For a long-term migrant in the UK from Slovakia, it is worrying how dangerous a discourse the UK has engaged in since the EU vote.
We are currently witnessing post-referendum Britain showing little ability to cope with the circumstances and gradually resorting to blaming migrant communities for the political and economic decline brought about by the decision to leave the EU. It seems that the government is using their talk on migration as a smoke-screen for covering up their lack of a clear plan for leading the country through a time that is not only damaging for immigrants but increasingly seems to deteriorate economic prospects and opportunities for UK citizens too.
The government’s proposals of how to limit EU migration seems to be to employ more British workers along the lines of a ‘British jobs for British workers’ ethos. The idea shows dubious double-standards to recruiting staff. Furthermore, while it possibly shows good intentions to tackle the unemployment of UK indigenous population, the plan does not correspond with mechanisms of labour market.
As I come from an employability and recruitment background I believe that such government measures are too naive and restrictive. Working with unemployed people has taught me that it is not simple to match employers’ requirements with jobseekers’ expectations. Every individual is defined by different circumstances – age, skills, disabilities, family and ethnic background, education, location or aspirations. It often proves difficult to combine all these factors in desirable way for both employer and employee. Therefore, the Home Office’s suggested ‘quick fix’ to replace migrant workers with British ones might be not so easy when skills, relevant experiences and qualifications are considered. Additionally a double-standard approach to recruitment may also lead to unnecessary friction, conflicts and misunderstanding in the work-place.
It is somehow bizarre that the UK government works against mobility of the workforce within the economic block it wishes to maintain vital trade with in the future. Whether between cities, towns, regions or countries, the flexibility and mobility of the workforce provides more options to fill the gaps in the labour market on local level.
It is equally counter-productive for authorities to discourage people to come and work in the country where they would inevitably pay taxes and rent, as well as spend money on shopping, insurance, etc.
British automotive company Jaguar Land Rover recently began to build a car production factory in Slovakia where they intend to employ thousands of people. Perhaps because of geographic location, experienced and trained workforce and lower salaries, the British employer is outsourcing production abroad.
We might want to ask ourselves: which worker would contribute more to the UK economy: a worker working for a British company in Slovakia or a foreign worker working for a British company in the UK? At the end of the day an economically active person contributes more to the country where he or she resides, works, pays taxes and other costs.
European countries such as Austria, the Czech Republic or Slovakia are gradually starting to experience problems with a lack of workforce. Ageing populations with a decreasing segment of productive age job seekers cannot fulfil requirements of the labour market, which leads those countries to recruit staff from abroad. It is a phenomenon which has been completely omitted from migration debates in the UK. Demographic and economic factors have been replaced by nationalistic rhetoric.
EU and other migrants are currently prompted by authorities to leave jobs in the UK and seek career opportunities outside UK. A slowing down of the economy, a weak currency and the government’s proposed job-seeking discrimination against migrant workers may effectively cause a large number of migrant workers to leave the UK. Ironically, this together with the ageing population in the UK may eventually lead to a greater need in the UK to recruit workers from abroad as seen in Austria and Slovakia. Will the UK then seek to take back its regulations on migrant workers and entice them somehow to come back here to work?
Apart from the worrying current political and economic instability in the UK, there is another serious aspect of the EU referendum debate – the lost momentum on racial equality and multi-cultural cohesion. Britain, once a world-leading country on equal opportunities policies, community development, and religious freedom - well-known for fighting against discrimination of any kind - is now becoming a hostile country for newcomers resorting to backwards, narrow-minded views and is now developing racist, discriminatory policies.
For many of us migrants, the UK used to inspire with its institutional acceptance of different cultures, religious or political views - unfortunately not a common practice in many countries across the globe. Sadly, the situation has changed and I now feel UK political leaders have resorted to populist, discriminatory rhetoric and attitudes. While other countries seem to progress in this area, though some yet at a slower pace in terms of social inclusion and multi-cultural acceptance, the UK has chosen to reverse a process which was exemplary to other countries.
The referendum discourse has already caused visible damage to UK economy and it seems to me the government it lacks a clear vision of where the Brexit negotiations may lead. It is deeply worrying and distressing not only for migrant communities but also for UK citizens, businesses, international trade, social and national securities. When the world faces challenges such as global debt crisis, climate change, growing income disparity and poverty, Brexit adds another layer of pressure.
Yet, based on the rhetoric we continue to hear, I am very concerned that politicians continue to scapegoat migrants rather than focus political leadership and efforts to find a constructive, reasonable plan for how the challenges arising from Brexit could be addressed and resolved.