Writing for the Independent of Sunday, Sajjad calls for a commonsense approach to EU migration
Calls for a clampdown on migrants coming to the UK have once again propelled immigration on to the front pages. Immigration is indeed an important issue, but the confused hysteria that mixes rights of movement of people with asylum and immigration does little to advance debate and ignores the fact that migration is a two-way street.
Much rhetoric is based on misconceptions about EU immigration to Britain. The surge of migrants flooding the UK from new EU member states that provoked so much hysteria never actually materialised. As parts of our media camped at Luton airport awaiting the first "tidal wave", another event went completely unnoticed. Romania Gateway 2018 was launched at Liverpool airport as a platform for British companies to play their part in Romania's EU-led multibillion- euro development. The other side of the Romanian story, the Romanian opportunity, remains untold.
The contempt directed against immigrants from poorer EU member states for "leeching off the state" and burdening our economy is also misplaced. According to a recent European Commission report, immigrants from EU countries to Britain paid more in tax than they received in benefits. Poles have made a net contribution to the UK in economic terms and have been readily absorbed into Britain's labour market. Trade between the UK and Poland has grown significantly since 2005, indicating that many Poles who returned home have used their UK business ties to help increase bilateral trade between the two nations. The short-term "Polish plumber" effect has a lasting legacy, but once again the positive effects go untold other than the efforts of a select few such as the campaign group British Influence, which battles to set the record straight.
Instead of a blanket ban on immigration, smarter, more effective regulations must be employed to ensure net contributors continue arriving from overseas to strengthen Britain's growth. Recent government changes to the welfare system to prevent new arrivals from claiming unemployment benefits in their first three months of arrival go some way towards achieving this. More extensive German-led EU reforms will further tip the balance.
Put bluntly, our leaders need to show courage and ensure the British public is better informed. The immigration debate needs to stop being used as a scapegoat for economic difficulties or socio-political challenges that migrant communities have had little or no bearing on. This is a phenomenon that is not restricted to the UK. It is a trend that other EU countries are also experiencing, from the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, to Le Pen's National Front in France and the Golden Dawn in Greece, with whom Ukip will now sit in the European Parliament after the collapse of their political group.
As in all the EU countries that are witnessing the emergence of right-wing movements, the hysteria around immigration is always ratcheted up in the run-up to elections. Extreme voices on the fringe are making a desperate push to become more mainstream. Moderate voices must work to ensure they do not.