Eat-in or takeway?

Today, I’ve read several stories about the government’s new shortage occupation list for overseas migrants, which will see non-EU takeaway chefs, senior care workers and sheep shearers unable to apply for visas.
The British media are usually pretty happy to swallow anti-migration discourse whole. But this time, no one seems convinced. Having picked a number to represent « acceptable » levels of migration – without much discernible rhyme or reason, other than a firm belief that fewer is better  – the Conservatives now seem hell-bent on cutting migration down to fit, even when it flies in the face of economic evidence. Care homes, for instance, have protested that they need to recruit non-EU workers in order to function. Given the demographic writing on the wall and the regular media exposés of chronic under-staffing in many care homes demand for qualified and competent care workers, whatever their nationality, is hardly likely to fall.
Driven by ideology, to be seen to be cutting migration has its own political rationale. Yet measures like these are absurd. I don’t think it’s an influx of antipodean sheep hearers who are responsible for deprivation, council housing waiting lists and social tensions in Barking. I don’t think anyone in Barking thinks that either. It’s lazy politics, at odds with the coalition’s supposed interest in small states and free markets.
It’s also self-defeating, because arbitrary exclusion of qualified professionals isn’t exactly commensurate with Cameron’s insistence on start-ups being Britain’s ‘only strategy for growth’. At least one hi-tech start-up in Silicon Roundabout that I know well has struggled to find software engineers skilled enough to build its product within the EU, and after months of bureaucratic wrangling has finally been permitted to recruit its second – and final – overseas worker. The result are hours wasted interviewing substandard applicants. And in the long-term, a much higher likelihood the next Facebook or Twitter isn’t going to come out of an Old Street warehouse, but a New Delhi high-rise.
Blame our education system ; but don’t blame Indian engineers for having the skills we don’t. And don’t exclude them as part of an arbitrary numbers game that is premised on the predetermined conviction that migrant numbers must be reduced, and then tries to fit the economics around the politics. It didn’t work for the Corn Laws, and I suspect – and hope – that in one hundred and fifty years, restricting freedom of movement will appear as economically absurd to our descendents as restricting free and fair trade does to us today.