Published on People Move

Immigration a major election issue on both sides of the Atlantic

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Immigration reforms are the focus in the UK  elections and in the USA Senate elections for this year. Both countries are yet to come to grips with the need to develop consistent policy frameworks in which immigrants can effectively and productively utilize their skills, knowledge, and previous work experience. Both countries are trying to identify measures on how to better deal with undocumented migrants and how to devise laws for low-skilled workers and for high-skilled workers.

In the UK, prime ministerial candidates have proposed the following approaches to undocumented migrants: 1) Gordon Brown’s proposal is to ban unskilled workers from outside Europe and cut the numbers of semi-skilled and skilled workers to enter into UK; 2) David Cameron proposes that “new countries that join the European Union should have transitional controls so not everyone can come at once. Regarding immigration from outside the European Union, there needs to be a cap”; and 3) Nick Clegg puts forward a proposal for "earned citizenship" for those who have lived illegally in Britain for at least 10 years, who speak English, who want to pay taxes and who want to play by the rules. (Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is promoting amnesty for undocumented workers.)

In the US, Senators Harry Reid (D-NV), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) have put forth an immigration proposal—the Real Enforcement with Practical Answers for Immigration Reform (REPAIR)— that provides a framework for immigration reform. (See article). President Obama stated that “the proposal outlined on April 29 is an important step in the process of fixing our nation’s broken immigration system.” (See

Some common measures that both countries are proposing include: biometric visas, biometric employment verification, foreign nationals’ ID cards and regularization of undocumented immigrants if they have been in the country for more than 10 years in the UK and more than 8 years in the US. Will these proposals survive and become laws?

Migration pressures are expected to rise with growing demographic and economic differences. Both sending and receiving countries are beginning to realize that the volume of resources currently being channeled through immigrant communities will continue to grow, and that public policies must be jointly developed to increase the development impact of both migratory movements and the remittances they generate. The current elections debates show an increasing recognition of this reality. The solutions, whatever they may turn out to be, are unlikely to be perfect, but time has come to to take big steps to address migration issues.


Sonia Plaza

Senior Economist, Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation Global Practice, World Bank

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