Brexit is unlikely to curb migration

Professor Hein de Haas from the International Migration Institute at the University of Oxford has a great post assessing the evidence of whether a possible ‘Brexit’ would lead do a decrease in the levels of migration. Here are some highlights:

“The recent increase in immigration to the UK is largely the result of a growth in labour immigration, which reflect increasing labour demand and falling unemployment in the UK. In general , levels of immigration are primarily driven by economic growth and labour demand rather than by immigration regulations – no matter how much politicians would like voters to believe that they are in control.”

Taking Switzerland as an example of a European country outside the EU, Professor de Haas states that: “despite not being member of the EU, migration to Switzerland has soared to unprecedented levels over the last two decades, with yearly net-immigration (immigration minus emigration) of foreign nationals hovering around levels of 1 per cent (see graph).

“This structural increase of migration to Switzerland is linked to economic growth combined with an ageing population, which has generated a continued labour demand in higher and lower skilled jobs, for which there is not sufficient domestic supply. These economic demands have put pressure on successive Swiss governments to continue allowing immigrants in.


“As the graph also shows, since the early 1990s there has been a structural increase of net immigration to the UK. This increase can be largely explained by a combination of economic deregulation, renewed economic growth, decreasing unemployment and a decrease of domestic labour supply because of demographic factors and skill shortages.

“It it is therefore inaccurate to link the structural increase of UK immigration to the decision by the Blair government in 2004 to allow free immigration from new accession states in  Eastern Europe in 2004, as is very common to do. As the graph clearly shows, the increase of new migration to the UK has been a structural, long-term trend. …”

As other research collected on this blog shows, it is the economy and demand for workers that calls for migration. In turn, it is higher levels of migration that help the economy grow. Closing borders, as also shown in a report by the UK Home Office, would have the effect of diminishing circular EU migration. EU migrants, now able to go to another country, go back to their country of origin and back again to another country, would not be able to do so anymore. This is likely to lead EU migrants to become permanent rather than go back to their country of origins.

This is also evidenced by research in the DEMIG (Determinants of International Migration) project at Oxford University, showing that “immigration restrictions bring down return migration by roughly the same extent as immigration, making the effect of restrictions on net migration very small or insignificant. In order words, borders restrictions have the tendency to push migrants into permanent settlement.”

The full post is available here.

This entry was posted in EU, labour market, migration and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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