British people are more positive about the benefits of immigration than any other major European country according to the YouGov-Cambridge global survey, which found that nearly half of Britons believe that immigrants are either positive or neutral for the UK.
The survey found that 28% of Britons feel that the benefits of immigration outweigh the costs, in comparison to 24% of Germans, 21% French and 19% Danes. A further 20% of Britons felt that the costs and benefits were about equal, whilst 16% remained unsure.
These findings challenge the assumption that Britain is more unreceptive to immigration than its European neighbours. Britain was seen to have taken an uncompassionate and firm response to the 2015 migration crisis, whilst many argue that concerns over immigration were the main factor driving the Brexit vote.
However, experts have detected that attitudes towards immigration have softened since the vote, which could have been influenced by the prospect of the end of free movement and the drastic decline in net migration to the UK from EU countries, which had in the last figures dropped to its lowest in a decade.
Overall, only 37% of British people believe that the costs of immigration outweigh the benefits, which is lower than in any other large European country apart from Poland. In comparison, 50% of Italians feel that the net impact of immigration is negative, as do 49% of Swedish people, 42% French and 40% of Germans.
The findings come just weeks prior to the European parliament elections, where populist, anti-immigration forces are predicted to perform well across Europe.
Nigel Farage, whose anti-migrant ‘breaking point’ poster was key to the leave message in the 2016 EU referendum, is making a return to politics with his Brexit party, whilst his former UKIP party continues to campaign on immigration issues.
The UK part of the YouGov survey, however, suggests that anti-immigrant messaging is not likely to work across the party divide. Whilst only 3% of UKIP voters thought that the benefits outweighed the costs, this compared with Conservative voters at 15% and 42% of Labour voters.
In addition, the survey suggested that men were most open to the benefits of immigration, with 32% stating that the overall impact was positive, compared to 24% of women.
Last year, the identity and integration thinktank British Future published The National Conversation, a report on immigration in the UK. Its Director, Sunder Katwala, said that studies demonstrate that Britain was on the “glass half full” side of the debate.
He went on to say that there is “An increasing body of evidence that attitudes, having been very sceptical, are becoming softer. The salience of immigration has dropped significantly and there’s also been a warming up of attitudes.”
Katwala further stated that a softening in attitudes had been noted by politicians, which has meant Farage has changed his tone ahead of the European elections.
“Some people accept changes are coming. Some people are more empathetic because they see stories like Windrush, they see that the 3 million Europeans in the UK aren’t just a statistic but the people we see on television worried about whether they’re allowed to stay.”
The survey demonstrates that British people are particularly supportive of migrants, both unskilled and qualified professionals, if they have a job offer in advance. Some 41% of Britons agreed that unskilled laborers entering the UK with a job offer were beneficial for the economy, a higher proportion than in every other major EU country with the exception of Spain.
Britons also showed the biggest level of support than any other nation surveyed for qualified professionals coming to Britain with a job offer, with 80% in agreement that they were good for the country, compared to around 56% of French respondents, for example.
Britons are less supportive, however, than any other western nation in the survey of migrants arriving without employment to search for work.
Just 14% of Britons felt that unskilled labourers arriving in the UK to seek employment were positive for the country, with only Germany and Sweden demonstrating lower levels of support for these kinds of migrants.
British people also seemed to be somewhat hostile to refugees. Just 29% of Britons felt that people fleeing prosecution or war were good for the country, which is less than any other EU or anglophone country participating in the survey. Nearly half of Canadians (46%) and French (44%) conversely expressed positive attitudes over refugees.
Respondents in the UK also demonstrated the lowest level of support of all countries surveyed for migrants coming to the country to join family members already residing there. Just 22% of respondents felt this was positive for the country, compared with 56% of Polish respondents who, among the EU and anglophone countries, demonstrated the highest level of support.
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