The delicate balance of the migrant issue
01 December 2016 - Rosemary French
As Theresa May rejects a points system for EU Nationals, I have just experienced the desperate human side of migration while cycling through Paris. We choose to cycle along the canal through St Denis and join up with the Seine going south. This is an annual trip but this year we were really shocked by the scale of the homeless migrant problem.
We all hear of the Calais jungle camp but a cycle along the canal and river banks of Paris also brings into perspective the human crisis that France is trying to and spectacularly, failing to, cope with. Canal bridge after canal bridge we pass tents and homemade structures clinging to the walls like limpets, made of cardboard, corrugation, blankets, anything that could give shelter. The hot weather meant that the families were out of their homes in the shade sitting on brand new mattresses wearing new white tee-shirts, children and parents huddled together, less for warmth and more for comfort. I discovered later that local charities and volunteers provide their clothing and bedding, although I cannot imagine that these stay hygienic for long.
Then we cross Paris to meet the Seine. Under every flyover, tented communities of migrants find shelter. At Place Battle of Stalingrad, they are fighting another battle against the piles of debris deposited by hundreds of migrants camped along the pavements. A few days later we see over 500 migrant tents at Gare du Nord and Austerlitz; these ones trying to board trains to England despite the strong presence of armed soldiers and police.
My French relatives tell me I cannot criticise because at least France is taking in the migrants and Britain is not. I protest that ignoring the problem and leaving them on the streets is not the answer either.
So, is there a solution? I wish I knew. The UK cannot take everyone whether from the EU or outside but surely a points system would be a good start. We know we need agricultural labour, we need lower paid employees and we need highly skilled staff in our key sectors such as healthcare, engineering, construction etc. I am confused because we have operated a points system since 2008 for non-EU immigrants based on the Australian system. So how can the PM say she will not consider a points system for EU nationals? The current system identifies firstly high net worth individuals, secondly skilled workers, thirdly students and fourthly temporary workers. The only problem with the scheme currently, as I see it, is that the caps on those migrants are too low – for example 20,700 a year for skilled workers. We could swallow these up in the South East alone in a few months. The other problem is that there is no points system for lower skilled low paid labour which is also so desperately needed by some sectors such as hospitality, catering and agriculture.
The UK does need to find a way to accept larger numbers of immigrants into our working population while trying to avoid an out of control ‘free for all’. Surely a points system is at least part of the answer and should not so easily be rejected? Of course, the excuse will always be given that the UK does not have the infrastructure to support any immigration at all. On the other hand, with our ever ageing population there is no sign that the UK can generate the large numbers of skilled workers needed to keep us in the premier league of advanced countries.
First published in the South East Business Magazine December 2016
Rosemary French OBE - Executive Director of the Gatwick Diamond Initiative