Immigration has been a hot topic for decades (even further, really) - but let’s talk about modern immigration from the 1950s onwards, as it's most people's lived experience and what people feel strongly about.
From the republic of Ireland to the former British Empire - and more recently since 1992, when the EU was created ⁽¹⁾ - immigrants have come to the UK to find a better way of life, or to simply exercise one of the four freedoms of being in the EU: Free movement of goods, Free movement of capital, Freedom to establish and provide services, & Free movement of persons.
The depth of feeling about immigration has been particularly noticeable since the referendum on leaving the EU, and a lot of that is exactly that; feeling, not fact. With there being concerns on how the presence of immigrants is perceived to burden the UK (mainly white nationalists promoting these ideas to the public), let's discuss some actual immigration facts - starting with migration and the economy.
A lot of people only see immigration, and either don’t focus or know about emmigration, as the two go hand in hand. Net migration to the UK was estimated to be 270,000 in 2019, down from a peak of 331,000 in the year ending March 2015 ⁽²⁾ - so although the UK has traditionally been an exporter of people for centuries, we have only been a net importer since 1994 ⁽³⁾.
The rising age expectancy and the lowering of the birth rate has actually made immigration a fundamental need for the UK economy, as it fills the void between the working and the non working (e.g. our record numbers of university students ⁽⁴⁾ and the retired). Immigrants also positively contribute to UK finances, as they pay more into the system through taxes than what they take out by using public services and receiving benefits - furthermore, EU migrants’ contributions over their entire lifetime are usually much higher than those of more native Britons. This is partly because most migrants arrive fully educated, and many leave before the cost of retirement/old-age starts to weigh on public finances ⁽⁵⁾.
Next, let’s get to the difference between immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees.
A refugee is a person who has fled their own country because they are at risk of serious human rights violations and persecution there. The risks to their safety and life were so great that they felt they had no choice but to leave and seek safety outside their country, because their own government cannot - or will not - protect them from those dangers. Refugees have a right to international protection.
An asylum-seeker is a person who has left their country seeking protection from persecution and serious human rights violations in another country, but who hasn’t yet been legally recognized as a refugee and is waiting to receive a decision on their asylum claim. Seeking asylum is a human right - this means everyone should be allowed to enter another country to seek asylum.
There is no internationally accepted legal definition of a migrant - it's just someone who just want to move to another country ⁽⁶⁾ . People do seem to lump them all together - especially when they see headlines in newspapers, and a strange person in burgundy corduroys and a flat cap standing on a cliff pointing out into the channel.
''But why do they all want to come into Britain?'' people ask. Well, the short answer is that they don’t. The UK gets relatively few asylum applicants, as we host fewer refugees – less than 1% of the global total. Turkey, by contrast, hosts the largest number of refugees of any country: it is currently giving sanctuary to 2.5 million Syrian refugees ⁽⁷⁾.
''There is no provision within our Immigration Rules for someone to be allowed to travel to UK to seek asylum [...] we do not allow asylum claims from abroad."
...So why make the perilous journey then? Well, that question was asked by a minister to Zoe Gardner, a UK and EU migration expert. You can see her reply in the short video below;
In summary, my opinion is that immigration is not only a good thing, but an economically important thing - and that asylum is not just a human right, but it is morally the right thing to do. In addition to this, people seeking shelter, refuge, and mercy can not be turned away.