No more low-wage immigration, U.K., Canada, tell CEOs

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Public opposition to high immigration in the United Kingdom has forced the establishment Conservative Party to propose cutting annual work-related immigration down to 75,000.

The country’s opposition to the immigrant inflow is so heated that a government minister has even urged employers to attract needed British workers by offering higher salaries, and to give up relying on low-skill, low-wage workers from Poland or Pakistan.

The minister’s jarring comments came after the CEO of Domino’s Pizza in the U.K. said last week that the country should import more low-wage immigrants to prepare and deliver pizzas.

“There are a huge number of jobs at the bottom end of the service industry, and not enough people in the U.K. who want to work for them,” complained CEO Lance Batchelor, who is a a British graduate of Harvard’s business school.

“He should perhaps pay his staff a little more, then he might find it easier to recruit them,” responded Mark Harper, the immigration minister. “If he’s having trouble recruiting labour, I don’t think we should import relatively unskilled labour from outside [Europe] just so that he can keep his wages low,” Harper told a parliamentary hearing.

Batchelor “runs a profitable business [and so] he should pay what the market demands,” the minister said.

The conservative politician’s put-down of a business leader contrasts with politicians’ actions in the United States.

Since June, nearly all Democratic legislators and some Republican legislators have backed a Senate-drafted immigration bill that would triple the legal inflow of low-wage laborers into a stalled economy.

Only a few Senators, led by Alabama’s Sen. Jeff Sessions and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, slammed the June bill’s extremely unpopular worker-import provisions.

However, none of the GOP leaders in the House have criticized the June bill for increasing the inflow of immigration workers. Also, establishment media outlets have ignored the worker-importing provisions.

The British minister’s put-down was delivered as the country’s Conservative Party is being forced by rising public opposition to back away from its pro-immigration policies, which are strongly supported by British industry.

A weekend poll showed the conservatives with only 30 percent of the vote, while the United Kingdom Independence Party won 16 percent of the vote.

UKIP is a party wants the country to leave the European Union, and to reduce the inflow of immigrants. It has grown rapidly during the last decade, mostly by winning voters from the more centrist Conservative Party.

To win back those voters from the UKIP, Conservative Party leaders leaked a report late last week outlining a new plan that would renegotiate European treaties to slash work-related immigration from European Union countries to 75,000 a year.

The report was prepared by the U.K.’s Home Office, which is similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The report also called for exclusion of low-skilled labors from poor countries, and tighter curbs on high-skilled immigrants from Germany and other wealthy countries.

The U.K. has a population of roughly 64 million, or one-fifth of the United State’s population of 300 million. Roughly seven percent of the population are immigrants from Pakistan or India. However, immigrants contribute one-in-four of all newborns in the country.

If the Conservative Party manages to set an immigration cap at 75,000, it would place U.K. work-related immigration at roughly one-fifth the per-capita rate in the United States. The U.S. accepts roughly 1 million immigrations per year, and also awards roughly 650,000 temporary work permits to guest-workers each year, even though 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed.

Because of public pressure, the U.K.‘s main left-of-center party, the Labor Party, has also reversed its outspoken support for immigration, and has moved its polling numbers up to 37 percent.

“Low-skill migration has been too high and we need to bring it down,” party leader Ed Miliband said in March.

The Labor Party’s new policy calls for “properly enforcing the minimum wage so people aren’t brought here to undercut workers already here, and… proper training for people here so that they have a fighting chance of filling the vacancies that exist,” Miliband said.

In 2000, Labor Party officials increased low-skill immigration of Pakistani and other diverse immigrants to “rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date,” according to the co-author of the immigration policy.

Since then, the number of jihadi plots and attacks in the U.K. have spiked. The government has responded by massively increasing police surveillance and by passing an “anti-hate” law.

The party also adopted policies in 2004 to ease immigration from European countries. Those policies were a “spectacular mistake,” the former minister in charge of immigration, Jack Straw, said mid-November.

It is not clear if the Labor Party’s new immigration policy is only a public relations maneuver prior to an expected election in 2015.

Canada’s conservative government is also cracking down in the use of imported low-skill labor.

“The single most powerful tool employers have to address labour skill shortages is raising wage levels,” Jason Kenney, the employment minister in Canada’s conservative government, told business leaders in mid-November.

The country’s guest-worker program “must not, cannot be a first option” he told the business leaders, as he urged them to increase training of their workers. “It must only and always be a last option for employers.”

Kenney suggested the business leaders were being deceptive when they claimed they were suffering from a worker shortage.

“Wage levels have barely kept pace with inflation, and yet every single business organization, industry group, sector council and employer in the country with whom I met tells us one of their top strategic challenges now and certainly into the future is skill and labour shortages,” he scoffed.

The international trend, however, is ahead of U.S. politics.

In June, a coalition of progressive and business groups lobbied the Senate to approve a bill that would triple U.S. legal immigration rates up to 30 million, and double the inflow of guest workers to more than 1.5 million per year, during the next decade.

If the GOP’s leadership in the House backs the unpopular foreign-worker bill, the influx could provide enough immigrant labor to replace all working Americans aged between 20 and 30. It could also flat-line U.S. wages for a decade, and shift more of the nation’s annual income to Wall Street’s investors, according to a June report by the Congressional Budget Office.

Since 2000, amid high immigration, the number of Americans with jobs has actually declined, median wages have fallen, the top 1 percent has won nearly all the income gains since 2009, and President Barack Obama was reelected in 2012.

To prevent another Democratic win in 2016, the GOP should reject CEO demands for cheap labor, and should instead adopt a low-immigration, high-wage strategy, Sessions said in November.

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Neil Munro