Immigration policy: basis for building consensus

Second Report of Session 2017–19: Report, together with formal minutes relating to the  report. Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 10 January 2018

Immigration is a crucial policy area for the UK Government. It has implications for the economy, public services and community cohesion, and has always been part of
our history as generations of immigration have brought benefits to our economy and
Yet immigration has often been a very divisive issue, and public concern about it has
increased. Recently, the polarising effect of the Brexit referendum debate has highlighted public anxieties on all sides of the argument. Instead, this should be an opportunity for setting the tone and shape of the debate.
Achieving greater consensus on immigration policy will require a transformation in
the way it is conducted because in too many areas the current approach has served to
undermine trust in the system.
This report starts from the premise that the UK immigration system has to command
democratic support. We have not yet looked at specific policy options for EU migration
as we expect to return to this issue when we scrutinise the Government’s forthcoming
White Paper on immigration. Instead we have looked first at the principles behind the
immigration system as a whole and at the wider issues that determine whether or not
there is a consensus on immigration policy.

We have identified a series of areas where changes are needed to build confidence and
heal divisions. We cannot stress enough the importance of action to prevent escalating
division, polarisation, anger or misinformation on an issue like immigration. To fail to
address this risks doing long term damage to the social fabric, economy and politics of
the United Kingdom.

In this report, we set out five key areas, where we believe reforms are needed to build
consent around a fair, principled and effective immigration policy in the UK:
a) There is a lack of trust in official data, targets and decision-making on
immigration policy. We need open and honest debate informed by evidence,
and a new transparent way of making and debating immigration policy.

b) Rules are complex and hard to understand, and there is widespread concern
that they are not enforced or are unfair. Immigration policy needs to set
out fair rules underpinned by clear principles (including on contributions
and common humanitarian obligations), effective management and better
enforcement and control.

c) Government should avoid binary approaches which treat all immigration
as the same and allow the debate to be polarised. There should be clearly
differentiated approaches for different types of immigration and these must
be proactively communicated.

d) Much stronger coordination is needed between immigration policy and
labour market policy to ensure that immigration works for the economic and
social interests of the UK and its citizens.

e) Action is needed to address the impact of immigration at local and national
level—including appropriate investment in housing and public services, and
strong local integration plans. Integration is immensely important but is not
embedded in immigration policy. Immigration policy should be underpinned
by a strategy to help communities faced with rapid population change, and
should be responsive to local and regional issues.

Conclusions and recommendations
1. We recommend that the Government makes it a clear and stated objective of public
policy to build greater consensus and trust on immigration. The work of British
Future shows that there exists considerable appetite for greater public engagement
and for this to be the basis for a constructive and open debate. Our findings chime
with this view. Our inquiry has concluded that immigration does not have to be
a polarising issue. There will of course always be disagreements over the detail of
immigration policy, just as there are in other policy areas. However, we believe that
broader consensus can and should be found around the underlying principles of
the immigration system, but the debate requires care, honesty and the opportunity
for the public to be involved. We also believe there must be clearer explanation of
the different types of immigration and the policy frameworks that govern them.

Continued – read the full report here:

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Society Editor