Britain debates letting in ‘the right people’

David Cameron has told Britons to report illegal immigrants. It's part of a scheme to reduce the numbers moving to the UK. Some say restrictions will damage business and culture.

Last week's argument about immigration into the UK was dominated by a row over a pet cat: this week it's about dogs – or a dog whistle to be precise.

Two heavyweight Tory politicians clashed over deportation of foreign criminals, with the Home Secretary claiming, incorrectly, that Bolivian shoplifter could not be kicked out of the country because he owned a cat.

Now the Prime Minister himself has given a speech on immigration, demonstrating his determination to address public concerns on the subject. Some commentators are calling it an example of 'dog whistle' politics – a way of raising topics which register with voters on the extreme end of the political spectrum while being careful to sound as if you are in tune with mainstream public opinion.

The Government is already committed to getting net immigration down to the tens of thousands, from a current high of over 200,000. It has also introduced a controversial cap on various categories of workers. But on Monday David Cameron went further, arguing that family members who wanted to join their relatives already living in the UK would have to meet tough new conditions. He urged the general public to report people they thought were in the country illegally.

The opinion pollsters YouGov regularly find that people see immigration as the second most important issue facing the country (the economy scores top), and Mr Cameron says he wants to bring down the numbers so that it is no longer a 'front rank political issue.'

But there is a problem: the major pattern of immigration in the last few years, which has in some cases depressed wages for low-skilled work and placed strain on local services like schools, housing and health, was from within the European Union.

Now business groups are warning that the crackdowns and caps introduced by Mr Cameron's ministers are keeping out a different, valuable group of people: the skilled workers who employers need to drag Britain out of the economic doldrums.

Talent block?

Mr Cameron says his policies would not hold back economic growth or block entry to top scientists and researchers. He wants, he says, to encourage 'hard-headed selection of genuinely talented individuals based on our national interest', replacing 'a system which was totally unfair... where migrants got the choice to come, rather than us having the choice of migrants.'

But he can't prevent the steady arrival of EU citizens looking for low-skilled work, so the Government has to look for other ways to bring down the overall numbers, limiting visas for students and workers from outside the EU. Could meeting the political objective send out a message that the UK is 'closed' to new business?

You Decide

  1. Getting the public to report suspected illegal immigrants: a good way to 'reclaim our borders together,' in the PM's words or a 'snooper's charter'?
  2. Carlos Acosta, the Cuban dancer, has said he loves the UK, his adopted country, because of its mix of cultures and races. The UK gets his talent, he gets a safe, free country in which to live and work. Fair exchange? Or something to be limited to a very few exceptional individuals?


  1. David Cameron thinks immigrants should have to pass an exam about British history before being granted citizenship: create a test that you think would demonstrate a good understanding of the life and culture of Britain or any other country of your choice.
  2. Research which jobs are considered skilled and unskilled under the Home Office rules: then write a case study on a company or organisation which employs unskilled immigrant labour and on one which needs to recruit skilled workers from overseas.

Some People Say...

“British jobs for British workers.' (Gordon Brown, 2007)”

What do you think?

Q & A

So who is allowed into the UK to work?
The previous, Labour government introduced a points-based system which would allow non-EU workers in if they could fill jobs in certain areas where there is a shortage of skilled, trained employees born in the UK. The number of places available through this system has now been reduced and the list of shortage jobs is shorter: no more biology teachers, for example.
And what about the EU nationals?
The UK is part of a single EU market with free flow of labour, so any EU citizen can come here to work. When the countries of Eastern Europe, likePoland, joined the EU in 2004, the authorities vastly underestimated how many would arrive.

Word Watch

Dog whistle politics
A phrase in general use in Australia since the 1990s, now imported into the UK's political dictionary. It means sending coded signals to core or extreme supporters that you share their preoccupations while overall sounding mainstream.
Poland and the EU
Poland joined the EU along with Cyprus, Malta, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004. In 2007 Bulgaria and Romania joined.

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