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Mythbuster: Immigration – the real story

Isabelle Koksal counters the right wing myths with some facts and figures
December 2012

MYTH: The flood of immigrants is unsustainable

The movement of migrants is not just one way. As people arrive, others are leaving. This gives us net migration figures which for most years since 1840 have actually been negative. Geographer Danny Dorling notes that before the economic crash, the number of migrants coming to Britain was roughly balanced with the number leaving. In total, ‘there are 10-14 million people who live here that were not born here – and there are 10-14 million people born here who no longer live here’. So not really a flood at all.

It is also worth viewing Britain’s migration figures in a global context. This shows that our experience of international migration is not at all remarkable, growing in line with world migration. Migrants make up 9 per cent of the population, which is the average for Europe. Britain has a smaller proportion of migrants and lower rates of net immigration than the US, Canada, Australia and several large European countries.

The number of asylum seekers that Britain receives is again average for Europe, ranking 14th out of 27 when looking at asylum seekers per head of population. The UK receives fewer asylum applications than France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Belgium. As of January 2012, the UN estimated that the number of refugees, pending asylum cases and stateless persons made up just 0.33 per cent of the population. In fact, it is the so-called developing world that receives the majority of refugees, with 80 per cent being hosted there.

The past decade has seen higher net numbers of migrants. However, rather than being ‘unsustainable’, this migration is actually vital for the functioning of our society. Danny Dorling argues that the real problem is actually too little immigration. With a rising elderly population and decreasing fertility rates, we will depend even more than we already do on immigration to provide tax revenues and services.

MYTH: Britain is a soft touch

Successive governments have been making the asylum process increasingly tough for asylum seekers despite their duty under the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees to provide protection to those fleeing persecution. The system is particularly hostile to women as UK Border Agency officials often lack an understanding of gender-based persecution.

A recent report by Oxfam stated that all aspects of the asylum system are flawed and that the entire process should be urgently reviewed. The fast-track system does not give the time needed for asylum seekers to make their case; this and many other issues with the asylum determination process means that often people are wrongly denied asylum. With devastating cuts to legal aid, this situation will only get worse as asylum seekers cannot access the legal advice and support that they need.

When an asylum seeker reaches the UK they are photographed and have their fingerprints taken, they are security checked and issued with an ID card. They are then required to report at regular intervals to immigration reporting centres. They are issued with a letter that informs them that they can be detained at any point during the asylum process.

EU citizens have free movement across Europe under European law – although home secretary Theresa May has been drawing up plans to curb intra-EU migration. But the rules governing the entry of non-EU immigrants are incredibly stringent, with a points-based system that requires people to show documents such as their bank statements and exam results.

It is during detention where, far from being a ‘soft touch’, the reality for immigrants and asylum seekers is often a hard fist. Medical Justice has documented hundreds of cases of abuse of detainees at the hands of security guards during detention and deportation. Each year, 1,000 children are detained with their parents.

MYTH: They come here for our generous welfare system

Research commissioned by the Home Office concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that asylum seekers had detailed knowledge about the UK benefits system. When someone is fleeing from persecution, they often do not know where their end destination will be; some may choose the UK because they have friends and family here.

Asylum seekers anyway do not have access to the mainstream benefit system. Rather, they have a parallel system of welfare support that provides them with £36.62 a week, 52 per cent of Jobseeker’s Allowance. Surviving on £5.23 a day puts asylum seekers well below the UK poverty line. Those who are refused asylum but are too scared to return home find themselves destitute as they cannot access any benefits. Oxfam estimates that there are hundreds of thousands of destitute asylum seekers in the UK.

Asylum seekers do not have access to social or council housing. They are allocated housing on a ‘no choice’ basis in ‘hard to let’ properties. This housing is often of very poor quality. This is likely to get even worse with the privatisation of asylum housing through G4S, Serco and Reliance – all of whom have poor records in managing detention centres and transport and escort services. Indeed, there are already concerns that G4S will repeat its Olympics shambles in asylum seeker housing, leading top officials in the Home Office to monitor the situation closely.

Migrants most often come here to work and they do just that. Many have high skill levels but often find themselves in jobs that do not utilise these skills and are poorly paid. National insurance data shows that foreign nationals are less than half as likely to claim unemployment benefits as UK citizens. Access to benefits for migrants is complex, and as with access to welfare for asylum seekers has become increasingly limited since the mid-1990s.

Research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission dispels the myth that immigrants jump the social housing waiting list. This found that 60 per cent were privately renting, 18 per cent were owner occupiers, and only 11 per cent were allocated social housing. The research found no evidence of abuse of the system nor of ‘queue jumping’.

MYTH: They take our jobs

Asylum seekers are not allowed to work, despite often being highly skilled and keen to use these skills. Once their claim has been decided they may work if they have been given refugee status. However, they face many barriers to entering employment. The government has cut the Refugee Integration and Employment Service, which provided them with support in finding a job. Refugees may also struggle to work in their chosen profession as their qualifications may not be transferable or they may face discrimination by employers.

Migrants generally travel to where there are jobs available, often filling vacancies where there are skill shortages. The UK Border Agency’s points-based system for non-EU immigrants means that they are only permitted to take jobs where there are recognised skill shortages and if they can prove before entering that they have the relevant qualifications. Numerous statistical studies have shown that there is no link between EU immigration and unemployment levels.

MYTH: They are draining public services

It is our duty, not a drain, to protect asylum seekers. As discussed above, the welfare provision that we do provide is woefully inadequate. A number of other European countries provide more generous support than the UK.

The minimal provision the state provides for asylum seekers and refugees is now being decimated by government cuts with devastating consequences. There have been massive cuts to support services for asylum seekers and refugees and cuts to the Home Office housing budget for asylum seekers. The cuts to legal aid will affect asylum seekers’ ability to access justice in a system already stacked against them. Asylum seekers and refugees are being used as an easy target by the government. The Home Office has acknowledged this itself, stating: ‘Because the UKBA is not facing uniform cuts, some areas – including asylum – will be required to bear a greater proportion of the cuts.’

Besides, far from ‘draining’ public services, migrants (including refugees) actually contribute significantly to their funding through their tax and national insurance contributions. They make a net contribution to the UK economy of £3 billion. Because they are often young, healthy, and skilled, their use of public services is actually very limited. Migrants also help deliver many of our public services, working in the National Health Service, education and social care. It is a fact that the NHS could not function without migrant workers.

The myth of immigrants’ dependence has obscured the reality of our own dependence on them.


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Lesley Hedges 17 December 2012, 16.58

A large proportion of migrants come here from countries that were former British colonies. The UK’s high position on the list of richer countries of the world is due to their work and the resources we took. It’s only fair that they should come here and share that wealth, which the UK still has in spite of the recession.

maxine reed 18 December 2012, 00.52

Figures represent lack of basic world wage being globally agreed to provide human needs for all families as in parity across world. Its symptoms of high decades of unemployment which are world planned abusive global fiscal management. Used as tool to recruit for wars of theft aim is also to promote gain via inculcating addictions in young before aware of dire personalconsequences – sexually, filially, fiscally even health-wise.
Spritually bankrupt – often with no work these young are drawn to further emotional damage of killing for money supporting vile miltary complex in an illegal dominance war – over land & resouces that are paid on profits from drug & sex sales – sadly using young as slaves wracking profit to pay for mercenery armies -who layer in the tension, fear & mayhem ready to cause new ‘reason’ for wars.
Also the moral decay – first enhanced by alcohol & gambling is made dead easy for idle hands – developed further by destroying loving spiritual family lives losing vital cohesion – as bonding for ‘homelife’ so further harmed yet again – seen in all major global conflicts made by greed & selfishness – cycle goes on anon – seen past centuries.
Cut it now in world with ‘global general strike’ for £350 pro-rata to every ‘housholder’ for guarenteed pay funds with government cover for security of mortgage – money centralbanks supplied bottom up to individual accounts of one housholder running homes caring for old young and frail – but lovingly caring even supply order for basic needs.
this is ‘real’ life – why not – go for it everyone together!!!!!

arrychad 4 January 2013, 01.20

Asylum seekers are supposed to claim asylum in the first safe country,so why do so many carry on to blighty… as for the poor living means,a good majority will find work in the black market [real world not socialist fantasy] and they get all their bills paid and clothing allowances,top up on phones,free health care, they are far better off than an unemployed single native who as to spend hours in job clubs and job searches for 71 quid a week..try living on that

Tomassi 21 January 2013, 16.14

The problem isn’t asylum seekers its to do with Eastern Europeans. The article suggests it is only asylum seekers who have immigrated here, when in reality hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants are here as a result of the EU. Its not asylum seekers who are draining our system its legal immigrants.

This paints a better picture of England

Legal Wrangle 24 March 2013, 23.18

This piece seems to assume that all immigrants come here through the correct means, when we all know that not all do. It strikes me as a naive view.

Claire 25 March 2013, 13.45

arrychad says:

“Asylum seekers are supposed to claim asylum in the first safe country,so why do so many carry on to blighty… ”

Did you read the article? If you’ve paid someone to take you to a safe country then that’s where you’ll end up. And indeed MOST refugees do end up in the next door country where they’ll be safe.

“a good majority will find work in the black market”

Evidence for this?

“they get all their bills paid and clothing allowances,top up on phones,free health care,”
As does anyone on benefits. Not sure about the phone bit though – since when do phone bills get paid by the dole?

“they are far better off than an unemployed single native”
But only if they do black market work as you’ve suggested – something which anyone on the dole could do if they were inclined. Or are you suggesting that white Britons never work cash in hand whilst claiming dole?

Verbal Terrorists 25 March 2013, 13.53

Excellent article RedPepper, as usual. It’s scarily similar to the points we raise in our song “Build Bridges Not Borders”, in fact the opening line says:

“I’m about to bust up some myths about asylum with rhymes on the beat”

Anyone who liked this article will surely enjoy the song:



Barry Scoot 27 March 2013, 15.42

I really want to forward this onto a whole variety of EDL / BNP supporting morons that I know personally, but is there any chance of providing reference links to back up the facts on here?

supermink 14 April 2013, 09.47

I totally agree with defending asylum seekers and countering the ill informed nonsense the likes of the Daily Mail etc spout.

..but red pepper needs to respond to the comments left by the likes of Tomassi above.

The idea that increasing the population year on year to pay for the burden of pensions doesnt seem to add up and is wishful thinking short term-ism.

The free movement of labour is part of the neo liberal
agenda so we need to take that into consideration when responding to large numbers of workers that are moving from the east European countries to do in a lot of cases low paid work.

Its true that every citizen in the EU is allowed to move to any other EU country to look for work but in the case of lower class UK citizens they are always at disadvantage because they speak only English.

At a time when council services are being cut and the building of social housing practically non existent then it creates tension and competition for housing and jobs in the most unequal country in the western world.

Some established small business are being under cut and have folded , also self employed building workers have had to drop their prices to compete.I have been on strike recently and no matter how many times I gently persuaded my east european colleagues they crossed the picket line.These sort of issues give the likes of ukip etc support.

Of course there needs to be a living wage as an answer to some of the issues above but that is not likely and what we are dealing with is multiculturalism in a class society and that creates divisions and I can see many people I work with turning to the right for answers.

Halima Brewer 13 May 2013, 14.23

I would like to urgently know more about the present drive inspired by UKIP to leave Europe. I have a feeling that that issue is overflowing with myths as well, – about how much it costs us, about Europeans swarming into Britain – the lot.
thanks for this.btw, it is very good. I work with immigrants so I know most of it.

Comments are now closed on this article.

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