Observations of an Expat: Immigration – Analysis and Suggestions

There is a total absence of holistic joined up thinking on the emotive topic of immigration.

The solution does not lie simply in quotas, walls, barbed wire, African exile, indecipherable application forms or even hunting down people traffickers.

It needs to be recognised that the human souls washing up on the shores of the developed world did not materialise out of the ether. And furthermore, that demographic realities dictate that immigration is not an unalloyed evil.

But politicians – especially the more populist variety – prefer to pander to an electorate which has been fed a diet of fear of cultural and racial pollution. They offer short-term solutions and headline-grabbing sound-bites while failing to acknowledge the causes or offer long-term resolutions.

The fact is that immigrants are being driven northwards by basic survival instincts. If given the choice, few people would choose the maybes of immigration over the safe certainties of family, financial security and their own familiar culture. Millions of Palestinians and Syrians have lived for decades in overcrowded refugee camps because they nurture the dream of returning “home.”

Unfortunately, the home grown safety nets are being destroyed in increasing numbers by war, famine, and climate change

There are currently famines in Afghanistan, Haiti, Nigeria, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Madagascar and throughout the Sahel Region to name but a few. There are wars in the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia and South America. Gang Warfare in Central America has displaced 600,000 people.

There are 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh; six million Syrians in refugee camps in five countries and 2.7 million Afghans who have fled the Taliban. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported recently that there are 108.4 million displaced people in the world—the largest at any time in history.

Climate change is causing the world’s deserts to grow, displacing even more people. Scientists reckon that by 2050, 25 percent of the world will be desert. The Sahara is expanding by 30 square miles a decade. Even faster-growing is the Gobi Desert in Mongolia and Northwest China. 2023 is the hottest year on record with temperatures reaching 58 centigrade in the Sahara, 50 in India and 48 in Kuwait.

If people in the safe, comfortable developed world want to stop the immigrant flow than they must encourage the conditions that allow immigrants/refugees to stay at home. Security must be enhanced. Aid increased. Investment expanded. Helping the developing world to develop is no longer a philanthropic exercise. It is a political and economic necessity.

The immigration debate is further complicated by the demographic time bomb. Birth rates in the developed world are falling or stagnating and dramatically rising in the developing world. In virtually every developed world country women are giving birth to substantially less than two children each. In China, the birth rate is only 1.28 children per woman.

This means that the developed world’s ageing population with its complex welfare systems will become dependent on a shrinking work base to support it. Also that the GDP growth which maintains high standards of living will stagnate or reverse. It is no surprise that the developed country with one of the highest immigration levels—Canada—also has one of the highest rates of GDP growth. Production requires people to produce.

While Western populations are shrinking those of the developing world are rapidly expanding due to improved health conditions and the tradition of large families. African women produce 4.4 children each.  In the Arab world the figure is 3.14 and in India and South America the birth rate hovers around the replacement level of 2 child births per woman.

The high birth rate coupled with wars, political insecurity, climate change and lack of aid and investment has created a huge pool of idle labour. Unemployment levels in Mozambique are 30 percent, the Congo 21.5 percent, Namibia 20.5 percent…. Young men and women need jobs and security and they are being driven northwards to Europe and America to find them.

As the refugees reach the borders of the developed world they are met with a wall of bureaucracy, border guards, and literal bricks and steel to “disincentivise” them from proceeding further and eventually turn back.

Bureaucracy is a major problem for these wannabe immigrants. In the case of the UK there is a clear lack of political will to streamline the application process for immigrants/asylum seekers/refugees/work permits even tourist visas. Since Brexit, the backlog of asylum applications has grown each year so that in December 2022, a record 161,000 were awaiting a life-changing decision. It is little wonder that an increasing number resort to people traffickers and flimsy boats.

The UK – and other governments – need to employ more people to process applications and streamline and simplify the process.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that adequately dealing with immigration is against the political interests of right-wing governments. Most of them were elected by voters fearful of a foreign wave washing away their national identity. Governments have exploited – and in some cases created – fear of immigrants to win and keep votes.

Solve the problem and they remove the need for their remaining in office. So they continue to stoke the fires and refuse to address either the cause or the effect.

But this will not stop the flow of people driven by a natural instinct for survival. They will continue to press against the dam of disincentives until….

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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  • Look closer at Canada’s rules based immigration policy and as this article Canada’s cynical immigration racket notes “Canada has actually been quite proactive at restricting most uncontrolled migration through its “bureaucratic wall”, while ensuring through a highly selective strategy that the majority of the newcomers who do arrive through controlled channels are, relatively speaking, well-off, well-educated and hailing from middle-class backgrounds”
    Immigration has become a contentious issue as Canada has experienced serious problems with unaffordable housing, growing homelessness, a healthcare system in crisis and deep poverty among its first nations population Premiers meet in Winnipeg to discuss affordability, housing and health care. It could cost Trudeau’s Liberal government the next election.
    If we look to sub-saharan Africa, like Canada these regions have vast land areas and abundant natural resources. Luanda in Angola is among the most expensive cities in the world to live in Living in the world’s most expensive city despite being surrounded by sprawling slums much like Cape Town or Johannesburg. Africa, South America and South Asia with an abundance of natural resources and young populations should be thriving. It is endemic corruption and political instability that keeps them in poverty.
    Immigration flows need to be managed to maintain social cohesion and that requires not only employing more people to process visa applications and streamline and simplify the process but building the accommodation and expanding the public services required to meet the needs of newly arrived immigrants until they are able to fully assimilate into their new surroundings.

  • @ Joe Bourke. Another valid and worthwhile point from Joe Bourke. However, I maintain that Canada’s immigration policies are far more open door then those of the US or UK. In fact, hi-tech immigrants who initially moved to Silicon Valley are now moving to Canada because they receive better treatment. https://biv.com/article/2023/06/angst-america-canada-launches-new-plan-poach-foreign-tech-workers
    All things are relative, especially when it comes to competition and the world job market.

  • Bit more on Canadian immigration v the US and UK. According to the stats I have uncovered 27.7 percent of the 2021 Canadian work force was immigrant labour. In the US and UK it was 18 percent. Furthermore, according to the Canadian Bureau of Immigration Statistics, in 2022 15.6 percent of Canadian immigrants were highly-skilled, 13.6 percent medium-skilled, 30.7 percent low-skilled and 40.6 percent were classified as without identifiable skills.
    Finally, the IRA in the US is creating a labour bottleneck. Factories are being built but the country is running out of people to build the facilities and work in them once they are built. For example, the Taiwan Semi-conductor Manufacturing Company has delayed until 2025 the opening of its $10 billion chip factory because they can’t find enough technicians to work in it. The latest figures showed US unemployment was 3.5 percent, down 2.7 percent in one month. I repeat: Production requires people.

  • Jenny Barnes 12th Aug '23 - 3:14pm

    “stop the boats” Set up an asylum assessment centre in France, with enough staff to make decisions in a few days. If a refugee applying there is eligible for asylum, they can travel to the UK on a normal ferry. If not, they’re not in the UK so not our problem.

  • @ Jenny Barnes. Congratulations. You have solved the short-term immigration problem. Now tackle the long-term issue: the conditions that are driving asylum seekers to risk their lives in the Med and the English Channel. Answers on a large postcard please. Or in the Lib Dem comment box.

  • Tom,

    I think the points based system pioneered by Canada and subsequently adopted by Australia and the UK is now more heavily weighted towards economic immigrants that have capital or skills in short supply.
    “Canada’s immigration system welcomes permanent residents through three main avenues: as economic immigrants bringing both capital and labour skills, as family members sponsored under the family reunification program, and as refugees who are accepted into the country on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
    The economic class accounts for the largest share of immigration to Canada, with about 6 in 10 immigrants selected for their positive impact on the economy. Most economic immigrants are highly skilled workers who apply from abroad, as well as highly skilled temporary workers and international students already living in Canada” Canada boasts more than 100 economic immigration pathways
    Interesting that Canada is able to attract tech workers from Silicon Valley, but perhaps not surprising giving San Francisco rents and US healthcare insurance. Canada’s focus on skilled migrants makes sense if aiming to improve productivity and GDP per capita, but even Canada’s high levels of immigration will do little to address the millions of refugees expected to be on the move over the coming decades as climate change impacts take hold. Perhaps, as you indicate, the focus needs to turn to more urgent and effective means of developing homegrown industries and International trade (Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.) to improve living standards in the regions that are exporting so many of their young people.

  • In the Accounting and Finance courses I teach at University there are a majority of Indian and Chinese students in the classroom paying very high tuition fees. Many want to find work here after graduating, particularly among the Indian students.
    If the report of high levels of unemployment among Chinese graduates are accurate then I expect more Chinese students (not just Hong Kong residents) will want to seek employment overseas Record numbers of Chinese graduates enter worst job market in decades.
    The students studying in UK universities are talented and well educated individuals that can contribute greatly to the UK economy and society. However, rapid increases in the population through net migration will require concurrent public investment in housing and public services including the NHS, schools and local authorities to prevent societal tensions arising through yet more strains in finding affordable accommodation and access to healthcare, education and local services. Ultimately, educated and skilled migrants and those that acquire skills working in the private and public sectors will contribute more in taxes than they require from public services, but there is a lead-in time for assimilation that needs to be funded initially.

  • Peter Martin 12th Aug '23 - 8:01pm

    ” Ultimately, educated and skilled migrants and those that acquire skills working in the private and public sectors will contribute more in taxes than they require from public services”

    A very right wing and conservative view!

    This is essentially saying that a worker’s value to the country can be measured by their their net monetary contribution to the Treasury rather than by the real value of the work performed. It is saying that a highly paid banker is making a more of a contribution than a lowly paid junior doctor.

    Or even that the nurse who helped saved Mr Johnson’s life when he was sick with Covid was making less of a contribution to society than he was himself!

  • Immigration and its cost to society was one of the key arguments put forward by Conservatives and some trade unionists both before and during the Brexit campaign and since. The arguments being that immigrants were a drain on public services and/or were taking the jobs or lowering the wages of Brits born here. Both arguments are completely erroneous as outlined in this LSE paper Immigration and the UK economy
    “…evidence suggests that neither immigration as a whole nor EU immigration has had significantly large negative effects on employment, wages and wage inequality for the UK-born population.
    • Immigrants do not take most new jobs. The immigrant share in new jobs is – and always has been – broadly the same as the share of immigrants in the working age population.
    • Areas of the UK with large increases in total or EU immigration have not experienced greater falls in either jobs or pay of UK-born workers. The big falls in wages observed after 2008 are more closely associated with the fallout from the global financial crisis than immigration.
    • There is little effect of immigration on inequality and the relative pay and job prospects of less skilled UK workers. Changes in wages and joblessness for less educated UK-born workers show little association with changes in immigration.
    • Immigrants pay more in taxes than they take out in welfare and use of public services. UK-born individuals, on average, take out more in welfare and benefits than they pay in taxes. So immigrants help to reduce the budget deficit.

  • Martin Gray 13th Aug '23 - 5:54am

    “There is little effect of immigration on inequality and the relative pay and job prospects of less skilled UK workers. Changes in wages and joblessness for less educated UK-born workers show little association with changes in immigration”
    Yep …. Nothing much changes for those at the bottom ..
    Poverty pay , zhc minimum wage jobs are the norm ..Those heavy industries are long gone – now it’s some faceless order picking warehouses on the outskirts of town – where if you don’t like it – we’ll get someone else in to do the job ..

  • Jenny Barnes 13th Aug '23 - 8:53am

    tom arms “Answers on a large postcard please.” I shall take this as an appeal to my obvious genius 🙂
    Immigration to the UK over the last year was around 60k, of which around 6k were refugees; more than 70% of those whose asylum application was processed were approved. So less than 2k in a year would be rejected.
    The 54k non refugee migrants are arriving to work or study, or as families of those coming to work or study, and that is presumably desirable.
    So, refugees. You mention, and I agree, Climate change, failed states due to civil wars and ill advised Western military interventions, and authoritarian governments.
    Mostly, the UK as a medium sized European power can do little to improve these things, but could at least stop making things worse.
    1. Take climate change seriously. (the recent award of N.Sea oil/gas licences was more political than serious, but the optics are awful). Build nuclear power stations. Tax aviation. Insulate buildings. Active travel & public transport. Cancel HS2, use the money to electrify the rest of the network.
    2. Increase foreign aid. Directed at helping poorer countries develop low carbon energy and providing education/ stability to reduce the risk of authoritarian politics.
    3. Stop carrying out misguided military interventions. Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya are cases in point. Luckily, we stayed out of Syria, and although the situation there is awful, Western military intervention might easily have made it worse. See Iraq.

  • Martin Gray 13th Aug '23 - 9:42am

    Jenny ..
    Net migration to the UK last year was 606k…

  • Helen Dudden 13th Aug '23 - 10:17am

    Can we house the world? The United Kingdom is only a very small island.

    At present I am trying to get input into the lack of housing in cat 2/3/ and soon to be 4.
    Some have commodes in their living rooms, others have to crawl up stairs. Can I remind you that over 30 disabled people perished in the fire at the Tower.

    Who ever is making an awful lot of money from this trade should be hunted down. Lord Carlisle was an important figure when many years ago trafficking of children was highlighted.

    I don’t want my homeland to be covered in housing. What a terrible thought.

    Many British subjects living on the streets, being hounded by debt agencies and utility bills beyond any reason. Why no comments on these, the voters.

    The problems are that life must be full of easy options. I know in Israel there has been for many years ways of providing water. Life is not easy.

    Instead of just handing over money there could be projects to improve areas of the world. I understand Albania is becoming a tourist area.

    As I wait for further sight options in London, I have to learn one very difficult lesson. When life throws you lemons, make lemonade. My Power Wheelchair is a friend not an enemy.

  • Jenny Barnes suggests opening a reception centre in France to deal with claimants there. I’d go further and say allow claimants to apply for asylum/refugee status in any British Embassy/Consulate/British Council office anywhere in the world. If people can claim closer to their countries of origin the need to make the dangerous Mediterranean/Aegean/Channel crossings will be removed. Why has this not been done already? Perhaps it is as Tom suggests, politicians are happier to use the refugees as a way of gaining support from some in the British electorate.

  • George Thomas 13th Aug '23 - 10:32am

    I don’t disagree that we need to make wider world safe but it is easier said than done. Past history (and scars) of colonisation will see attempts to run things rejected, propping up one government sees us accept their misuse of power (e.g. selling weapons to one increases asylum seekers from next door) and the Daily Mail will tell you that foreign aid doesn’t necessarily make it to where it is needed.

    Meanwhile the world becoming more dangerous is more likely to see “strong men” leaders win power and want to appear strong rather than accept working together. This will include pal’ing up to the wealthy, refusing proper investment into poorer areas and inevitable consequences of this.

    It would be naive to suggest all immigrants/asylum seekers are wonderful. They are people as complex and as varied as those already living here.

    Not everyone coming here has the right to be here. What happens to this group of people? How easy is it to transport them back?

    P.s. talking about inevitable consequences of pal’ing up to the wealthy and refusing investment into poorer areas – this also describes attitude of many UK power holders and source of much of the anti-immigration feelings here.

  • Jenny Barnes 13th Aug '23 - 10:33am

    “Net migration to the UK last year was 606k” so it was. I blame decimal points

  • Peter Martin 13th Aug '23 - 10:33am

    “So immigrants help to reduce the budget deficit.” ? ? ?

    Immigrants can often make a positive contribution but let’s be realistic in our arguments. The government’s budget deficit is equal, to the penny, of what everyone else wants to save. This includes our overseas trading partners who chose to save by selling us more than they buy in return.

    So the above statement then must mean that immigrants encourage us all, in the UK, to save more and also encourage our overseas partners to run bigger surpluses.

    Does this really make any sense?

  • 2023 is the hottest year on record…

    This year is not yet two-thirds complete; average global temperature would need to rise markedly in the remaining months to set a new annual record. It’s been on a declining trend since 2016 (El Niño coinciding with peak of Solar Cycle 24)…

    Climate at a Glance: Global Land and Ocean:

    …with temperatures reaching 58 centigrade in the Sahara, 50 in India and 48 in Kuwait.

    The more measurements that are made, in more locations and over a longer time period, the more records will be broken both high and low. Trends in new record frequency will lag behind any change in the mean. That’s just how longitudinal statistics work. India’s claimed record high is 51˚C set in 2016 (topping the previous record of 50.6˚C set in 1956), and Kuwait’s 53.9˚C, also set in 2016.

    Speculation: Average global temperature may rise over the next few years as we pass the peak of Solar Cycle 25, before the recent declining trend is resumed as we approach the impending Grand Solar Minimum. SC25 is another weak cycle resulting in meridional jet streams in both hemispheres (wavy rather than smooth like a halo). Hence the swings between ‘blocks’ of unseasonably warm or cold weather depending on which side of the ‘wave’ is overhead. SC26 is predicted to be much weaker…

    ‘Predicted Sunspot Number And Radio Flux’:

  • Wow!! What a great and worthwhile online debate, full of good ideas, corrections, observations and clarifications. If only the national debate was this good.

  • Immigration is an important electoral issue and Liberal Democrats need to be clear where the party stands on the issues.
    As regards the economics that is pretty clear. Immigration aids economic growth. Growth is how standards of living improve and how structural budget deficits are reduced The Economics of Migration
    “Economists broadly agree: the political backlash against immigration in many countries is not economically rational. The evidence strongly supports immigration as, overall, a clear benefit to destination countries.
    The essence of the economic case for migration is very simple: it is the same as the case for markets in general. If people make decisions on the basis of their own economic self-interest, this will maximize efficiency, overall output, and, at least on some measures, welfare. This applies to where people live and work just as much, if not more, than it applies to buying and selling goods and services. Of course markets fail here, as elsewhere, and “more market” is not always better. But the view that, as a general proposition, markets are good at allocating resources—including human resources—is widely shared among economists”.

  • Martin Gray 13th Aug '23 - 3:03pm

    ” The evidence strongly supports immigration as, overall, a clear benefit to destination countries”
    Plenty of UK workers who don’t feel that benefit being in a destination country…
    A middle aged ex steel worker living in a council flat must be wondering what exactly are these benefits while doing a triple shift at a warehouse on the edge of town zhc mw ….That’s the reality in many post industrial towns …

  • Martin,
    from the paper “In the UK, we had a large increase in migration when eight central and Eastern European countries, all with incomes much lower than the UK, joined the European Union (EU) in 2004. As a result, the number of immigrants from elsewhere in the EU working in the UK has more than tripled to about 2.4 million, or about 7% of the workforce. But to the considerable surprise of many economists, including me, there is now a clear consensus that even in the short-term this increase does not appear to have had a negative impact on the employment outcomes of UK natives. Indeed, despite recent years seeing the highest levels of immigration in recorded British history, the employment rate is at its highest level since records began. Higher immigration has been accompanied by an expansion of jobs for native workers.
    The logical corollary is that, if you’re worried about the jobs and incomes of low-skilled workers, restricting immigration isn’t the place to start. In 1965, the United States abruptly ended the “bracero” program, which allowed Mexican workers to come into the country for seasonal agricultural work; the rationale was that cutting off access to cheap foreign workers would improve employment prospects and push up wages for Americans. But that didn’t happen—instead farmers simply reduced the number of workers they employed by switching crops or investing in new, more expensive technology”.
    It is not immigration that is keeping wages stagnant and driving inequality. It is a flawed economic and tax system that allows much of the value produced by workers to be extracted by a rapacious financial sector. That can be addressed if we look in the right places.

  • Martin Gray 13th Aug '23 - 3:39pm

    There’s been no perceivable benefit for those at the bottom. ..Zhc agency mw work has become the norm for them .

  • Peter Hirst 13th Aug '23 - 4:10pm

    Thanks Tom for a comprehensive account of migration issues. If ever an area requires a coordinated approach migration is it. The UN should take a much more active role and reform of its processes is well overdue. Humanitarian considerations need to be given a much greater role in deciding how it will be tackled. We also need to reduce our global population to a more sustainable level though this will take time.

  • Thank you Peter. I agree with your thinking behind your comment about the UN. The migration problem is an international problem which requires international cooperation. The UN — with all its failings– is the only international organisation available, although the G20 could take the lead in chivvying the UN along.

  • Chris Platts 14th Aug '23 - 10:28am

    Certainly agree with the fact that immigration has positive benefits to host countries. I would also agree with the idea of a reception centre in Calais is a positive option as well as using embassies and consulates in countries where potential refugees can apply for asylum. This would clearly undermine the smugglers and mean migrants would be able to travel freely without hindrance or fear.
    Also improve financial aid to poorer countries is important.

  • Climate change is causing the world’s deserts to grow, displacing even more people. Scientists reckon that by 2050, 25 percent of the world will be desert.

    The total land area is 29% of the world’s surface, so assuming they actually mean 25% of the world land area then deserts would shrink…

    ‘What Percentage of the Earth’s Land Surface is Desert?’ [June 2010]:

    Deserts actually make up 33%, or 1/3rd of the land’s surface area. That might sound like a surprisingly large amount, but that’s based on the official definition of a desert.

    ‘What is a desert?’:

    Approximately one-third of the Earth’s land surface is desert,….

    The Sahara is expanding by 30 square miles a decade.

    That would be just .0008% of the Sahara’s 3,600,000 square miles — in 10 years. In general, the world, including some parts of deserts, is becoming ‘greener’…

    ‘Deserts ‘greening’ from rising carbon dioxide: Green foliage boosted across the world’s arid regions’:

    In findings based on satellite observations, CSIRO, in collaboration with the Australian National University (ANU), found that this CO2 fertilisation correlated with an 11 per cent increase in foliage cover from 1982-2010 across parts of the arid areas studied in Australia, North America, the Middle East and Africa,..

  • CO2 is plant food. Higher atmospheric levels of CO2 make it easier for developing countries to grow food and plants are more disease and drought resistant…

    ‘Carbon Dioxide Fertilization Greening Earth, Study Finds’ [April 2016]:

    From a quarter to half of Earth’s vegetated lands has shown significant greening over the last 35 years largely due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide,…

    The greening represents an increase in leaves on plants and trees equivalent in area to two times the continental United States.

    Here’s a photo showing how plants thrive with more CO2…


    Effect of 400 (left), 1200 (center), and 3000 (right) μmol·mol−1 [parts per million] CO2 on growth of Scutellaria barbata at 49 d after planting.

    Even faster-growing is the Gobi Desert in Mongolia and Northwest China.

    The Gobi desert has long been expanding due to overgrazing and soil erosion. The Chinese have been working to prevent further encroachment by planting trees to stabilise the soil and act as a wind break — the Three-North Shelterbelt Forest Program (TNSFP) or Great Green Wall of China.

  • Ultimately for all the warm words and good intentions, there has to be a logical limit on how many people can come to and live in the United Kingdom. If you had the ability to apply in Calais or the Country of Origin, 2 things would need to happen to make the policy practical and electorally viable.
    1. An automatic bar on anybody arriving in a small boat claiming asylum with a guarantee that they will be detained and removed, otherwise there is no point in having a Calais Centre to apply for asylum, as if you think you will be refused you will just get on a small boat.
    2. A quota on how many people we can take from each county and as a whole. I would imagine for example that there are tens if not hundreds of millions of people in African and Asia who could claim asylum under the current rules, the reality is that we cannot house them even if we wanted to.

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