Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 94 - 99)



  Q94  Chairman: Good morning, gentlemen, and thank you very much indeed for joining us for this evidence session on the Committee's inquiry into immigration control. We are very grateful to you for your time. I wonder if each of you could introduce yourself for the record, please.

  Professor Harris: Nigel Harris, Professor Emeritus of University College London and Chairman of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce Migration Commission.

  Dr Koser: I am Khalid Koser, Lecturer in Human Geography at University College London and currently on secondment with the Global Commission on International Migration.

  Q95  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. This first session is very much trying to get a broad overview of the issues that lie behind migration policy. I wonder, Dr Koser, if we could start with you. The United Nations projections, if we have understood them right, say that in each of the next 45 years there will be about 2.2 million migrants a year moving around in the world economy, moving particularly to the more developed regions from the less developed ones. Is that something which is to all intents and purposes uninfluenceable by public policy?

  Dr Koser: I suppose the first thing to say is that we have to be very careful with data. The UN, as you point out, is probably the most accurate source we have for data but I think migration experts would agree that the data are rather inaccurate and difficult to be accurate about. So let's be careful with the data first and foremost. Yes, I think there is a feeling amongst many people that the root causes of migration are so powerful—it is about under-development, disparities in demographic processes, in development, and in democracy—that to an extent these root causes cannot be influenced, at least in the short term. I am not sure whether Nigel would agree but I think there is an extent to which immigration control is treating the symptom rather than the cause. That is certainly the feeling amongst certain colleagues at the UN. So yes, there is a feeling that the momentum is fairly unstoppable certainly in the short term.

  Q96  Chairman: Given the size of the world's population that figure of 2.2 million people looks small rather than large. Is it so small because developed countries have immigration policies that affect the flow to some extent? If there were unconstrained migration would it be much larger than that and if so how much? What is the suppressed demand? Do you have any sense of that?

  Dr Koser: That is a very difficult question to answer. There is research and I think fairly good research to suggest migration policies have a short-term influence. They can stop migration, particularly irregular migration, certainly in the short term, but in the medium to long term via agents and networks and smugglers and traffickers and various other intermediaries those controls can be overcome, so it is rather a race to keep up with controls which takes place to an extent.

  Q97  Chairman: Within those overall figures are there any significant regional patterns or trends of which we ought to be aware? Obviously we are looking at the application particularly of British immigration policy and visa control, which of course does vary significantly from region to region and country to country.

  Dr Koser: Let me say a couple of things. The data that I am aware of which comes from the United Nations Department on Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) suggest that there are about 200 million migrants in the world today, and that is a doubling of the world's population of migrants in about the last 25 years, so we have a very significant increase. All of the data that I am aware of suggest that increasing proportions of those migrants are now coming to the developed world, so it is not in the developing world. Having said that, we should be aware that this is not exclusively a south-north movement. There is a great deal of movement between poor countries of the south. So I do not think we should become too obsessed with the idea that people are moving from the south to the richer north because there is also a great deal of regional variation as well in migration.

  Q98  Chairman: Within that can you highlight any particular trends that are important? Are there well-established patterns from certain parts of the less developed world to certain parts of the more developed world or is it a fairly generalised trend? Are those changing over time?

  Dr Koser: Speaking about the British example, certainly in the past geographical patterns of migration have been determined by colonial links, so we have attracted migrants from the countries with which we have had a colonial past which speak the same language, which are aware of the British culture, and also where there are trade links, historical links and to an extent geographical links as well in that we tend to attract people who come from countries that are close by. There is an extent (although I think it is a small extent) to which those traditional geographical patterns of migration are changing in the UK because for example of the influence of smugglers and traffickers who seem to be bringing people into the UK and other European countries from countries of origin that are rather new. So I think there is a trend towards a new diversity of migrants coming to the UK from non-traditional sending countries.

  Q99  Chairman: Where would this be would you say? Just to pursue that, where would be the main generators of the non-traditional forms of migration?

  Dr Koser: Looking at the data for the last few years we have had increasing numbers of people, for example, from Somalia, from Sri Lanka, from Afghanistan, so generally from war and conflict affected areas.

  Professor Harris: I just wanted to add something which I am sure Dr Koser knows very well, better than that I do, about the emergence of Asia as a region of high growth. In one sense migration from regions of relatively low to relatively high growth so South East Asia is becoming very important. Historically there has been the movement of Indonesians to Malaysia. There are a million and a half Indonesians working in Malaysia. Then there are Filipinos to Taiwan and Filipinos to Japan, people into Korea, et cetera, et cetera, and then in Latin America, there are Colombians into Venezuela, Bolivians into Argentina, et cetera, so there is an enormous diversity of movement depending on where economic growth is taking place, to put it very crudely.

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