Migration: Benefit or burden?
by Samantha Meynell
With Brexit shining a light on the supposed ‘migrant crisis’, it seems things are getting out of hand. Ever since the referendum on June 23rd, 2016, there has been a significant rise in racial abuse towards migrants in the UK. During this period, there was a reported 57% increase in xenophobia and racial abuse compared to the same period in the previous year. Many ‘Brexiteers’ and anti-immigration supporters alike claim that migrants are a ‘burden’ to the UK economy (Goodwin & Milazzo 2017: 458). But how true is this? The topic of migration seems to be an unnecessarily controversial one.
It’s a common trend that people who voted to leave the EU in the referendum two years ago hold the controversial belief that migrants are a drain on the UK’s public services, such as the NHS and child education. This is a belief reportedly shared by former Prime Minister, David Cameron. Is the UK’s immigration policy ‘too lax’, or is it people’s intolerance that makes them hostile towards migrants? According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), around 69% of EU migrants come to the UK for work. Therefore, it would seem that the vast majority of EU migrants are actually contributing to the economy. Too many British nationals strongly believe in the myth that migrants come to this country to reap benefits and give nothing in return, but, as the statistics show, this has a great factual inaccuracy.
In 2004, the ‘A8’ countries, namely Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia, joined the EU. In the UK today, Polish migrants are the biggest non-UK born population, with around 831,000 residing in the UK in 2015. Despite this large figure, it has had a positive outcome. Contrary to what anti-immigration supporters may think, the A8 migrants have contributed nearly £5billion more to the UK’s economy than they reaped in public services. This demonstrates that these migrants are massively benefitting the UK economy, which makes me question why people refuse to acknowledge this and instead persist holding a negative judgement of migrants.
One significant explanation as to why many UK nationals hold these views falls into the hands of the media. Journalism is more accessible than ever now thanks to online articles and social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. Nowadays, people are so exposed to what the media are publishing that it is so easy for journalists to influence and taint readers’ views on things, particularly migration. A process by which the media may do this is racialisation. Racialisation can be defined as:
“The process of ascribing ethnic or racial identities to a relationship, social practice, or group that did not identify itself as such.”
As Fox et al point out, the media “define the normative limits of what is acceptable in society” (2012, 685). In essence, if newspapers continuously force the idea that migrants are a burden down the public’s throats, there is a danger that people will start to believe it. In 2007, two new countries, aka the ‘A2’ countries, joined the EU. These were Romania and Bulgaria. However, emotive newspaper headlines such as “One million flood in” and “Get ready for the Romanian invasion” taken from The Sun (2005) and The Daily Express (2006) respectively i
In no way help UK nationals to adopt an open mindset to welcome these migrants. The metaphors of drastic imagery simply plant the seed of fear in the minds of the people who read these pieces of journalism. From the offset, migrants are deemed to be nothing but a burden, and are racialised to be populations who come to the UK merely to claim benefits for nothing.
Racialisation is a process which has happened quite forcefully with Romanian migrants, as Fox et al (2012) note. Despite being white, they are deemed as ‘others’ on the basis that they do not fit into the desirable ‘white’ category. Romanian migrants are heavily associated with Roma, Travellers and Gypsies, with a history of major criminal offences (Fox et al 2012, 688). As a result of this racialisation, Romanian migrants are ‘darkened’. Therefore, Romanian migrants who genuinely come to UK for work-related purposes are often stereotyped as Roma or Gypsies making anti-immigration supporters worry that these migrants will ‘sponge’ off the UK’s public resources. This is yet another misconception, fuelled by ring-wing tabloid anti-immigration propaganda. The European Commission has pointed out that “[Migrants] help the host country’s economy to function better because they help to tackle skills shortages and labour market bottlenecks.”, once again, demonstrating that migrants are extremely beneficial to the UK’s economy.
Borders are nothing but a geographical construct. Migrants are a benefit, not a burden. If someone has the skills required to fulfil a job role in another country, they should not be prohibited from doing so, and should be treated with respect – it’s as simple as that.
Fox, J.E., Moroşanu, L. & Szilassy, E. 2012. “The Racialization of the New European Migration to the UK”. Sociology, 46:4, 680-695
Goodwin, M. & Milazzo, C. 2017. “Taking back control? Investigating the role of immigration in the 2016 vote for Brexit”. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 19:3, 450-464