Immigration and the Brexit

Immigration is always a touchy subject in the UK, but it’s an especially volatile matter right now, being used as a key argument for the Leave campaign — those who are lobbying for the UK to leave the EU in the upcoming referendum.

I have my own views on whether we should leave or not (for clarity and transparency, I believe we should stay in the EU) and I fully accept that those views may not align with many people. I do however take issue with the use of ‘immigration’ and the greater ‘control’ we’ll have over it if we split with the EU being used as a key argument for voting ‘leave’.

My issue is, we, the great British public, don’t really understand what it is when we talk about ‘immigration’. Broadly speaking, it’s seen as what happens when non-UK born individuals come over to our country and ‘steal our jobs’ or ‘cost us billions in social care’. They might even be ‘ruining our NHS’. None of that is true, of course, especially when we talk about ‘immigrants’ in it’s fullest (and proper) term.

Clearly, we need to understand what we actually mean when we talk about immigrants. There are four key types of people who will fall under this label:

  1. A non-EU (including the UK) national, visiting or working in the UK on an approved VISA or permit of some kind;
  2. An EU national coming to the UK;
  3. A non-EU national entering the UK illegally — without the appropriate VISA or permit;
  4. A refugee.

Let’s see what each of them means to the UK.

#1 — the Non-EU national, here on a VISA or permit
This type of person will be here legally, most likely working or maybe on an extended stay of some kind (a working holiday, typically). You’ll find students in this category, too.

If they’re working, they will be paying taxes. Even if they’re not, they’re here with permission, are not here permanently, and will have very specific conditions set on their visit, including the time they are allowed to stay.

Importantly, this type of person will always exist, regardless of us being in the EU or not. They can be discounted in terms of the argument against immigrants.

#2 — An EU national coming into the UK.
This is one of the groups that people are really kicking off about. The rules are, anyone nationalised in the EU has the right to live and work in any member country. They can literally pick up sticks and move to another country without explaining themselves, though some EU countries (including the UK) will do means testing on foreign nationals to ensure that they can afford to sustain themselves during their stay.

This allowance is why we have ‘too many Polish in our bloody country’ — Poland is in the EU, and their nationals are allowed to move to the UK. This has to be a problem, right?

Well, no…not really. You see, an EU national may be allowed to come to the UK, but they can’t just rock up on the Monday and be given a council house and benefits on the Tuesday — in the UK, you have to have been working for at least 9 months before you can even think about applying for benefits, and even then you don’t just get them — you have to be demonstrably looking for work and obviously in strife before any money will start coming your way.

And what of the NHS? Surely it’s being brought to its knees by all these EU nationals getting medical care? Well, no. You see, enshrined in law well before the EU was properly a thing was the ability for European countries to claim back medical costs from the originating nation of any EU national seeking medical care in a host country. Remember in the 80’s and 90’s when you used to have to fill out and carry an E1–11 medical form with you on a holiday to France? That’s what that was, and it got even easier with the formalisation of the EU.

All considered, EU nationals in the UK have to have paid tax for a not inconsiderable amount of time before they’re eligible for any social support at all, and any NHS attention they get can be claimed back in full from their country of origin. So…they cost us nothing. And they do some really nice tiling, too.

In short, they’re not a burden to us, far from it — the overwhelming majority will be contributors via taxation and skills. Sure, there’s niche cases where people have figured out how to game the system, but I challenge anyone who thinks that’s the norm to provide me with any more evidence than a few headlines from the Daily Mail.

#3 — The illegal immigrant
We’ve all seen news stories of trucks pulling up at service stations and 30 young men piling out; of individuals clinging to the bottom of trucks and vans, desperate to enter the UK. We watch Border Patrol on telly, especially when we know in advance that they’re going to be raiding a kebab shop in our locality.

Illegal immigrants are those who do not have permission to be here. They fight tooth and nail to get here, taking all manner of risks and chances to do so, and once they’re inside UK borders, they disappear into the black market of employment.

They get paid in cash, and they pay no taxes. They must be a drain on society, right?

Well, no…not really. The fact that they’re ‘off the grid’ means that they get very little from our social pot — if they apply for job seekers allowance, or apply for a council house, then they suddenly appear, it becomes apparent that they shouldn’t be here, and they get deported. So they don’t. Likewise for medical care — they don’t go for treatment until they have to, because there’s a chance they’ll ‘appear’ and get bunged on the next flight home.

And when you think about it, they still pay taxes. Sure, not on their wages…but on everything they spend those wages on, they pay 20% VAT, plus whatever additional tax we have on things such as cigarettes and fuel. They’re still actually contributing, even though they basically have no rights and no state support.

The best thing about illegal immigrants when you consider them in terms of the EU is that leaving the EU will do — can do — NOTHING to stop them. They’re not controlled by the EU, how can we possibly do anything more about them if we’re out of Europe? These people got here when we were working collaboratively with our neighbour nations to stop them — to my mind, by leaving the EU, France will have even less of a reason to maintain our borders on their side of the Channel Tunnel. It’s a guess of course, but I would estimate that our intake of illegal immigrants through that route will rise dramatically when we’re no longer at the EU table, able to bully France into action.

#4 — A Refugee
Of course, refugees have always existed, but it’s taken a front seat in the news over the last couple of years due to the influx of refugees from places like Syria. Let’s not talk about why they’re refugees — that can only ever turn into a political bum fight and it’s not really important. What is important is that these people are not coming to the UK because they want to, they’re coming because they don’t want their families to die.

These people know that, on the routes they take across sea and land, thousands of them are dying on the journey, and those who make it are being herded around like cattle. They’re seeing the same pictures we do, with toddlers washed up on beaches. And yet they’re picking up their children and loading them into boats because the alternative — staying where they are — is far worse than the risks they take to escape it.

These are not poor people. They’re not coming to the UK in search of a better life. Ask them: they were happy, probably doing OK, in their own country before it turned to shit. They’re coming because they have no other choice.

Helping these people is not something we should even think about. It’s not a question of border control or social care, it’s a question of humanity. So they shouldn’t be a factor in the argument about staying in or departing the EU, because we should be helping them regardless.

OK, so the ‘immigrants’ aren’t actually bad for the UK. But there’s SO MANY OF THEM — over 300,000 net immigration increase in 2015!!! It’s too many!!!

Net immigration comes up a lot. But again, we don’t really understand what that number means…just that it’s a big number, and there’s that word ‘immigrant’, and we think ‘immigrants’ are illegal, NHS killing, social support grabbing job stealers.

Except that we now know that immigrants are not actually bad for the UK, so let’s just deal with that huge number with a bit of context, and we can be on our way.

Firstly, let me scare you. The number 300,000 doesn’t mean that 300,000 people came to the UK in 2015. That figure was actually over 600,000 — we just had around the same amount of people leave the UK too, giving you the net immigration figure of 300,000.

So, if you’re in a particularly ill-informed mood, you might assume that 600,000 immigrants came in, and 300,000 UK nationals got so sick of it that they left. We’ll be overrun in no time at this rate!

To help make sense of these numbers, we have to add a fifth type of ‘immigrant’ — #5 A UK national who lived outside the UK but came back.

My wife lived in Spain for a few years, moving back in 2010. When she left, she counted as one of the people emigrated that year; and when she came back, she counted towards the immigration total.

So when we have a net immigration number of over 300,000, that includes everyone — UK nationals moving back home, and EU nationals leaving the UK.

I won’t pretend that such people make up a majority, or even a significant portion of the totals, but they do all count, and when you then factor in that the majority of the non-UK nationals who add to it are coming over to our benefit, it’s really not as bad a number as you might think.

In short, there are many reasons that you might vote to leave the EU. Don’t let your misunderstandings of immigration and the immigrants that form a part of it be one of them.

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