|Andrew Green, Founder and President Alp Mehmet, Chairman|
MigrationWatch UK is a think-tank and campaign group which argues for lower immigration into the United Kingdom. The group believes that international migration places undue demand on limited resources and that the current level of immigration is not sustainable.
The group has been praised by supporters for what they see as improving the quality of debate around immigration. However, others have suggested that the group is anti-immigration and have criticised what they say are faults in the group's studies.
Lord Green of Deddington, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, is the founder and president of the group. Alp Mehmet, former ambassador to Iceland, is its current chairman. David Coleman, Professor of Demography at Oxford University, is an honorary consultant.
History and structure
MigrationWatch UK was founded in December 2001 by Sir Andrew Green. In an article in The Independent, Deborah Orr writes that the organisation came into being when, "after reading some of his anti-immigration letters in The Times", the then Sir Andrew approached David Coleman, Professor of Demography at Oxford University, and they subsequently set up MigrationWatch.
The group first came to public attention in 2002 when it claimed that immigration, including an estimate of illegal immigrants, was running at two million per decade "and probably more". This claim was challenged at the time by a number of public commentators, with an editorial in The Independent at the time criticising what it called "tendentious projections and the deliberate citing of the vast populations of countries such as India to frighten people and wreck any rational debate". Two years later, Philip Johnston in the Daily Telegraph would argue that Government Actuary's Department forecasts that the UK population would increase by six million people due to immigration over three decades "appear to confirm claims made by Migrationwatch two years ago, when the group first sprang to prominence". A later Telegraph editorial following the 2011 Census would call the group's initial claims "overly cautious".
The group quickly attracted the attention of Home Secretary David Blunkett, who in 2002 set up a unit intended to monitor and rebut the organisation and sought to control the timing of statistical releases to avoid pressure from it.
MigrationWatch's website contains a range of briefing papers to support the organisation's perspective on the statistical, legal, economic and historical aspects of migration, and on topics such as the European Union, housing, health and social cohesion, as they relate to immigration. It has also helped to contribute to briefings on immigration for third parties such as the BBC.
MigrationWatch has been frequently cited and seen its spokespeople featured in British newspapers such as the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, Daily Express and Daily Star. as well as British broadcast media such as BBC News and ITV News.
In October 2011, the group started a petition on the UK Parliament petitions website calling on the government to take "all necessary steps" to stop the UK's population exceeding 70 million. The petition reached over 100,000 signatures. In August 2019, the group started another petition on the site calling on Boris Johnson to rule out any prospect of granting an amnesty on illegal immigration. The petition reached over 35,000 signatures before closing early due to the general election.
MigrationWatch argues that the growth of the population of the United Kingdom through international migration is a key "factor driving problems and pressure on school places, the NHS, housing and transport infrastructure". The group in 2018 argued that migration was linked to 82% of population growth between 2001 and 2016, when combining both net migration and children born to immigrant parents. In the same year it predicted that the population of the United Kingdom would exceed 70 million by 2026.
A 2019 report by MigrationWatch condemned the Conservative government's approach to immigration, stating that its "flaccid proposals have no prospect of achieving a significant reduction in the level of net migration". It has called Britain's port security "resourced to fail" in stopping illegal immigration, and has opposed the idea of an amnesty for illegal immigrants in Britain, after it was postulated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The group criticised the same government for extending the period in which overseas students can stay in the UK from four months to two years, arguing that it would "likely lead to foreign graduates staying on to stack shelves". It has also been critical of proposals by Boris Johnson to scrap the £30,000 salary cap on migrants, warning that abolishing the cap could lead to further rises in migration.
MigrationWatch claims to support the principle of political asylum but argues that many asylum seekers do not have a genuine case for qualifying for refugee status and are instead using the asylum system to gain entry to the UK for economic reasons. The group has also been strongly critical of what it sees as the government's failure to remove many of those whose claims are rejected. In a briefing paper published in January 2009, the group's Honorary Legal Adviser Harry Mitchell, QC stated that while the group supported "asylum for genuine claimants", the "overwhelming majority of asylum seekers" were in fact economic migrants and did not have a "well-founded fear of persecution".
In July 2010, MigrationWatch highlighted what it saw as the potential consequences of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom's unanimous ruling in favour of two homosexual asylum seekers from Iran and Cameroon, allowing them to stay in the UK. The group argued that the decision would "increase by many thousands the numbers of persons who may be eligible for asylum", as well as "generate a large number of claims that will be difficult to determine", such as instances where people smugglers "tell their clients who come from countries where homosexual acts are illegal to claim that they are homosexual". It argued that assessing such claims "can often take many months during which applicants are supported by public funds".
In August 2016, in response to Home Office data showing that over a third of asylum applications were made by migrants who entered the UK illegally or overstayed their visas, MigrationWatch suggested that the data showed that "many of those claiming asylum were in fact economic migrants".
The group has defended the use of the term "illegal immigrant" to describe those who enter a country for the purpose of claiming asylum, against those who associate the term with criminality. The group argues that the term is appropriate, as those who come into a country without permission and outside the law are doing so illegally.
Economic impact of immigration
MigrationWatch has argued that, while limited skilled migration (in both directions) is a natural and beneficial feature of an open economy, very large scale immigration is of little benefit to the indigenous population. MigrationWatch has claimed that migration into the UK has and will tend to hold down the real wages of British citizens. In 2006 it expressed concern that immigration from Eastern Europe was depressing wages. In December 2008, a MigrationWatch report stated that while some immigration results in an increase in the number of people in employment, "it seems an inescapable conclusion that the sudden arrival of a very large number of very capable workers willing to work for low pay has had a negative impact on the employment of British-born workers at the bottom of the pay scale". Will Somerville and Madeleine Sumption of the Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute state in an Equality and Human Rights Commission report that: "Few serious international or UK economists would agree with this conclusion". Their report did, however, note that "the recent migration may have reduced wages slightly at the bottom end of the labour market, especially for certain groups of vulnerable workers".
MigrationWatch chairman Alp Mehmet has expressed the view that immigrant labour has benefited employers to the detriment of ordinary workers, as domestic labour has often been "prepared to work in all sorts of conditions for comparatively little money". The group has criticised sectors that lobby for a permissive immigration policy, accusing them of offering "low paying jobs with poor conditions and little flexibility for workers".
In 2014, the group published a report on population growth in London, in which it claimed that immigration trends had put "massive pressure on schools and hospitals and especially housing". It has expressed concerns about the effects of migration rates on the national housing market as a whole, pointing to the discrepancy between migration rates and the number of new houses being built to accommodate a growing population. The group has claimed that current migration rates require the construction of one new house every six minutes, and in 2017 claimed that the impact of immigration on future demand for homes in England had been "seriously understated" by the British government.
In 2016, MigrationWatch issued a paper estimating the fiscal impact of immigration for the year 2014/15, which found an overall fiscal cost from immigration with a positive contribution only from migrants of pre-2004 EU states. This was in line with a 2014 study from University College London.
Human rights legislation
MigrationWatch UK in 2003 advocated that the UK government should "'cut loose from the straitjacket' imposed by its obligations under various conventions that made it impossible to operate the system in the country's best interests". In 2007 it called for the British government to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and write its own Human Rights Act.
The group has been critical of large-scale migration from the European Union, having in 2013 predicted combined migration inflows from Romania and Bulgaria of approximately 50,000 per annum when free movement restrictions would be lifted the following year. The subsequent average inflow from the two countries was 52,000 per annum between 2014 and 2018.
In January 2016, the group published a report claiming that the UK leaving the European Union could result in a reduction of annual net migration from 180,000 to around 65,000, although added that such a number should not be taken as a “precise estimate” but was “intended to illustrate the scale of the potential reduction under the policy outlined”. MigrationWatch stated that they would not take a position on the UK's EU membership referendum held in June 2016. In 2017 the group backed the idea of visa-free travel between the UK and EU after Brexit, adding that EU citizens who would want to work in the UK should need a work permit.
Reaction to the group
Conservative politician Jonathan Aitken has credited MigrationWatch with improving the quality of the British debate on immigration. He argues that "Migrationwatch has changed the administrative practices of the civil service and the policies of the major political parties on asylum seekers, work permit criteria and numerical totals. It has introduced integrity and accuracy into the previously misleading government statistics on immigration. The level of understanding of the subject in all serious newspapers and broadcasting organizations has been improved. Britain may or may not have the right answers to immigration questions, but we certainly now have a far more informed debate on them".
Similarly, an article by Dean Godson of the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange published in The Times in June 2006 states: "The dramatic change in the terms of the immigration debate over recent months is largely down to the determination and courage of a single individual – Sir Andrew Green, the founder and chairman of MigrationWatch UK. Almost single-handedly, he has rescued the national discourse from the twin inanities of saloon-bar bigotry on the Right and politically correct McCarthyism on the Left".
Jay Rayner, writing in The Observer quotes one senior BBC News executive, who stated: "We probably were reluctant and slow to take him seriously to begin with. We probably didn't like what he had to say. But then we were also slow to pick up on immigration as a story, not least because we are a very middle-class organisation and the impact of mass immigration was being felt more in working-class communities. If he's proved himself, it's because he hasn't put a foot wrong on the information he's published".
Peter Oborne, writing as chief political commentator of the Daily Telegraph, has also praised MigrationWatch and the efforts of Lord Green. In 2014 Oborne called Green "one of the most morally courageous people in British public life", and has said that the "liberal media establishment" owe Green "a huge apology" for mocking his predictions about future immigration numbers.
Kathy Gyngell, co-editor of The Conservative Woman, has praised chairman Alp Mehmet for "speaking truth to power on behalf of the British people" on a "tricky, emotionally and politically charged subject".
While the group describes itself as independent and non-political, it has been characterised as a right-wing lobby or pressure group by some commentators and academics.
It has been argued that MigrationWatch's messages "can be taken advantage of by people with Islamophobia and prejudice". The accuracy of the group's research has also been questioned. David Robinson, Professor of Housing and Public Policy at Sheffield Hallam University, argues that the group's assertion that immigrants are placing strain on social housing lacks evidence. Economist Philippe Legrain has claimed that "MigrationWatch's xenophobic prejudice is causing it to twist the truth" about the impact of immigration on the employment prospects of British people.
Similarly, in February 2013, Migration Matters, an organisation chaired by former Labour MP Barbara Roche and co-chaired by then-Conservative MP Gavin Barwell, criticised the BBC for treating MigrationWatch's analysis as politically neutral.
In 2014, Jonathan Portes of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research complained to the Press Complaints Commission that articles in the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph about the net amount of tax paid by Eastern European migrants, which were based on MigrationWatch statistics, were inaccurate. The two newspapers amended the articles in response.
Other commentators have criticised what they see as the media uncritically reproducing the findings of MigrationWatch in their own reporting. Academics Nissa Finney and Ludi Simpson in 2009 stated that while they believed the evidence used by MigrationWatch to be questionable, it received prominence in migration debates and have assumed an authority which they considered to be "dangerous if there is no similar authority presenting counterarguments". Bernhard Gross, Kerry Moore and Terry Threadgold of the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University have criticised the broadcast media's use of MigrationWatch to 'balance' reports on immigration, arguing that the "whole idea of 'balance' in these contexts needs to be re-thought" and that "there are never just two sides to any story". A website launched in February 2011 with the aim of allowing users to identify so-called churnalism revealed the extent to which newspapers such as the Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, Daily Express and The Times copy and paste from MigrationWatch press releases in articles on migration.
In August 2010, Sally Bercow, a Labour Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate and wife of Conservative MP John Bercow, argued on a Sky News newspaper review that a Daily Express article based on MigrationWatch research was "oversimplifying" and constituted "dangerous propaganda". As a result, MigrationWatch and Andrew Green threatened to take libel action against Bercow. After she instructed the lawyer David Allen Green to defend the threatened action, MigrationWatch dropped its threat. According to a MigrationWatch press release, in the light of an assurance by her lawyer that Mrs Bercow "did not intend to (and did not) allege that Migrationwatch is a fascist or racist organisation", the organisation decided not to take the matter further.
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