While talking with others about the Brexit referendum and what changes it involves for the country and for foreign people moving to it or already living here, I realised how some British citizens could be suspicious about migrants coming to the UK, allegedly here in order to “steal” the jobs of native workers. However, history has shown how it has been proved that a foreign workforce is more than likely to bring benefits to the economy of any country.
I got even more concerned when witnessing and reading about the escalation of discrimination attacks and incidents during and after the Brexit campaigns and referendum. In 2019, in a globalised world where people cross borders on a daily basis and are likely to bring skills, knowledge and other benefits to these countries, why do people still feel so threatened by someone who is different, instead of admitting how enriching it can be to be confronted to new cultures and communities?
Surveys have shown that “Brexit-related” racism has increased. According to UN special rapporteur on racism Prof Tendayi Achiume, Brexit has contributed to an environment of increased racial discrimination and intolerance, and it even involves extreme views gaining ground in mainstream political parties (left and right). According to her, “The environment leading up to the referendum, the environment during the referendum, and the environment after the referendum has made racial and ethnic minorities more vulnerable to racial discrimination and intolerance”.
This does not only come from people, but also from governmental authorities, as shown by the “hostile environment” policy set up by Theresa May that led to the Windrush scandal, during which people who have been living in the UK for generations after arriving to help rebuild the country after WWII, suddenly had to prove that they were legal residents in the country. 50 years ago, the UK was willing to welcome foreign workers in order to rebuild the country but now, we don’t seem to realise anymore all the advantages we could get from a foreign workforce coming to the country.
People from different countries and backgrounds coming to a new country are indeed an amazing opportunity for this country to benefit from the breadth of skills and experience they can offer.
This was for instance revealed by a study published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. The study examined the contribution and impact of migrant workers on 80 UK companies and what it uncovered is not what we might expect. Indeed, the study revealed the various benefits brought by migrant workers to these companies, such as: the ability to train their colleagues in new skills; the input of knowledge and skills over and above those outlined in the job description and an increased talent pool of potential applicants available to businesses etc. According to the Liberal Democrats Leader, Vince Cable, this research demonstrated that “foreign workers not only stimulate growth for British business by introducing new ideas and innovations, but bring their unique overseas networks and cultural knowledge to drive expansion for their company abroad”.
Moreover, by bringing these new sets of skills and knowledge, migrant workers are not ‘stealing any’ job from native workers and this is also true for low-skilled job. In a study conducted by Amelie F. Constant for the universities of Georges Washington and Temple and published by IZA, it appears that neither the public opinion nor evidence-based research support the claim that migrant workers are taking native workers’ jobs. To prove that, they studied public opinion polls in six migrant-destination countries: the US, Italy, Germany, France, Spain and the UK. It showed that most people think that immigrants fill job vacancies and even that they create jobs and do not take jobs from native workers. Their research corroborated that immigrants – of all skill levels – do not significantly affect native employment in the short term: they in fact boost it in the long term.
As a French person living in the UK, Brexit also involves many questions regarding what is going to happen to my life here after the UK eventually leaves the EU. The end of free-movement but also the fact that UK will now ‘control the number and type of people’ coming (https://www.politico.eu/article/uk-publishes-post-brexit-immigration-plan/) is quite scary, and this concerns every EU or non-EU citizen who has chosen the UK as their home. The ‘settled status’ we will have to apply for remains unclear, and even raises worries. The association the3million, defending the rights of the 3 millions of EU citizens currently living in the UK established a list of ways this status could backfire on us and have asked the Home Office 162 questions about this status (https://www.the3million.org.uk/questions ).
Finally, it occurred to me that there is truly no reason to feel threatened by migrants coming to the UK, and I think that maybe the lack of information, as well as the sometimes strongly racist campaigns of the leaver parties prompted people to think that it was now allowed to show intolerance and to discriminate against others. But there are laws: twenty years after the Macpherson report and with the Equality Act still in force in the UK, it is definitely not acceptable today, in our society, to make such statements and to attack others on account of their race or ethnic background. If we could realise the potential of these people and how welcoming them could improve the country and its economy, maybe Brexit would have been a whole different story.