Immigration And The Global Recession: Debate Heating Up In Australia And The UK

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor

Migrants in the French town of Calais, hoping to seek asylum in the UK - Photo: The Times

Migrants in the French town of Calais, hoping to seek asylum in the UK. (Photo: The Times)

With an historic recession casting its shadow on economic prospects around the world, the U.S. is not the only country where the immigration debate has become heated these days.

Australia –a traditionally immigrant-friendly country– announced this week it will reduce its intake of immigrant workers for the first time in a decade.

The argument that pits immigrants against rising unemployment is also winning support in the U.K., where an opposition spokesman called for following the Australian example in setting limits to immigration as a response to the crisis.

“We don’t want people coming in who are going to compete with Australians for limited jobs,” Australian Immigration Minister Chris Evans said Monday, when he announced a 14% cut in the number of immigrants to be allowed in this fiscal year, according to Reuters.

Australia is a nation of immigrants and has been enjoying a boom in new arrivals for the past decade to help meet labour shortages as a China-fuelled mining boom drove unemployment rates to 30-year lows.

But six of Australia’s major trading partners are now in recession and economic growth has stalled. The country moved a step closer to recession this month with the first contraction in eight years and the economy shrinking by 0.5 per cent.

[ Reuters ]

The government expects the joblessness rate to go from 4.8% last month to 7% by mid-2010.

The decision “won support from unions and parts of industry but was criticised for jeopardising (sic) growth and coming too late to save local jobs,” The Sydney Morning Herald reported the next day. The cuts only affected skilled migrants, while family reunification and humanitarian immigration flows were left untouched.

In the U.K., the debate seemed to take a more familiar hue to those accustomed to the U.S. immigration wars. Conservative Party MP Damian Green said Wednesday that immigration should be limited because one in seven pupils in British primary schools does not speak English as a first language, The Morning Herald reported.

“These shocking figures illustrate how difficult life is for many teachers because of the government’s long-term failure to control immigration,” Green told the Daily Mail.

They show why we badly need an annual limit on immigration. Australia has a limit which it has just reduced because of the recession – Britain should be able to do the same thing.

The number of pupils with English as a second language makes life difficult for teachers, parents and pupils … this is also a huge pressure on local authorities trying to cope with uncontrolled immigration.

Green’s comments came after new statistics showed unemployment in the U.K. had risen above two million people for the first time since 1997.

Competition for jobs is expected to intensify –there’s already an average of ten applicants for every vacancy in some areas– and British-born workers are starting to look for low-status jobs they formerly shunned, according to The Telegraph.

Yet anti-immigrant tension may arise since, according to a report released this week, “eastern European workers are preferred because they are often better workers, more punctual and more reliable.”

The British are also taking border protection measures against illegal immigration. On Wednesday, the British and French governments announced they will build a detention center in the French town of Calais, by the English Channel, to hold migrants who gather there to try to enter Britain in order to seek asylum. Many of them are from Afghanistan and Iraq, The Times said.

The British government is also about to launch a “migrant tax,” charging £50 to foreign workers and students from outside the European Union –“from Australian bar staff to Rhodes scholars and Premiership footballers,” The Telegraph said– when they arrive in Britain.

The funds collected this way will be earmarked for local governments to help them “cope with the impact of mass immigration on (public) services,” the newspaper said.

Anti-immigration sentiment seems to be building across the richest nations on Earth. According to a Financial Times/Harris poll published Monday, “most people in major European countries and the United States believe unemployed immigrants should be asked to leave,” the International Herald Tribune reported.

…more than three-quarters of Italians and Britons and a majority in France, Germany, Spain and the United States would support their governments asking immigrants to leave.

The results of the poll suggest rising unemployment could push the issue of immigration up the political agenda in Europe and may boost support for far-right parties.

AboutDiego Graglia
Diego Graglia is a bilingual multimedia journalist who has worked at major media outlets in the U.S. and Latin America. He is currently the editor-in-chief at Expansion, Meixco’s leading business magazine.