Get immigration right, integrate dynamic people and we can thrive

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Family walking through immigration at airport

Migration targets are unfit for purpose and immigration will prove a boon for both the British economy and society, says James Sproule

The issue of immigration is always a delicate one, and during the EU referendum campaign, it became positively fraught. The public may well feel that governments over recent decades first failed to listen to their concerns, then failed to act upon what promises they did make.

Worse, there has been woefully little action on preparing for what they failed to predict. All this may be true but we also need to stand back and, short-term irritations aside, ask ourselves: what are the long-term consequences and do we like them or not?

I have argued previously that the net migration target is unfit for purpose. It has too many moving parts to ever be hit, and missing the target just convinces people you are not in control. This remains true. IoD members have long been in favour of immigration, as they need to draw on the widest talent pool possible to succeed in their businesses.

Moreover, they know that the majority of immigrants are not benefit seekers, although it would be foolish not to acknowledge that the new National Living Wage is an attractive incentive for many.

But let’s look to the long term and make two observations. The world is undergoing an immigration upheaval. Modern communications and the internet have allowed millions of people to see the world as they have never seen it before. In 2002, a country with a GDP per capita of $25,000 (£18,530) had a mobile phone penetration rate of 50 per cent.

By 2012, countries with just a dollar-a-day GDP per head achieved the same 50 per cent rate. No wonder millions of people in developing economies with get-up-and-go are doing just that.

Stopping these now-informed people is going to be well nigh impossible. It is a challenge for which existing welfare states and legal constructs have proven ill equipped.

The second observation is even more controversial. Immigration will be good for the UK economy and society. Once government services catch up to demand (predictably the population rise did not see supermarkets running out of food), we foresee a very bright future.

I recently gave a presentation on the idea that today’s entrepreneurs were the equivalent of the explorers of yesteryear. It is a subject the IoD will set out in much greater detail this autumn.

But the thesis is: the US and Canada were, at least initially, largely populated by people with the tenacity, self-belief, vision and flexibility to create vibrant economies against the backdrop of the emerging industrial revolution. Migrants to the UK possess many of the same attributes.

Immigration matters. If the UK can get this right, if we can integrate some of the most dynamic people on earth who want to live and work here, we will put ourselves in good stead for a century or more.

@jamesrsproule

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About author

James Sproule

James Sproule

James Sproule has been Chief Economist and Director of Policy for the Institute of Directors since January 2014. Prior to joining the IoD James led Accenture’s UK Research and Global Capital Markets Research. He started his financial career as a merchant bank economist working with both Bankers Trust, Deutsche Bank and Dresdner Kleinwort, and eventually helped to found the boutique bank Augusta and Company.

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