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.


More than 830 cities have brought essential services back under public control. Others should follow

A power station near Nottingham: not one owned by Robin Hood Energy, alas, but we couldn't find anything better. Image: Getty.

The wave of cities worldwide rejecting privatization is far bigger and more successful than anyone thought, according to a new report from the Transnational Institute, Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation. Some 835 cities in 45 countries have brought essential services like water, energy and health care back under public control.

The persistent myth that public services are by nature more expensive and less efficient is losing its momentum. Citizens and users do not necessarily have to resign to paying increasingly higher tariffs for lower standard services. The decline of working conditions in public services is not an inevitability.

And the ever larger role private companies have played in public service delivery may at last be waning. The remunicipalisation movement – cities or local authorities reclaiming privatised services or developing new options – demonstrates that cities and citizens are working to protect and reinvent essential services.

The failure of austerity and privatisation to deliver promised improvements and investments is part of the reason this movement has advanced. But the real driver has been a desire to meet goals such as addressing climate change or increasing democratic participation in service provision. Lower costs and tariffs, improved conditions for workers and better service quality are frequently reported following remunicipalisation.  Meanwhile transparency and accountability have also improved.

Where remunicipalisation succeeds, it also tends to inspire other local authorities to make similar moves. Examples are plentiful. Municipalities have joined forces to push for renewable, climate-friendly energy initiatives in countries like Germany. Public water operators in France and Catalonia are sharing resources and expertise, and working together to overcome the challenges they meet.

Outside Europe, experiments in public services are gaining ground too. Delhi set up 1,000 Mohalla (community) clinics across the city in 2015 as a first step to delivering affordable primary health care. Some 110 clinics were working in some of the poorest areas of Delhi as of February 2017. The Delhi government claims that more than 2.6m of its poorest residents have received free quality health care since the clinics were set up.

Local authorities and the public are benefiting from savings too. When the Nottingham City Council found out that many low-income families in the city were struggling to pay their energy bills, they set up a new supply company. The company, Robin Hood Energy, which offers the lowest prices in the UK, has the motto: “No private shareholders. No director bonuses. Just clear transparent pricing.”

Robin Hood Energy has also formed partnerships with other major cities. In 2016, the city of Leeds set up the White Rose Energy municipal company to promote simple no-profit tariffs throughout the Yorkshire and Humberside regions. In 2017, the cities of Bradford and Doncaster agreed to join the White Rose/Robin Hood partnership.

Meanwhile, campaigners with Switched on London are pushing their city to set up a not-for-profit energy company with genuine citizen participation. The motivations in these diverse cities are similar: young municipal companies can simultaneously beat energy poverty and play a key role in achieving a just and renewable energy transition.

Remunicipalised public services often involve new forms of participation for workers and citizens. Remunicipalisation is often a first step towards creating the public services of the future: sustainable and grounded in the local economy. Inspiration can be found in the European towns and villages aiming for 'zero waste' with their remunicipalised waste service, or providing 100 per cent locally-sourced organic food in their remunicipalised school restaurants.

Public services are not good simply because they are not private. Public services must also continuously renew themselves, grow, innovate and recommit to the public they serve.

The push for remunicipalisation in Catalonia, for example, has come from a movement of citizen platforms. For them, a return to public management is not just an end in itself, but a first step towards the democratic management of public services based on ongoing civil participation.

Evidence is building that people are able to reclaim public services and usher in a new generation of public ownership. The momentum is building, as diverse movements and actors join forces to bring positive change in communities around the world.

You can read the Transnational Institute report, “Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation”, on its website.