Marketplace: “Immigration a concern amid looming Brexit vote”

by Joseph McKeown

On June 23, the United Kingdom will hold a referendum—referred to as the “Brexit” vote—to decide whether Britain should leave or remain in the European Union (EU). The referendum comes after Prime Minister David Cameron bowed to pressure from his own Conservative MPs before his general election last year and said: "It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics."

Immigration is an important issue in the referendum, as the EU guarantees the free movement of people between the twenty-eight member countries. Many Brits are worried about the record influx of immigrants who have come to the UK. Last year, there was a net inflow into the UK of more than 330,000 immigrants with half of them from elsewhere in the EU. Elisa Padilla from Spain, who has lived in London for three years, is concerned about the EU referendum. “It is a bit scary,” she tells Marketplace, “because underneath it all, I feel there is some sort of rejection of immigrants. English people don’t want more people from abroad coming here.”

While some claim that immigrants are affecting public services like healthcare, education, and housing, Italian immigrant Daniela de Rosa, who runs an Anglo-Italian website, is surprised by the referendum. “I wouldn’t have believed when I moved to London eleven years ago that one day someone would question our staying in Britain—as Europeans,” de Rosa tells Marketplace.

Deporting the 2 million EU migrant workers already in the UK wouldn’t make economic sense since they pay more in taxes than they take from the government and many dispute their supposed drain on resources. Michal Zdunczyk, a printing equipment engineer from Poland, disputes the charge that EU migrants are putting Brits out of work. “We basically fill the gap where the British people will not accept those jobs for that kind of money,” Zdunczyk tells Marketplace.

Gisela Stuart, a Labour MP and Vote Leave chair, says that British people are feeling the strains of “uncontrolled migration” and should vote leave in order to take back control from the EU. “As an immigrant myself, I am conscious of benefits immigration brings to this country," she says in the Guardian. "I have been very clear that I would like to see the introduction of an Australian Points based system—something that would also serve to end the discrimination inherent in the current system. But the fact of the matter is that the democratically elected UK parliament is prevented from doing any such thing because of the EU’s obsession with open borders.”

Prime Minister David Cameron claims it would be “madness” to try to reduce the number of migrants to the UK by voting to leave the EU and Hilary Benn, the UK shadow foreign secretary, says that a vote to leave the EU will not put a stop to the high levels of immigration, as foreign workers are needed in the country. “Immigration into Britain will continue whether we stay or go, as the Leave Campaign have now admitted,” he says. “And anyone who thinks that voting leave will bring the numbers down significantly will in time be bitterly disappointed.”

While many view the Leave Campaign as anti-immigrant, support for Brexit comes from many unusual sources including many chefs and curry house owners, predominantly from Bangladesh, who want to leave the EU since they claim current immigration laws and EU-mandated salary requirements make it extremely difficult for them to hire the skilled workers for their restaurants. Four or five of Britain's 12,000 curry houses are closing their doors every week, says Oli Khan, vice president of the Bangladeshi Caterers Association. "It's not that we think Europeans shouldn't have a chance in Britain, it's just that we feel the country should choose who it needs, what kind of skills they need, so that industries like ours are not short handed," Khan tells CNN. Meanwhile, the rest of the EU waits nervously for the outcome.