RELUCTANCE to accept high rates of immigration is driven partly by economics and, in particular, by fears that high numbers damage the labour market prospects of the British-born and that they place insupportable pressure on public services.

The evidence in support of such fears is unpersuasive. Indeed, restricting immigration may be denying significant economic benefits.

The labour market impact of immigration has been the subject of a great deal of economic research. The prevalent conclusion, both from the UK and elsewhere, suggests that economies are capable of absorbing immigration robustly without harm to either average wages or employment.

Immigrants to the UK are typically young and well-educated but tend to work, at least initially, in less well-paid jobs. If there are adverse wage effects, these are probably felt in similar jobs. Any such effects are small, probably temporary, and more than counterbalanced by gains to the wages of individuals further up the distribution of wages.

Furthermore, there is some evidence from other countries that immigration can make a positive contribution to innovation, trade and entrepreneurship.

The other frequent concern is the effect on the public sector. Immigrants make use of public services and rapid changes in numbers will create costs of adjustment. There is no reason to think the burden imposed is disproportionate however or unlikely to be matched by growth in tax revenue sufficient to cover the cost.

Evidence suggests, for example, that immigrants use public health services no more intensively than the British-born. Education of others appears unhindered by the presence of non-English-speaking children in the classroom and crime rates are not associated with rates of immigration.

Claims of benefit tourism are frequently made as part of a case against immigration but again, the facts offer little support of these.

Recent immigrants are in fact less likely to claim benefits than the British-born. When account is taken of the taxes they pay, the net fiscal contribution of immigrants, all things considered, at least over the last decade and a half, comes out positive, particularly as regards those from within Europe.

Though less strongly so, this is also true of those from outside.

Immigration therefore seems to assist rather than harm public finances. Of course, Over time, young and healthy immigrants will age and draw more heavily on the public sector, just like the British-born population, but some will return to their place of origin and those who stay will raise children who will help pay for their needs.

Ian Preston is Professor of Economics at University College London

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