Can you now tell me - am I right or wrong that 80% of people who come here come from the European Union, and your cap would make no difference to that? Is that right?No, Nick, it’s not. According to the International Passenger Survey, 431,000 non-British immigrants came to the UK in the 12 months to June 2009, the latest period for which we have figures. 166,000 of these came from the EU. That’s 38.5%. In the previous 12 months, EU immigrants were 177,000 of 454,000. And in the year before that, 174,000 of 473,000.
Alternatively, we could look at the nationality of people employed here. Table 8 of this pdf shows that, in Q4, there were 2.288 million non-UK nationals working in the UK, of which just over one million came from the EU.
Strictly speaking, it seems Clegg’s wrong, by a factor of around two.
There is, however, some force behind his general sentiment.
Let’s say that we could impose a binding cap upon non-EU immigration, so that an employer who would like to hire a non-EU worker can‘t. What does he do? If he hires a British national, then immigration does indeed fall one-for-one with the cap, and employment of native workers rises one-for-one; this assumes that, at the margin, a British worker is as productive as a non-EU one.
But if he hires an EU national instead, aggregate immigration won’t change. There’ll just be more EU immigrants and fewer non-EU ones: we’ll have more Greeks and fewer Turks, more Poles and fewer Russians. It’s not clear what is gained by this, from the perspective of someone worried about “flocking east Europeans.“
So, which is it? There’s one piece of evidence here. This paper finds that new immigrants are a closer substitute for earlier immigrants than they are for native workers; for this reason, immigration reduces the wages of earlier immigrants relative to migrants. This suggests that a cap on non-EU immigration might indeed lead to increased EU migration more than to increased native employment.
Which leads me to a question. Let’s say we get a Tory government that imposes a cap on non-EU immigration. Immigration then rises from the EU, with the result that overall immigration stays high. What happens then?
Ideally, people would realize that we can’t control immigration, and so shouldn’t try. But there might instead be another reaction. Some will say, as UKIP does: “we can only control immigration by leaving the EU.“ Pressure to do so will therefore increase. So, is Cameron’s cap on non-EU migration a stepping stone towards leaving the EU?