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By Philippe Legrain ADD COMMENTS

Are immigrants taking our jobs?
It is an explosive issue, especially with Britain sinking into
recession and unemployment rising. So opponents of immigration will
doubtless seize on a new report
by the independent thinktank MigrationWatch UK, which claims that those
dastardly foreigners who have the cheek to look after your granny or
pick English strawberries are stealing jobs from British people. Yet
the claims of Sir Andrew Green‘s thinktank are flatly contradicted by figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

MigrationWatch claims that nearly all the jobs created in the UK since 2001 have gone to immigrants. But figures from the labour force survey (xls),
show that employment among British-born people actually rose by 378,000
between the second quarter of 2001 and the second quarter of 2008, the
dates arbitrarily chosen by MigrationWatch. If one excludes the recent
fall in employment due to the financial crisis and instead compares the
last three months of 2000 with the last three months of 2007, the
number of UK-born people with jobs has risen by just over half a
million (520,000).

MigrationWatch also claims that employment
among UK-born people has fallen by 230,000 since the second quarter of
2004, when Britain opened its labour market to the Poles and other
eastern Europeans joining the EU. But this too is contradicted by ONS
figures. These show that the number of British-born people in jobs
actually rose by 43,000 between the second quarter of 2004 and the same
period of 2008. Excluding the impact of the financial crisis,
employment rose by 175,000 between the second quarter of 2004 and the
last three months of 2007.

MigrationWatch says that "there has
been no progress at all in getting British-born unemployed workers into
work" since 2001, and blames immigrants for this. But ONS figures
suggest otherwise. They show that the employment rate among
British-born people – the proportion of UK-born people of working age
in employment – rose sharply in Labour’s first term, from 73.5% in the
second quarter of 1997 to 76% in the third quarter of 2000. Since then
it has remained roughly steady: it was 75.6% in the second quarter of
2004 when Britain opened up to east European workers and 76% in the
last quarter of 2007. In other words, the employment rate stopped
improving well before eastern European migrants started arriving in
large numbers, and has not worsened since.

The bigger point is
this. As even MigrationWatch is forced to concede, there is not a fixed
number of jobs in the economy. Immigrants don’t just take jobs, they
also create them, as they spend their wages and fill roles in
complementary lines of work. If Britain threw out its Polish workers
there wouldn’t suddenly be more jobs for British people – just as
throwing women out of work wouldn’t provide more jobs for men.

Whichever
way you look at it, immigrants are not taking British people’s jobs. On
the contrary, they are helping to provide vital public services and
keep small businesses going. Not for the first time, MigrationWatch’s
xenophobic prejudice is causing it to twist the truth. Andrew Green
should be ashamed of himself.

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