As the net immigration of EU citizens in the UK begins to slow following the divisive Brexit vote last year, we want to look again at the stories we’re being told. When we ask this question: why celebrate migrants? we are looking to whether it is right to celebrate the positive contributions of migrants to our lives. We are trying to separate truth from myths and misconceptions so that we can confidently tell the stories that will make a difference.
To begin answering this question, we’ll turn to some recent statistics.
The truth in numbers
In the year until March 2017, the net immigration of migrants fell by a quarter when compared to the previous year, according to the Office for National Statistics. As part of this, the number of EU citizens leaving the UK almost doubled to 44,000.
The role Brexit played in this statistically significant change was highlighted by the head of international migration statistics at the ONS, Nicola White:
“These results indicate that the EU referendum result may be influencing people’s decision to migrate into and out of the UK, particularly EU and EU8 citizens.”
Such indications are further supported by the myriad personal accounts published in the wake of Brexit by UK-based EU citizens. Common sentiments echo the simple statement made by Lukascz, a Polish man who has lived in the UK for most of his life, in this recent article from The Independent. “I don’t feel welcome here anymore”
The myths and misconceptions
The legitimisation of anti-migrant feeling in the wake of Brexit was condoned by the language used in sections of the UK press. As I pointed out in this article, the language used in the media has a profound effect on our perceptions and behaviours. So, when ‘illegal’ is the most common descriptor attached to a group of people, a sustained high level of hate crimes against that group can hardly be viewed as entirely unrelated.
Beyond the rhetoric, many of the arguments against migrants fall down in the face of statistical evidence. So, let’s dispel two of the most popular ones right now.
1) Benefit tourism
Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics at King’s College London, recently stated categorically that: “Benefit tourism is a myth” in The Independent. He backed this statement up with independent statistics from the HMRC. He also wrote a detailed rebuttal of this myth in The Guardian – read it here – and elsewhere has offered further statistical evidence to the positive contribution of migrants to the UK welfare system. The Economist also reported in 2014 that EU citizens are statistically less likely to claim benefits or live in social housing. So, that’s one myth down.
2) Migrants steal British people’s jobs
As seen in The Express newspaper, a myth popular in the tabloid press is that migrants come to the UK to take ‘British’ jobs and leaving us Britons unfairly unemployed. Again, Jonathan Portes puts forward a clear counter argument in this article from The Guardian. He informs us that employment is not a zero sum game and that the tabloids’ arguments dangerously over-simplify a complex system where jobs can create more jobs. Migrants are also statistically more willing to take work they are over-qualified for, suggesting a greater desire to find work than exhibited by the native population. Perhaps those continuing this myth are simply telling the wrong story.
So, why celebrate migrants?
Let’s keep this short and sweet:
1) Migrants enrich life in Britain
There is a richness brought by migrants to the benefit of us all in the UK. A diversity of cultures, mores and traditions has arrived alongside migrants over centuries and these have quietly enriched many aspects of our daily lives. From the food we eat to the arts and entertainment we enjoy, all the way through to the vital contributions made by migrants in developing new thought, research and innovation, migrants play a positive role in what makes us proud to be British. And that doesn’t even account for the role migrants play in your own life: as parents, friends, colleagues and so on. Some you may not even know as migrants; they are simply people you live and work alongside, indistinguishable from any other Brit.
Learning their stories would be the first positive step each of us could take towards a wider recognition of their value to British life.
2) Migrants contribute positively to the UK economy
Let’s end as we began with some statistics. Economic data shows that, from students and industry-specific workers to tax contributions, migrants have an undeniably positive effect on the UK economy. Here’s a report and here’s an article filled with statistics to back this perspective up.
So, what can each of us do to celebrate migrants?
Let’s start by telling the right stories. The first of these is your own: as a friend, a partner, a colleague or a migrant yourself. Share your story in person and right here, in this community of positive action for immigration.
Start right now. Share your story and reasons why we should celebrate migrants on social media.