Saturday, 23 June 2012

In Praise of Immigrants

I see Milliband is now saying we need caps on immigrants.

There's a little country at the eastern end of the Mediterranean which never even existed 60 years ago. The people who emigrated there were from a myriad races - Indian, Arab, European, Ethiopian, African and what-have-you. They were drawn there with one purpose; to create a new country, and they called it Israel.

They all had just one thing in common - they were nominally Jewish. Not all of them were religious; indeed only 25% of the Israeli population today can be considered practising Jews.

However, race and nationality were not a barrier to them coming - all with a Jewish root were welcome, became assimilated, learned Hebrew and eventually took Israeli citizenship. Today, a third or Israelis were not born there. If you go out on the streets in the major cities you will see Israelis of all hues and national backgrounds. OK, the Ethiopians haven't integrated so well, but there will always be exceptions.

The largest influx - some 200,000 a year, arrived when the Iron Curtain fell, and they're still arriving, but no longer in such huge numbers.

Israel has the highest immigration in the world for its size, yet it has a thriving economy and has avoided most of the problems we are contending with.

The secret of the success of the Israeli immigration process was positive assimilation and not just leaving the immigrants to gather in ghettos to make their own way. They also have to earn the right to citizenship through hard work - citizenship is not an automatic right; if they don't make the grade, they're out.

The Land of the Free itself is comprised of immigrants and the UK has seen successive waves of immigrants. Their descendants now call themselves American or British. I myself was an immigrant in the early 1960s and couldn't speak a word of English, but I now consider myself British (note British, not English).

While I agree numbers have to be sustainable, there are ways of handling immigrants that ensure they contribute and don't become a problem. Many countries can learn from the Israeli experience.

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