Today’s tranche of emails included one from Immigrant Spirit, which highlights the other side of this. It quotes Andreas Meyer-Falcke, Commissioner of Human Resources for the City of Düsseldorf, saying that in the next five years one third of his employees will retire. Thousands of jobs will become available. It asks: “How could expatriates benefit?”
The free movement of people means that, provided we vote to remain in the EU, I could respond to this by applying for one of those jobs in Düsseldorf, or anywhere else in the EU.
Some close friends in Singapore keep suggesting I move there. Also a lovely place. But the Ministry of Manpower there have been tightening requirements for work permits. Moving to somewhere else in the EU is vastly easier.
One of the surprises of the 2015 General Election campaign was when the Economist ran an article mapping fear of immigrants in the UK. The places of greatest fear were the places with the lowest proportion of immigrants.
Standing for Parliament in North West Leicestershire put flesh on the bones of this. The visceral fear of immigrants was strongest on the lips of people for whom immigrants are an invisible “other”, a “them” who are taking “our jobs”. This was not about real people.
In fact the saddest conversations were with people hit hard by austerity, who were proposing to vote Conservative. Austerity was named and “immigrants” were blamed. So the plan was to vote Conservative because they were seen as anti-immigrant. So, the people hit hard by austerity were proposing to vote for the party advocating austerity, because it had neatly put the blame on “immigrants”.
Meanwhile, some brilliant editing at the BBC meant I kept hearing scare stories about immigration followed immediately by news stories on (say) the numbers of nurses we were needing to bring into the UK because of shortages in the NHS.
Our European colleagues stress free movement of people. They are right to do this, for two very strong reasons:
- It builds the sorts of human links which make war harder and helps trade and prosperity;
- You can’t have a true single market in goods and services if there is not also a single labour market — people need to be free to go where the work is, so they can prosper and so that employers can find the people they need.
Like the person who blamed immigrants for asterity and was being hoodwinked into voting or the Conservatives who were offering more austerity, the tragedy of this is that the people who stand to lose from less migration are those already disadvantaged.
The last figure I heard suggested that EU migrants to the UK, in total, pay twenty times more in taxes than they take out in benefits. Their presence fills vital gaps in our businesses and services. Employing people from elsewhere in the EU adds variety to businesses which helps them create, and adds a multiculturality which helps them trade. The people at the bottom of the pile, resentful at the opportunities they feel they don’t have, are the ones who would lose most if these migrants stopped coming (or were “sent home”).
Free movement of people also enables us to work and live elsewhere. Perhaps the way for someone in the UK to improve their life is to stay put, but many find the breakthrough is to travel and to live elsewhere for a time.
We gain so much from the free movement of people that we should be celebrating it as a real achievement of the EU, not treating it as bad and using it as a stick to beat the EU with.