Are immigration controls dysfunctional?

For many Britons, the UK feels overcrowded. But does our hunger for cheap labour make a solution to high levels of immigration impossible? Emily Hohler reports.

A gap has opened between the government's declared policy on immigration and what actually happens on our borders, says The Sunday Telegraph. The Tories promised to cut immigrant numbers from around 250,000 a year to less than 100,000. The coalition agreed that a migration cap would be put in place and the number of non-EU migrants reduced. "So far, immigration has remained at roughly the same level."

It now appears civil servants have been "quietly sabotaging the government's plans". Brodie Clark, one of the most senior officials at the UK Border Agency (UKBA), has been suspended, along with two other managers, pending an investigation that an authorisation from the home secretary, Theresa May, to waive some of the more stringent border checks had been taken beyond what was intended. May insists it is not her fault, says The Daily Telegraph, but it remains to be seen whether the investigation will exonerate her.

Whatever the outcome, the problem of numbers remains. The latest projections from the Office for National Statistics (which have been accurate to within 2.5% over the past 50 years) show that our population will reach 70 million by 2027. Two-thirds of that increase will come from future immigrants and their children. So either we reduce immigration, or accept that our population will increase rapidly "in the teeth of strong and growing public opposition". A recent YouGov poll found that 80% of people in England think this country is crowded. Migration Watch's new e-petition No to 70 million' garnered 100,000 signatures within a week.

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One of the major obstacles to action is the inefficiency and bureauracy of the UKBA, says former immigration officer Steve Moxon in the Daily Mail, whose whistleblowing over lax border controls in 2004 led to the resignation of the immigration officer, Beverley Hughes. Seven years on the service remains "dysfunctional". "Perhaps the greatest problem is the mindset at the top of the agency, which holds that immigration is an insoluble problem. This has meant there is no faith in proper administration, no desire to embrace real reform." Little wonder an "incredible" 586,000 immigrants were let into Britain last year. It is the politicians who are to blame. If only the will was there, "we could have an immigration system that was tough but fair".

We shouldn't ignore the reasons for high net immigration, says Danny Dorling in The Guardian. "It is demand for cheap labour in countries with wide income inequalities that pulls in migrants." We need them because "for many of the natives the byzantine workings of the welfare system make idleness more attractive than the available work", says Dominic Lawson in The Sunday Times. We're better off with Polish plumbers and Filipino nurses and, contrary to Migration Watch's claims, they're not about to make us "go pop".

The latest UN figures show that we are the 39th most-populated country out of 196. To put this in perspective, if the population density of Jersey were applied to Britain, our population would be 180 million. Does Jersey strike you as a "society on the verge of starvation"?

Emily Hohler

Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career. 

On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.