Immigration is a crucial policy area for the UK Government. It has implications for the economy, public services and community cohesion, and has always been part of our history as generations of immigration have brought benefits to our economy and culture.
Yet immigration has often been a very divisive issue, and public concern about it has increased. Recently, the polarising effect of the Brexit referendum debate has highlighted public anxieties on all sides of the argument. Instead, this should be an opportunity for setting the tone and shape of the debate.
Achieving greater consensus on immigration policy will require a transformation in the way it is conducted because in too many areas the current approach has served to undermine trust in the system.
This report starts from the premise that the UK immigration system has to command democratic support. We have not yet looked at specific policy options for EU migration as we expect to return to this issue when we scrutinise the Government’s forthcoming White Paper on immigration. Instead we have looked first at the principles behind the immigration system as a whole and at the wider issues that determine whether or not there is a consensus on immigration policy.
We have identified a series of areas where changes are needed to build confidence and heal divisions. We cannot stress enough the importance of action to prevent escalating division, polarisation, anger or misinformation on an issue like immigration. To fail to address this risks doing long term damage to the social fabric, economy and politics of the United Kingdom.
In this report, we set out five key areas, where we believe reforms are needed to build consent around a fair, principled and effective immigration policy in the UK:
a)There is a lack of trust in official data, targets and decision-making on immigration policy. We need open and honest debate informed by evidence, and a new transparent way of making and debating immigration policy.
b)Rules are complex and hard to understand, and there is widespread concern that they are not enforced or are unfair. Immigration policy needs to set out fair rules underpinned by clear principles (including on contributions and common humanitarian obligations), effective management and better enforcement and control.
c)Government should avoid binary approaches which treat all immigration as the same and allow the debate to be polarised. There should be clearly differentiated approaches for different types of immigration and these must be proactively communicated.
d)Much stronger coordination is needed between immigration policy and labour market policy to ensure that immigration works for the economic and social interests of the UK and its citizens.
e)Action is needed to address the impact of immigration at local and national level—including appropriate investment in housing and public services, and strong local integration plans. Integration is immensely important but is not embedded in immigration policy. Immigration policy should be underpinned by a strategy to help communities faced with rapid population change, and should be responsive to local and regional issues.
12 January 2018