The immigration reform: A policy briefing

Immigration policy should not become a limiting factor on the economic growth of UK cities.

Briefing published on 8 January 2014

Immigration does not look set to leave the headlines in the foreseeable future and will be one of the key debates in the build up to the 2015 general election. This briefing revisits the key arguments about the benefits and costs of immigration, and highlights an aspect that is rarely discussed: the fact that immigration is primarily an urban issue.

Cities attract the most immigrants and rely on them as workers: they are a significant proportion of the economically active population. The future of the UK economy relies on the ability of UK cities to stay competitive as global centres of business and innovation. In order to do this they need to attract global talent. It is therefore important that immigration policy does not limit the economic growth of UK cities.

Our policy recommendations:

  • Striking the right balance between penalising illegal immigrants and welcoming global talent. At a rate of about £4,000 a year, illegal immigrants cost taxpayers a lot and controlling this is important. However, the Government should be wary of imposing controls so strict that create a hostile environment discouraging skilled legal immigrants as well. In addition, the Government should make skilled migration programmes more flexible and prioritise foreign students.
  • Immigration quotas for London. In the absence of changes to UK-wide policy to attract more skilled immigrants, we support the proposal put forward by Boris Johnson and Tony Travers that London should be given a special quota for skilled immigration.
  • Flexibility for Core Cities to welcome more skilled immigrants. In the medium to long run, other cities, particularly larger cities such as the Core Cities group, should be given similar opportunities to set skilled immigration quotas, provided they can make a strong economic case for inviting more skilled immigrants.