An emerging realisation amongst those concerned with pandemic-era labour shortages, supply bottlenecks and the threat of inflation: the impact of immigration, or lack thereof, on society’s ability to deliver goods and necessities to its citizens. In both countries, people are discovering that migrants matter.
In the wake of the Brexit referendum and Trump’s election victory, the US and the UK have been dealing with staggeringly vitriolic narratives towards immigrants, and policy introduced pandering to those sentiments. In both cases, xenophobic caricatures were weaponised by political figures and the alleged (and oft-disproven) detriments of immigration to the economy were emphasized.
The legislative impact of both political phenomenon on immigration have had a lasting impact, and even now, under Biden’s administration, efforts to undo elements of Trump-era immigration policy have proved difficult, as discussed extensively in a previous Impakter article. Similarly, the effects of Brexit have had lasting repercussions on the availability of access to Europe’s labour force.
According to Business Insider, if immigration trends prior to Trump’s first year of presidency had continued, there would have been 2.1 million immigrants added to the total US population between 2016 and 2020. An analysis carried out by economic professors at the University of California also found that, had the pre-2020 trend of immigration continued, there would have been 2 million extra immigrants in the United States by the time 2021 ended.
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) January 16, 2022
Trump in the early months of 2020, in the wake of the pandemic, introduced legislation that has had continued usage under Biden’s administration, which further restricts immigration. The efficacy of the legislation in the fight against the pandemic has been criticised by medical and epidemiological experts, who see it as counter-productive.
In the UK, last November the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed a provisional estimate, based on experimental data modelling, suggesting that “Net migration fell considerably in 2020, with an estimated 34,000 more people immigrating than emigrating (uncertainty range: negative 58,000 to 125,000).”
The ONS report also suggests that “Net migration in 2020 for EU nationals was negative, with 94,000 more EU nationals estimated to have left the UK than to have arrived” This is the first time since 1991 that more EU nationals left the UK than arrived.
Related articles: Asylum Seekers at the US-Mexico Border Face Continued Challenges Under Biden | From “Go Home” Comments To “Go Home” Vans: The Normalisation Of Xenophobia
Although the estimate is highly uncertain and likely to be revised, the ONS says that the data currently indicates that “migration fell to the lowest level seen for many years.” The estimated figures suggest the lowest net immigration level since 1993. The ONS attributed the fall to both the pandemic and Brexit.
Concurrently, businesses in both the UK and the US have complained of labour shortages, with many sectors reliant on the labour of immigrants suffering
According to a survey recently released by Conference Board, a non-profit business research institute, labour shortages represent the greatest threat to US business this year.
According to a Vox article, the four industries most likely to face shortages in the US include “construction; transportation and warehousing; accommodation and hospitality; and personal services businesses.” This is unsurprising since “Immigrants make up at least 20 percent of the workforce in those industries.”
When labour shortages occur in warehousing and construction contributing to supply chain issues, there is a knock on effect on price inflation. This effect can be observed in both the US and the UK. The US hit record high inflation in 2021, reaching 7%, the highest in 39 years. This has placed strain on consumers and American families. Similarly, the UK has experienced a rise in inflation due to labour shortages. According to the Financial Times, “haulage, hospitality, food and drink, construction and autos” industries have been amongst those particularly strained by the shortages and price increases.
“The shortfall of #immigrants over the past two years has had immediate adverse consequences for filling jobs and harms long-run prospects for the U.S. economy…it’s concerning for the long-run effects on productivity, innovation and entrepreneurship.” https://t.co/epBooxi5Om
— AILA (@AILANational) January 13, 2022
The UK has worryingly been experiencing food shortages, with a YouGov Poll in December reporting that over half of UK residents were affected by the scarcity in the weeks prior to the survey. The scarcity is attributed to an absence of Eastern European workers and lorry drivers, as the UK food industry has long been heavily reliant on migrant labour.
The slow rate of population growth, and the growing elderly community in both the US and the UK makes clear that immigration is needed to supplement the work force
Both the US and the UK populations are also aging. For the US, economists for Econofact have forecasted “a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of elderly relative to the working age population over the next decade.” US population growth has continued to slow, reaching its historically lowest rate in 2021, with the nation experiencing a total population growth of 0.1%.
The forecast for the UK is similar, with data from the ONS indicating the fertility rate to be at 1.65. As the Economist points out, “The number of adults of pensionable age for every 1,000 working-age people is projected to increase from 280 in mid-2020 to 341 by mid-2045.” That’s over a third of the population thrown into retirement, not being actively productive.
In both cases, the trend points to a need for greater immigration to supply the working-age labour force needed to sustain industries, and also to provide care workers for struggling elderly care institutions that are set to expand. In both the UK and the US, immigrants make up a significant proportion of the health care sector, from nurses to doctors.
A migrant is more likely to be the doctor treating you, than being ahead of you in the A&E queue.
RT if you support each and every member of NHS staff who has come from all over the globe and risked their lives for us during the pandemic 💙@WorkersNHS
— NHS Million 💙 (@NHSMillion) March 5, 2021
The UK has had to deal with a shortage of (National Health Service) NHS staff throughout the pandemic, with some ministers demanding that greater security be afforded to foreign NHS workers on precarious visas.
The UK government has, in the face of these compounding complications, been continuing its hard-line approach to migration, fostering a culture of distrust. The current legislation is openly xenophobic: the proposed “nationality and borders bill” continues the Conservative government’s antagonism towards immigrants and the children of immigrants, threatening the citizenship of those born in the UK.
Similarly, the US congress has proved resistant to efforts to reverse Trump era policies, and the states of Missouri and Texas have successfully fought for the government to reinstate the “Remain in Mexico” policy that places migrants at severe risk.
Elements of the US political system and the UK governing establishment continue to stir the xenophobic sentiments of their right-wing base, whilst alienating those that might help the British and American economies, accelerating their path to recovery.
Without migrant labour, both countries’ GNPs will be lower than they could have been and if the doors are not open to so-called “economic migrants”, both GNPs will remain permanently below their optimal level. To reserve jobs for nationals is a policy choice with very real economic costs.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Construction work, Houston, Texas. Featured Photo Credit: Josh Olalde.