UK. This would ensure that the migrant slots are allocated to where they are most needed. As the total number of economic migrants would be determined by the exogenous variables of the political target and asylum applications economy wide skills shortages would still increase the general price of obtaining a worker and the incentives to develop the skills of current citizens would not be significantly endangered. The money raised would also be something of a fiscal boon in place of the administrative cost of a points based system.

The basics of a conservative immigration policy?


Dave Cole said...

I am very glad to see that the Conservatives are in the process of joining the Socialist manner of thinking of using the state to restrict and ration things as they see fit.

There are a few things here.

Firstly, given freedom of movement within the EU, it would appear to make sense to have an EU-wide policy for immigration and, indeed, for asylum.

The main thing we have to do - and which I would love to see the Conservatives do if they are committed to this liberal immigration policy - is argue against the 'Fortress Europe' mentality that is growing on the continent.

Aside from moral actions, it would enable us to share the load equally around Europe, allow us to prevent unfortunate ideas such as extraterritorial processing centres and allow people to move around to find the job the want more easily.

It would also help if we stopped creating refugees...


Anonymous said...

Even as a supporter of the Euro I would balk at an EU wide immigration policy since the Germans and French are much more restrictive than we are. I believe we should not be merely letting immigrants in we should be actively paying them to come to Britain. At the most basic level we're facing a demographic timebomb and as immigrants tend to be younger (and have large families) we need them.