Immigrants, fear of them, suspicion of them or jealousy of them, played a minor part in last year's general election and is likely to play a major part in the forthcoming referendum on EU membership.
Those who claim to be worried about immigration remain unconvinced by the evidence that immigrants add to economic growth, pay more into the government kitty in taxes than they take out in benefits or the use of public services, and are often highly innovative people who contribute enormously to our way of life. Michael Marks, an immigrant from the Polish part of the then Russian Empire, who with Thomas Spencer started the famous Marks and Spencer's high street retailer as a "penny an item" market stall in Leeds in 1884, is a good local example. There are dozens of earlier and more recent examples in Robert Winder's highly readable book "Bloody Foreigners."
Those not reassured by the "macro" arguments might like to do a more personal inventory. I've just done this and find that immigrants, or the offspring of recent immigrants:
- sell me my morning paper;
- drill and fill what's left of my teeth;
- clean my car;
- dispense my medicines;
- provide about a third of my health care (depends on which of my various ailments is being treated);
- provide the vicar, brilliant organist, one of the two Franciscan friars attached to us, and a goodly (godly?) portion of the choir and congregation of the church (firmly C of E) I attend;
- give me an opportunity to teach, as a volunteer, ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages), a highly interesting and entertaining weekly experience which makes me feel still useful;
- run my second favourite restaurant;
- provide me with my remaining few hours of paid employment.*
* This last group are post-graduate students on a business-studies at a local university. In my view they shouldn't be included in the "immigrant" count as the overwhelming majority go home once they've completed their course. Their university fees and living expenses are a tremendous boost to our yawning balance of payments, and most return to their countries with a very favourable impression of the UK. However, the government in its stupidity includes them in the "immigration" count, tries to limit their numbers and discourages them from remaining for more higher degrees, research or opening up businesses here.