With rhetoric becoming increasingly more hostile towards immigration in the UK, Greg Bianchi looks at how this effects the Syrian Refugee Crisis and International Students.
The last few months has seen a major debate in the UK about immigration. With the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) during a time of economic hardship and political turmoil, the Conservative Party began losing votes. With the unique and rare situation of a hung parliament in the UK the stakes are higher for the political parties to try and seize power. The Conservatives are targeting a majority in the next parliament to avoid another coalition, meanwhile the Labour Party are also targeting a majority but look like they may end up in a coalition government themselves come 2015.
The attraction of UKIP for many people was their hard-line rhetoric on the EU and immigration. As a result the Conservatives began to face a threat within their own party of rebellions by back-bench MPs who are stridently anti-EU and have forced the Prime Minister into a promise of a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. The major caveat of this was that, if the British public want this choice, they have to elect a Conservative majority in 2015. As a result the Conservative Party became more hard-line in their rhetoric on immigration. Most notably the removal of restrictions for Romanian and Bulgarian migrants to work in the UK fell into the cross-hairs of the right in Britain. This resulted in a race to the bottom in some sections of the press as well as among UKIP and the Conservative Party.
The resulting attempts to seem hardest on immigration led to the passing of new legislation by the government in order to stop migrants from claiming benefits before they had worked in the UK for a number of months. This was termed ‘benefit tourism’ however many claimed this amounted to little more than ‘window dressing’ as reports suggested that only a few migrants would come to the UK, and those that did were likely to contribute more than they took from the state.
However, this has led to a quagmire for the UK over the question of dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis. While the United Nations have insisted that countries should sign up to a quota system to accept refugees. Germany has already pledged to accept 10,000. The UK became embroiled in arguments with UNHCR and on Wednesday, January 29th said it would accept 500 of the most vulnerable refugees. While the UK government have claimed that their humanitarian effort is widely respected and reportedly the second largest response to the crisis, this wrangling over accepting refugees must be in part related to the government’s recent rhetoric over immigration.
Meanwhile, the numbers of international students coming to the UK has fallen in recent years. Despite an aging population and the need for more migration into Britain, there is still some hostility towards new migrants. With the introduction of £9000 fees for student studying in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as sky-high international fees across the UK including Scotland, there has been a significant fall in the numbers of students coming to the UK.
While the government doesn’t actively seek to undermine students coming to study in the UK at some of the world’s renowned institutions, the high cost of studying in the UK is causing potential migrants to look elsewhere – in fact the greatest drop in migrants in recent years has been among students.
Migration has always been a controversial topic in the UK, and with anti-EU sentiment growing it appears this is a trend that is set to continue for some time.