TThe headline, now increasingly shrill, in all caps and exclamation points, is that net migration is off the charts. It’s booming. It’s at a record level. So high that we wonder how it got here? The answer is that we got here predictably and, indeed, inevitably. The way immigration figures are presented is something of a misclassification, brought about by the prevailing and unquestioned presumption that immigration is bad, that it must be reduced, and that politicians are fighting against “hordes » of immigrants who are making their way. in the country, somehow managing to defeat one of the harshest immigration systems in the world.
More precise headlines might be: “UK skilled worker shortage intensifies”, “Loss of European Union research funding makes UK universities increasingly dependent on overseas students”, “ Business leaders call for expansion of professions in shortage due to post-Brexit recruitment challenges” or “Nurse training cuts lead to staffing crisis”. Because these seemingly infuriating numbers are, to a large extent, the result of economic and political decisions that force us to invite immigrants to fill labor shortages that policymakers either did not anticipate or ignored. warnings.
Think of it as a false economy, an accounting sleight of hand. A transfer of costs to the future so that the current balance sheet appears good. When David Cameron was warned by universities in 2011 that cuts to nursing training would lead to staff shortages, he ignored this advice, despite a year earlier pledging to bring back immigration to a few tens of thousands. Last year, overseas-trained nurses joining the register for the first time were almost the same number as those trained in the UK. Cameron has long since left the unseemly trenches of anti-immigration struggles and is now lord of the foreign policy highlands. If Brexit lore is to be believed and Cameron actually said, “Why should I do all this difficult shit?” right before he resigned, he was definitely onto something.
Because the “tough shit” bequeathed to his successors and now to the Labor Party includes not only the impossible task of making Brexit a success, but also of dealing with the legacy of his promise of “tens of thousands”, which now weighs like an albatross on Brexit. all those who follow him, with the realities of an aging Britain after years of austerity. It is a futile enterprise, in which one must never admit that these figures are necessary. In many cases, policymakers – in order to sharpen the balance sheet – create an unbalanced global recruiting pool to compensate for their own shrinking pool, then fret in front of the cameras, in disbelief as to how it got here.
Nowhere is this more stark than in the nursing, health and care sectors. Training cuts in 2010 resulted in a shortfall of 100,000 doctors and nurses in NHS England. In 2015, scholarships for nursing training were eliminated, leading to a dramatic drop in student applications. This decline led to a reintroduction of stock exchanges in 2020, but at a very reduced pace. Where incentives have been maintained in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the number of student nurses has increased. Yet budget cuts continue in England. Earlier this year, the government announced it would halve its commitments to social service staffing and retention spending, at a time when job vacancies stood at 165,000. And that’s not even not the most alarming figure.
Skills for Care, which supports the adult social care sector, estimates that the sector will need almost half a million more workers over the next 10 years to meet demand. If people over 55 choose to retire, an additional 430,000 people could be lost over the same period. In January, despite the shortage of doctors, universities were instructed to limit the number of medical places to reduce the costs of medical training, or face heavy fines.
The result, contrary to the perception that we are passive hosts of immigrants, is a recruitment campaign from abroad so voracious that it has reached what the World Health Organization describes as “countries of the red list”, which already have weak health infrastructures which would be further compromised by emigration. According to Nursing Times, three of the top seven countries where the UK employs nurses are on this red list, reducing their ability to heal and care for their own staff. Among doctors recruited in 2021, 81% came from a red list country. The favorable winds for austerity are global.
And these recruits are made to fight fire, not thrive. They bear not only the burden of an overburdened care and health sector, but also high relocation costs and punitive employment conditions that keep them in a kind of slavery. In some cases, they are stuck in five-year contracts and if they want to leave, they have to pay thousands of euros in exit fees which would cover the recruiters’ initial expenses. There is something particularly macabre about passing on training costs to foreign health professionals and their governments, poaching these recruits, and then trying to ensure that they do not have the freedom to change jobs. employment if conditions are bad. In other cases, salaries were lower than promised and work did not start for long periods due to bureaucratic delays in an operating fault and incompetence that involves recruitment agencies, large service providers private care and a slow Home Office.
Behind the rumors about the “record numbers” there are many such stories: of people in shortage occupations at all levels, having to pay national insurance contributions as well as a high immigration surcharge in taxes annual health savings and save for the high cost of health. each residence authorization stamp. Who cannot negotiate better wages, hours or conditions under employer sponsorship agreements that leave them with little bargaining power. Who hold out hope, at the end of each month, that the numbers and emotional tithes of leaving home will one day add up.
These record figures do not reflect a country incapable of controlling its borders, but a country which has implemented a two-speed employment policy. A country which refuses to invest in training and studies and which rejects the resulting moral indignation on those who are called upon to fill these gaps. All the while refusing to recognize that demographics mean that immigrants will always be essential and therefore must be treated not as precarious workers bussed in, but with humanity, welcome and dignity. It really is the sum of everything. But that doesn’t make a good title, does it?