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19 June 2023

What is the world's problem with migration?

A new podcast episode looks at why migration is such a key topic for the world today and the impact of some current policies being used to try to curb people’s movement around the planet.

Image showing barbed wire and group of individuals with bags

What impact do immigrants have on jobs and public services? Are politicians in step with public attitudes on migration? And what is it like for those caught up in the red tape of the immigration system?

These are just some of the questions answered in 'What is the world's problem with migration?', the latest episode of the WORLD: we got this podcast series. The new episode, released for the start of Refugee Week 2023, features academics with expertise on different aspects of migration, all of whom are based in the Faculty of Social Science & Public Policy at King's College London.

Professor Jonathan Portes, of King’s School of Politics and Economics and The Policy Institute, discusses how, contrary to some common perceptions, the evidence shows that migrants in the UK contribute more to public services in the form of taxation than they take out, as they tend to be younger people in employment. Migration also does not have much of an impact on employment in Britain overall, although specific sectors or areas might see some negative effects, because migrants are consumers too, which can lead to the creation of more jobs.

We can think about migration from an economic perspective as being rather like trade. So just like free trade, migration is likely to benefit an economy overall. On average, it makes us all better off, just like free trade tends to make all of us better off.

Professor Jonathan Portes

In the episode, he talks about the role of immigration in Brexit campaigns and how the system set up since the UK left the EU has led to changes in who is migrating to Britain, plus we are now seeing higher levels of migration overall. He also highlights research showing how well the UK does on integration and tolerance of people from other cultures.

Dr Leonie Ansems de Vries, of King’s Department of War Studies, talks about the toxic nature of some of the discussions and language used to discuss migration in the UK. However, she points out you see a very different picture when you consider how many individuals offered to support or host people in their homes in 2015, 2016 and following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She says people have always moved around the world and she encourages us to shift perspective: instead of seeing migration as the problem, we should draw attention to the violent impact of borders. Her work has highlighted that drawing clear distinctions between economic migrants and others seeking refugee is problematic as almost all are just seeking a better life - whether that means trying to stay alive and/or escaping poverty.

In the episode she also discusses her research on migrant communities across Europe often in places of transit or ‘(un)settlement’. She says many create spaces of belonging, despite the violent approaches to migration management which many countries have adopted.

What we see, for instance in these places is that the police will come in, they just raid a place, they do everything, absolutely everything to make sure that communities cannot arise. So they will slash tents, they will make food inedible by putting tear gas in. It is very much what I've called the 'politics of exhaustion', trying to exhaust people in whichever way they can.

Dr Leonie Ansems de Vries

In the episode, she also discusses her work as Director of King’s Sanctuary Programme which brings together education, research and impact to tackle the pressing global challenge of forced displacement through creating positive opportunities for forcibly displaced students and academics. This includes supporting students in the UK from a background of forced migration to access and thrive in Higher Education and the development of safe and legal higher education pathways to the UK. Working with other UK universities, it has created a university sponsorship model to support Ukrainian students and academics to safely travel to the UK and to continue their studies or research at a partner university with holistic support. More than 60 students and academics have been sponsored to date.

Dr Mollie Gerver, of King’s School of Politics & Economics, researches proportionality and migration, sparked by learning of a relative trying to migrate to the USA, who was sent back to Poland because she had arthritis and subsequently died in The Holocaust.

In the episode she discusses her research that revealed people in the UK and USA are far less likely to support enforcement that would lead to refugees being harmed or killed. Even those who oppose immigration do not support enforcement against a range of individuals fleeing life-threatening conditions. She says current polls on migration fail to account for people's opinions on enforcement and her research shows the current UK government is out of step with the views of the public.

The UK Government policy of requiring refugees who arrive by boat to move to Rwanda, despite the fact that Rwanda has a history of deporting refugees to unsafe countries despite the fact that Rwanda has a history of not providing sufficient food to refugees, that's a disproportional response. We learned that citizens do have opinions, consistent with proportionality. And that suggests that policymakers have the political mandate, the necessary popular support to ensure that immigration enforcement is far more proportional than it is today.

Dr Mollie Gerver

Listen to the full episode on Acast. You can also find it on Spotify, Google podcasts or Apple podcasts or on other major podcast platforms by searching for 'WORLD we got this'.

Find out more about the series

Find out more about the WORLD: we got this podcast series including information on episodes from all four seasons to date or listen to them all on Acast here.

In this story

Dr Leonie Ansems de Vries

Reader in International Politics

Dr Mollie Gerver

Lecturer in International Ethics

Jonathan Portes

Professor of Economics and Public Policy