Could regional immigration policy help social integration?

The Vancouver skyline. Canada allows provinces, such as British Columbia, to set regional immigration policy. Image: Magnus Larsson/Flickr/creative commons.

Earlier this year, in a bid to improve the integration of immigrants in Britain, a group of MPs uggested different areas of the country could be given control over how many people are allowed to live and work there. The Conversation

The idea was included as one of six principles outlined in the interim report on the integration of immigrants by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Integration. Other principles included ensuring immigrants either speak English or are enrolled in compulsory lessons on arrival.

The MPs’ proposal for a regional immigration policy draws on the model of the Canadian Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) of region-specific visas and regional quotas. Established across Canada in 1995, the PNP enables the federal government to delegate authority to provinces, which nominate migrants for visas within regionally agreed quotas.

An individual’s immigration status is tied to a specific region for usually two years, before they are free to move elsewhere. Its purpose is to provide regions and localities that have not been traditionally favoured destinations with the ability to attract new workers. It also aims to divert migrants away from population centres such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and so reduce the perceived impacts of migration. Overall, within Canada the scheme has been viewed as a flagship success. It is based on a similar system in Australia.

In the UK, proposals for region-specific visas are not a new idea. The Liberal Democrats first proposed a regional version of the “points based system” (which governs the allocation of work permits to non-EU migrants), in their 2010 election manifesto. Since then, the idea has re-emerged in the context of devolution to the English regions, and is gaining traction within the context of the Brexit debate.

The Scottish government has long argued for having its own immigration policy. In a limited sense, it already does: there is a Scotland-specific “shortage occupation list”, which currently includes, for example, all anaesthetists, paediatricians, obstetricians and gynaecologists. In practice, however, the Scottish shortage occupation list is almost the same as the UK national one.

To deal with existing regional shortages, employers mount targeted recruitment campaigns for both EU and non-EU nationals. And they are already free to offer incentives such as better pay, terms and conditions in order to attract the employees they want.

Could it work in the UK?

Given that the CBI, the lobby group for business, is in favour of making it easier for employers to recruit from overseas, it is also unlikely that business would be supportive of regional quotas or region-specific visas.

It is not at all clear that such a scheme would be remotely feasible. Operating it would be hugely complicated and risky.

The Institute For Public Policy Research has also proposed a regional immigration policy and submitted evidence to the APPG. It suggests that the entry of migrant workers would be regulated by issuing work permits, each tied to one specific employer and place of residence. This offers two unpalatable outcomes. On the one hand, it would present a nigh-on impossible regulatory burden on employers, apparently required to keep track of workers even when they are not at work.

On the other, it would offer employers enormous unchecked powers over the lives of individual employees, in a modern version of indentured labour. Making workers dependant on employers for their place of residence and work will make them even more vulnerable to existing illegal practices such as the confiscation of documents, debt bondage and non-payment of national insurance.

The APPG recommends that in the UK, regional quotas could be agreed by “devolved administrations, city regions and other democratic forums”. Yet in the wake of austerity measures local authorities who are already struggling to deliver essential services will struggle to find the capacity to agree regional immigration quotas, let alone monitor and nominate individuals for additional rights of settlement and citizenship.

A backwards move

The APPG has not made a convincing case for a regional immigration policy. The report claims that UK regions are unable to benefit economically from labour migration, and also that migration causes problems of social integration in areas with high proportions of migrants. Yet the MPs also argue that diverse places like London are less likely to have the problems of social segregation and conflict which were expressed during the debate ahead of the UK’s referendum on EU membership.

These contradictions express the muddled thinking at the heart of the report. The term “immigrant” is used to described everyone from newly arrived temporary labour migrants, to refugees needing settlement, to non-immigrants in Britain’s existing diverse communities. With such a confused starting point, the political or policy problem that the regional immigration proposal is supposed to solve remains unclear.

The report notes in passing the difficulties of securing “integration” where migrant workers are employed together for extremely long hours. The reality is that migrants’ work in low-skilled jobs is marked by very low pay, little to no social security, employment protection or affordable housing. But this reality is also shared by many non-migrant workers, sometimes in the same locations and workplaces. A regional immigration policy will not solve these issues.

To tackle these shared insecurities, inequalities, disempowerment and lack of integration in the current climate of austerity presents a huge political and policy challenge. It cannot be resolved by superficially borrowing from a Canadian scheme for labour migration, while being equivocal about the scheme’s premise of inclusion and citizenship.

In the end, these policy proposals look at least as much backward to Elizabethan England, as outward to Canadian progressivism. The proposed policy would create committees with powers to selectively control entry, residence and inclusion in local communities.

Without the strong federal political accountability of Canada’s provincial system, and the premise of inclusion in its regional immigration policy, this would effectively disavow the UK government responsibility for population management, economic development and inequality. It sounds more like the end of the first Elizabethan age than the end of the second.

Emma Carmel is senior lecturer at the University of BathKatharine Jones is senior research fellow in the Centre for Trust, Peace & Social Relations at Coventry University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


London Overground is experimenting with telling passengers which bits of the next train is busiest

There must be a better way than this: Tokyo during a 1972 rail strike. Image: Getty.

One of the most fun things to do, for those who enjoy claustrophobia and other people’s body odour, is to attempt to use a mass transit system at rush hour.

Travelling on the Central line at 6pm, for example, gives you all sorts of exciting opportunities to share a single square inch of floor space with a fellow passenger, all the while becoming intimately familiar with any personal hygiene problems they may happen to have. On some, particularly lovely days you might find you don’t even get to do this for ages, but first have to spend some exciting time enjoying it as a spectator sport, before actually being able to pack yourself into one unoccupied cranny of a train.

But fear not! Transport for London has come up with a plan: telling passengers which bits of the train have the most space on them.

Here’s the science part. Many trains include automatic train weighing systems, which do exactly what the name suggests: monitoring the downward force on any individual wheel axis in real time. The data thus gathered is used mostly to optimise the braking.

But it also serves as a good proxy for how crowded a particular carriage is. All TfL are doing here is translating that into real time information visible to passengers. It’s using the standard, traffic light colour system: green means go, yellow means “hmm, maybe not”, red means “oh dear god, no, no, no”. 

All this will, hopefully, encourage some to move down the platform to where the train is less crowded, spreading the load and reducing the number of passengers who find themselves becoming overly familiar with a total stranger’s armpit.

The system is not unique, even in London: trains on the Thameslink route, a heavy-rail line which runs north/south across town (past CityMetric towers!) has a similar system visible to passengers on board. And so far it’s only a trial, at a single station, Shoreditch High Street.

But you can, if you’re so minded, watch the information update every few seconds or so here.

Can’t see why you would, but I can’t see why I would either, and that hasn’t stopped me spending much of the day watching it, so, knock yourselves out.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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