Watching the news and reading around the various news websites it's impossible just now to ignore the frenzy around immigration. Being British I naturally lean towards the British news agencies and am generally appalled by the likes of Sky News and the seemingly endless rounds of negative reports on immigrants, be they legal or otherwise.

Britain is not unique in the challenges it faces but it does stand out in the 21st century as being a bit peculiar in so far as it was once the hub of a massive empire (that's a rant for another day) and as such migration towards it, and London in particular is a very real issue.  The police service, education and the NHS recognise that many of their resources are being stretched as they're having to divert resources to interpretation as many immigrants can't speak sufficiently competent English.

Whilst there are financial implications involved in interpretation etc. the cost is outweighed by the benefits. As a report released by Migration Matters Trust in March this year demonstrates: "The economic benefit of immigration to the UK [shows] that halting net migration would cost every taxpayer in the country £137,000 over their lifetime." 1  The trust goes further and claims that the real cost over 5 years of stopping immigration would be £18billion. That's a serious chunk of cash that the country would miss.

The Daily Mirror also conducted an investigation into the true costs of immigration into the UK and found that govt figures confirm that "last year immigrants boosted the economy by £6billion. And health chiefs insist that without those immigrants working in hospitals, the NHS would collapse."2  

Even the Daily Mail which is one of the most right wing papers with a strongly anti-immigration stance admitted in an article from July this year that "140,000 extra immigrants to the UK are needed every year until 2063" and without them the real cost to UK taxpayers would be an increase in govt borrowing taking it to 174%, higher than Greece's debt! It should also be remembered that alongside immigration there are huge numbers of emigrants too. Don't be deceived into thinking this is all one way traffic.

I guess the real sadness in here is the true lack of understanding as to what immigration actually does for all of us. Yes it's true that many immigrants take menial jobs for lower wages, that was the whole shameful basis of encouraging migrants from the Caribbean to the UK back in the 50's and 60's. It's also true that many Brits are simply too snobby these days to do many of the manual jobs which creates a need for migrant workers who are willing to do them. However, it's not fair to say that immigrants take jobs from locals. Many immigrants work very hard and have set up their own businesses. That corner shop run by the Pakistani? Take him away and there is no corner shop. He didn't take a job from anyone, rather he grafted to create a business. Most of the negative stereotyping comes from misleading reporting by racially biased groups with their divisive right wing agendas to scare people into supporting them. 

There's also a strong element of political expediency in this debate, especially in the UK where it detracts nicely from the farce that is British banking. In 2012 Britain's banks paid a total of £3.3billion in Corporation Tax, whilst paying themselves bonuses of £14billion despite the fact that the govt bailouts still cost the UK taxpayer £5billion per-annum. 4

So who's the real baddie in all this, the immigrant or the banker? I know who deserves vilifying and it's definitely not the immigrant!

A recent poll conducted by Sky News showed that where people have little or no personal knowledge of immigrants then 71% support govt crackdowns on immigration as opposed to 58% of people who actually know any immigrants. 5

I would go further and say that unless you've personally experienced migration, that is moved countries to live, you can't understand the complexities involved in the issue of migration.

Here's a bit of our experience...

We've been in South Africa for 9 years now and have Permanent Residency, that is we have the right to remain here indefinitely (providing we're not absent for more than 3 consecutive years) but we are not citizens. This is an important distinction.

Firstly, despite having lived here for 9 years we are still not entitled to vote. Voting is the preserve of citizens.6  As in fact are most things here.

Consider this...
All immigrants are expected to be able to support themselves financially and must prove they are able to. Failure to comply could lead to deportation. The only exceptions are asylum seekers and they're judged on a case by case basis.
Immigrants have no right to free health care at govt hospitals or clinics. All services must be paid for up front, often with a very large deposit which will be returned, minus expenses once treatment is completed.
Immigrants have no rights to the limited range of welfare benefits.

This might sound like a right wing anti-immigration manifesto, but in fact it's quite simply a statement of facts extrapolated from the Home Affairs and the Ministry of Health websites.

There are other expectations of us as immigrants too. We are expected to fit into the culture of South Africa, we are expected to speak at least one of the 11 official languages, we are expected to contribute economically to the country (through taxes etc.), we are prohibited from depriving a local of gainful employment and we are expected to abide by the rules of the nation. Failure to do so could result in deportation.

Living as a non-citizen in a foreign country is pleasurable and affords many opportunities that would not be available back home but it also comes with a lot of stresses and strains. Thankfully we're not battling an ignorant right wing anti-immigration agenda so our stresses and strains aren't as bad as they could be. However, there are many issues which must be grappled with. One of them is the issue
of almost non-existence. In SA the green identity document (ID book) is everything. Without the ID book it's almost impossible to do many simple things such as open a bank account and yet obtaining an ID book legally is almost impossible for most immigrants. We have them because we're Permanent Residents, but we know others here who have their legal immigrant status and an illegal SA status because there's no other way for them to get an ID book and without it they simply wouldn't be able to work and provide for their families.

Personally I think migration is a healthy and positive thing and serves to strengthen nations, communities and cultures. Sure there are costs involved, for the receiving nation/community and for the migrant but overall the benefits clearly outweigh the negatives.  I just wish the right wing anti-immigration agenda could be seen for being the smokescreen it is and that the real issues damaging society are poverty and the growing divide between rich and poor. Let's be honest here, the banking crisis has damaged the UK and its economy far more than any number of immigrants ever could.

This post is part of the Blog Action Day 2013 on Human Rights.
#BAD2013, #OCT16, #Humanrights, #BlogActionDay

1 - The Independent: Halting immigration 'would cost UK £18bn in five years'
2 - The Daily Mirror: Immigration: the true cost to Britain
3 - The Daily Mail : Britain needs 7million MORE immigrants over 50 years to 'meet the cost of caring for the elderly'
4 - The New Statesman: The financial sector isn't the powerhouse of the UK economy. It's more like a Wendy house
5 - The Guardian: People worry about immigration if they have little contact with migrants
6 - Electoral Commission of South Africa: How Do I Register?


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