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Immigration policy: who is it for?

10 Jan 2012

Today’s report on the Impacts of Migration by the government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) raises a profoundly important and unresolved question that is at the root of many problems and disagreements in immigration policy making and public debates: “Whose interests should immigration policy be designed to benefit?”

Commenting on the report, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said today that any assessment of the economic and social impacts of immigration – and of specific immigration policies – critically depends on whose interests are taken into consideration.

Migration can have very different consequences for migrants and the pre-existing population, as well as for different groups among pre-existing residents such as employers and workers.

The MAC report notes that while immigration typically increases total GDP, this does not automatically mean that the pre-existing population is better off – hence the MAC recommendation to focus on the impacts on pre-existing residents.

But there are further questions about how to define this group of “pre-existing residents”: in addition to British citizens, to what extent should it include permanent and temporary residents without British citizenship?

How should the interests of employers, who typically benefit from immigration, be balanced against those of workers, some of whom may lose – at least in the short run – if immigration leads to lower wages or increased unemployment?

Dr Scott Blinder, Senior Researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “This report highlights the need to decide and articulate more clearly whose needs Government is prioritising when developing immigration policy.”

“Trade-offs need to be confronted head on. Without more debate and clarity about whose interests policy is trying to maximise we cannot hope to reach more agreement about the costs and benefits of specific policies.”


For further information contact: Rob McNeil Senior Media Analyst, The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.

e: robert.mcneil@compas.ox.ac.uk; Tel: 01865 274568; Mob: 07500 970081

Editors Notes:

Read the MAC report here

About the Migration Observatory

  • Based at the ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford, the Migration Observatory provides independent, authoritative, evidence-based analysis of data on migration and migrants in the UK, to inform media, public and policy debates, and to generate high quality research on international migration and public policy issues. The Observatory’s analysis involves experts from a wide range of disciplines and departments at the University of Oxford.
  • The Migration Observatory is funded by: Unbound Philanthropy; the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and the Barrow Cadbury Trust.
  • The Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford conducts high quality research in order to develop theory and knowledge, inform policy-making and public debate, and engage users of research within the field of migration. For further details see the COMPAS website: www.compas.ox.ac.uk/.
  • COMPAS is core funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) www.esrc.ac.uk/.

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