Making a case for migration

I began writing this blog post two weeks ago – since then events have taken a dramatic and desperately sad turn. These are fairly rambled thoughts, hopefully some coherence will happen over time.

5th June: This morning I wrote a tweet asking for someone prominent to make the case for migration, rather than assume that the movement of people is in itself a problem. Naturally this drew the attention of just the sort of person you think. Thankfully just one person who drew the distinction between ‘good’ migration and ‘bad’ (uncontrolled) migration. Normally when I tweet about migration I get much more of this, but I guess a Sunday morning is too early for the anti-migration folks. Migration is a key topic for political discourse, especially at the moment in the increasingly awful EU referendum. Migration (or more precisely, migrants) has become the hot topic for those pushing for ‘Leave’. I find it curious given the levels of non-EU migration to the UK, leaving the EU strikes me as not a good way to control migration; if that’s your thing. With one exception, all the Brexit arguments I have heard in real-life conversations have focussed on migration. ‘We can stop those Syrians coming here’ etc. There is a clear underpinning idea that migration is bad and needs to be stopped.

My own research focusses on the experiences of highly-skilled migration, rather than the benefits or drawbacks of migration to countries, communities or organisations. However, I believe there is a case for migration, even for more migration. There are clear economic benefits of migration, and I am less interested in those. However, if you’re interested the OECD has set these out.  I am uncomfortable with perpetuating the idea that a human being’s worth is linked to their economic activity. Within the university sector there are disciplines who need the input of migrant academics. International students (who Theresa May seems to have taken a personal dislike to) bring money to the HE sector, as well as spending their money in the communities they live in. There is a tension for me given my belief that university should be free of tuition fees from UG to PhD. However, I can’t deny the importance of international (non EU) students to the financial position of  many business and management schools.

Migration also brings social and cultural benefits. This pilot study illustrates the perceived cultural benefits of migration to Scotland. The report suggests that migration brings new trade opportunities, but also Scotland benefits from the ideas, skills and arts which migrants share when they live here. I am sure that many of who work in HE can discuss how our teaching is enriched by working with students from different countries. On a less formal (but equally important note), our food consumption is heavily influenced by migration. In the UK this is obviously a product of a colonial (and therefore violent) past/present.

Despite the economic and cultural benefits of migration, I am wary of discussing migration in terms of what it does for the host/destination country. I worry this reinforces a discourse of good versus bad migration/migrants. When migration is discussed the experiences of the people involved is forgotten. Sometimes that we are talking about human beings gets forgotten. There is talk of swarms, floods of migrants – dehumanising language which hides the individual reasons for migration. Distinctions are drawn between deserving migrants (refugees fleeing war) and undeserving migrants (economic migrants). As if fleeing poverty is a less legitimate reason for migrating than fleeing for your life. Such narratives chime with the discourse used to distinguish between the deserving and undeserving poor

21st June: Since I wrote the first half of this blog post, the EU referendum and political discourse in the UK has taken a further step towards the worst of the worst. Nigel Farage (whose prominence bewilders me) stood in front of this poster with strong echoes of Nazi propaganda. He refuses to apologise for the poster and his connection to it, although other members of Leave have expressed some displeasure. Leave is largely focusses on migration still, and I’ve still not heard a person I know give a reason for Leave other than migration. Then last week an event I have struggled to find words for happened. A young MP, Jo Cox, was murdered outside her constituency surgery. I wasn’t particularly aware of Jo Cox, but I wish I had been. Of course, there is no straight line between Jo Cox’s murder and the current political climate. However, it is hard to see that there is no connection.