A’new report from The All Parliamentary Group on Social Integration’chaired by Chuka Umunna MP argues that the toxic immigration debate is hindering integration and calls for urgent action to build a more cohesive society.
The report concludes the cross party group’s inquiry into the integration of immigrants, and follows the interim report in January which called for a regionally-led immigration system and compulsory English classes for immigrants who can’t speak the language. The report features extensive analysis from integration experts and evidence from visits to communities in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Dagenham in London which show that immigrants are increasingly leading parallel lives to other communities. It reveals that anti-immigrant rhetoric and xenophobia are making it harder for immigrants to become full members of British society. The report cites that 62% of second generation migrants feel that Britain has become less tolerant since the Brexit vote.
The cross party group of MPs and peers call on the Government to reform urgently and comprehensively the immigration system following the Brexit vote to support the economic, civic and social integration of immigrants. It calls on Ministers to bring forward plans to introduce an ‘Integration Impact Fund’ to pay for integration initiatives in immigration hotspots. These initiatives would be designed to promote community cohesion and build trust between newcomers and existing communities.
The Group renews its call for compulsory English classes and argues that fluency in English should be viewed as the right of every citizen ‘ and must be extended to everyone in our society regardless of their country of origin or gender. It recognises that language can be the greatest barrier to accessing all levels of society, including the job market and contact with local community groups, citing that as many as 800,000 immigrants have poor or no proficiency of English language. To support this recommendation the Group argues in this final report for the introduction of a student style loan system to help immigrants afford English classes – to be re-paid once a salary threshold has been attained.
The Group also renews its call to hand power to the UK’s nations and regions to propose their own immigration criteria to meet local and economic needs.’ In turn, local authorities should have a statutory duty to promote integration but they must be given the resources and funds to respond to local challenges. The Group now argues that local leaders should be empowered to propose time-limited region specific visas and quotas for the numbers of newcomers who would be able to immigrate to their area to work within specific economic sectors. Under such a system, immigrants would be expected to stay in a particular region for a minimum period of two-to-three years before gaining the right to live anywhere in UK. The MPs and peers argue that this reform would instill greater confidence that the system works for every community.
The report says Ministers should look at the impact of a regionally-led immigration policy post-Brexit, and ensure that EU migrants are included in the new system depending on the outcomes of the negotiations.
Finally, the Group argues that a greater focus on integration should be built into the process of settling into the UK, recommending that newcomers who are applying to be British citizens be required to contribute to their communities through undertaking voluntary or community work.
Chuka Umunna MP, chair of the APPG on Social Integration, said:
‘The demonisation of immigrants, exacerbated by the poisonous tone of the debate during the EU referendum campaign and after, shames us all and is a huge obstacle to creating a socially integrated nation. We must act now to safeguard our diverse communities from the peddlers of hatred and division while addressing valid concerns about the impact of immigration on public services, some of which can contribute to local tensions.
‘We must start by valuing the contribution of all ethnic and minority communities to the UK. Rather than being seen as security risks, immigrants should be viewed as Britons-in-waiting, keen to participate in their community. The best way to do this isn’t to leave newcomers and their communities to sink or swim, but to offer migrants more support to integrate into our society.
‘This report calls on the Government to overcome any and all barriers to integration ‘ by teaching English to all, by better redistributing migrant numbers and by empowering local leaders to promote integration ‘ so we can ensure the UK continues to be an open and global facing nation.’
Oliver Lee, CEO of The Challenge, the APPG’s Secretariat, said:
‘Whether we are newcomers to this country or have been here for generations, we need to meet, mix and connect with one another. This is how we forge stronger and more cohesive communities. This report’s recommendations have social integration at their heart and this is absolutely right. ‘