Jaber Jabbour has a financial advisory business, has worked for Goldman Sachs and was named as one of the 40 under 40 rising stars in investment banking in Britain by Financial News.
Ever since moving to the UK from Syria ten years ago, I have been following the debate on immigration very closely. As world events and attitudes have changed, both the substance and tone of the debate have evolved since 2004 and are continuing to do so today. However, during this period, a fundamental point in relation to immigration from Europe has not received the attention it deserves. This is certainly how I feel as this was the only point about immigration that I had pondered while growing up in Syria.
As an outsider living in a different continent, I always wondered if it was discriminatory to open the door to Europeans to immigrate to Britain simply due to their nationality.
I believe that the most essential principles of an ideal society are individuality, freedom and giving everyone a chance at succeeding regardless of what their ethnicity, religion or nationality may be. These happen to be at the core of the Conservative philosophy. If these principles are properly applied, no one would gain advantage or suffer discrimination based on the characteristics with which they were born. The only criteria for judging anyone would become their personal achievements and contribution to society. In an ever more globalised world, the outdated European immigration status currently collides with these Conservative ideals.
It is not possible for Britain, or any other country for that matter, to operate an open border immigration policy. Therefore, there have to be criteria against which some people can immigrate to Britain and others cannot. Currently, the right to immigrate to Britain is automatically doled out to people based on whether they hold a European passport or not. Instead, immigration to Britain should be reserved for those individuals who have worked hard in their own communities to accomplish significant achievements, and can demonstrate that they clearly identify with British values.
In the same way that a business continually and dynamically manages its recruitment plans based on what its current needs are, so should every society when it designs its immigration policy. For example, if Britain requires 10,000 immigrants in 2014, there would be only 10,000 prizes to be earned by the most talented people in the world, who identify with British principles.
A meritocratic immigration system is not only beneficial to Britain and countries to which immigrants normally come, but is also valuable to countries exporting labour. From experience, I know that it is very easy to become demotivated if you live in a society where cronyism and corruption are rife; where there are no opportunities for young people and where the law is inconsistently applied. In such countries, young people often start to question if their hard work will ever pay off and whether it is worthwhile being ethical and honest.
An immigration system that is purely talent-based, especially if applied strictly and fairly by a large number of countries, could provide the motivation and encouragement that is clearly lacking and greatly needed in various parts of the world. Those individuals who believe in this immigration system start to work harder and compete with each other. Whether or not they succeed in emigrating, they become the carriers of new values within their own cultures. This is possible thanks to their ambition and self-interest as well as the credibility of a meritocratic and international immigration system.
Some might argue that this seems like an idealised scheme that cannot work in practice. In actual fact, such an immigration policy is no different in practice from the Tier 1 and Tier 2 programmes that the UK implements when issuing visas to skilled and high value non-EU immigrants. Therefore, it would not be difficult to apply these programmes to EU nationals as well. Other European countries have equivalent schemes and could easily apply these to EU nationals too. Furthermore, point-based immigration systems have been successfully implemented in other parts of the world in recent history.
A merit-based immigration policy doesn’t have to cost the taxpayer any extra money as it could be funded through application fees, which could be considerably more than at present. A well-funded system will not only ensure that the best candidates are recruited, but also that their contribution to the UK is reviewed after moving here to assess their eligibility to extend their stay in Britain.
Throughout history, a key reason behind Britain’s success has been our ability to trade and do business with people from all backgrounds, regardless of whether they are European or not. In the 21st century, it has become more important for us to keep doing so.
Shifting to a nationality-independent immigration policy would send the right message to everyone in the world, illustrating that we, in Britain, welcome hard-working, talented people who identify with our values regardless of their nationality, religion or ethnicity. Currently, this is not the impression given by Britain and Europe to the rest of the world.
In conclusion, would it not be great if, while making sure that we recruit the right number and the right kind of individuals to immigrate to Britain, we also contribute to making the world a better place – all at zero cost and while improving our image and relationships with the people of other countries?