Lib Dem MEP Phil Bennion has welcomed a report launched by a group of experts in Birmingham which challenges the idea that immigration from the new countries of the European Union over the past decade has been bad for the region.
The report, EU Accession: Taking stock and looking forward: the West Midlands experience includes a foreword from Dr Bennion and was released at the launch of Birmingham University's Institute of Superdiversity (IRIS) at Birmingham Council House today (Thursday June 13).
The document emerged from the proceedings of a conference on migration at Birmingham University which Dr Bennion chaired in March, looking at the experience of settlement by Poles and other Eastern European nationalities in social and economic terms.
In his foreword, Phil Bennion welcomed the stress on looking at the effects of migration at local level and 'de-nationalising the debate.'
He also highlights the finding that EU migrants actually pay more in taxes than they cost in benefits, and the importance of improved access to English lessons to minimise difficulties.
Phil Bennion MEP said:
"This excellent report takes forward the conclusions of the Migration Conference I chaired at Birmingham University in March and it is particularly appropriate that it was released today at the launch of the Insititute of Superdiversity.
"Superdiversity sums up the experience and overall benefit that the West Midlands has found by engaging and welcoming new EU nations. Politically, the most important finding is that migrants are paying more in tax than they draw down in services and benefits.
"In a period when we are still running a budget deficit of around 7% of GDP, our immigrant communities are providing the exchequer with a budget surplus. This contradicts the common perception promoted by some politicians and newspapers.
"This has polarised views unnecessarily and led to a debate based on supposition rather than fact. The danger here is that people look inwards rather than outwards, ignoring the positive benefits that immigration has brought in the past and may continue to bring.
"Immigration must continue to play an important part in the UK's economic and social future, but we can only secure the benefits of a liberal immigration policy if we make the effort to plan for its impact and consequences."
Full text of the Foreword to the report by Phil Bennion MEP:
I was very pleased to chair the Migration Conference at the University of Birmingham and I welcome the conclusions, recommendations and actions to be taken forward as outlined in this report.
There is no doubt that Europe is changing and the political debate in the UK has shifted back towards Britain's relationship with the European Union. Migrants are at the heart of this debate not only in the West Midlands but across the whole of the UK. However, this conference reiterated the significance of looking at migration at the local level and de-nationalising the debate.
Consequently the opportunity to chair an event involving experts in the field of migration as well as listen to experiences from delegates and organisations from throughout the region emphasised to me the importance of evidence based research when discussing the impact of migration on the economy, the public sector and community cohesion.
A number of points in this report are noticeable:
It is clear that EU migration has had a positive impact on the UK based on the perspective of employees. In addition, there is little or no evidence regarding a negative impact of migrant employment on UK workers.
Language is one of the greatest barriers to successful integration. Language lessons cost a lot less in other EU Member States than they do in the UK for migrants so we must provide more affordable language courses to allow for better social cohesion. We must also produce literature in different languages to help better explain how our schools and health service work.
Possibly the most important finding politically was that migrants pay more in tax than they draw down in services and benefits. In a period when we are still running a budget deficit of around 7% of GDP, our immigrant communities are providing the exchequer with a budget surplus. This contradicts the common perception promoted by some politicians and newspapers. This has polarised views unnecessarily and led to a debate based on supposition rather than fact.
The danger here is that people look inwards rather than outwards, ignoring the positive benefits that immigration has brought in the past and may continue to bring.
Immigration must continue to play an important part in the UK's economic and social future, but we can only secure the benefits of a liberal immigration policy if we make the effort to plan for its impact and consequences.
In the European Parliament we are building the "Youth on the Move" initiative, a package of EU funded programs and support to help young people study, learn, train and work around Europe. By building on the principle of free movement and common standards for education, UK students are allowed and encouraged to travel and work within Europe for some or all of their University education (often benefitting from lower student fees than charged in the UK, and benefitting from grants and other support through the Erasmus exchange program).
Increasingly UK employers are looking for multilingual, independent and experienced young people to work in their firms, particularly if they are dependent upon foreign investment and external trade. UK graduates who have studied, travelled and even worked abroad are seen favourably because of their extra language and interpersonal skills. If we do not harness these opportunities to further develop the potential of our young people, those companies will simply look elsewhere.
The counterweight to a liberal immigration policy must be an emphasis at home on employability. In that way our young people will feel more confident and less threatened by competition from immigrants, our employers will be furnished with the talents they need and the economy will have a better chance of a sustained recovery.
The report, EU Accession: Taking stock and looking forward: the West Midlands experience, emerged from work done around a conference which took place at University of Birmingham on 25 March 2013. Chaired by Phil Bennion MEP, the event was attended by 124 participants and draw on research conducted by the Migration Observatory at University of Oxford, researchers at University of Warwick, the Polish Expatriates Association, the Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRIS) at University of Birmingham, and the Migration in Rural Areas (MIRA) Project.
The Institute for Research into Superdiversity is a partnership project of Birmingham University and Birmingham City Council.