In a previous post we briefly talked about race relations on each side of the Atlantic and we noted a difference in attitude with regards to indirect discrimination, which highlights a hypocrisy between a formal ‘official  equality’, and de facto inequality.  In this post, I wish to broaden the focus to other types of anti-discrimination law, before moving onto the recent change of mood music (Brexit and Trump), before moving the discussion on to a consideration of immigration rates.

The United States lead the way in 1791 with regard to equality laws, with both 5th and 14th Amendments limiting the federal and state level from being able to discriminate. Notably, this does not cover the private sector. Canada, arguably lead the way in modern equality legislation with the Human Rights 1985, which had a fuller spectrum of discriminations in a unified way. In contrast, the UK had a patch work of acts that lacked consistency when considered as a whole, which was only consolidated with the Equality Act 2006. A watershed moment for the United States was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a broadening of the rights agenda taking place in the 90s (American Disability Act 1990) with Equality Act 2015 currently in the House of Representatives which would extend anti-discriminatory laws of the Civil Rights Act 1964 to other protected categories. Outside this legal context, its representative is what is called ‘political correctness’ which polices public discourse.

The mood music has recently changed in the UK, environment post 2008 crash was used to de facto defang equality law regulation and the government’s inability to control immigration was taken as a general sign of impotency. Likewise in the United States recent election, the porous Mexican border featured, along with Federal government’s haplessness with regards to trade deals.   Whilst trade deals and immigration seem unrelated, what if they are in fact related?  The UK is part of the EU in which there is a free movement of goods and people, where NAFTA covered goods. What if  illiegal immigration is the ‘unofficial’ other half of NAFTA?  Both the UK and the US  took part in regional trade deals that involved both goods and that of labour, the difference is that the labour component was part of the ‘official’ policy of the UK, and in the case of US it was the ‘unofficial’ component of the deal.

The net migration rate peaked in the United States in the year 2000, where illegal immigration along the Mexican border outstripped legal immigration, but it has since declined.


In the early days, immigration policy was racially targeted, first barring Chinese immigrants (The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882), and then more broadly in the ‘Asiatic barred zone‘. In the 1920s ceilings were introduced which favored immigration from the west. The Bracero Program was introduced to encourage Mexican farm labour in the Second World War which continued after  into the 50s. During this time immigration pivoted from that of race towards unifying families and labour market needs.

With the advent of immigration ceilings which need not match the economies labour needs, ushered in a new phenomenon of illegal immigration in the 1970s. New legislation was introduced in the 1980s (Immigration Reform and Countrol Act 1986), which whilst officially targeted employers who employed illegal immigrants,  the ‘teeth’ of IRCA – sanctions on employers who employ illegal immigrants – had weak enforcement provisions.The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act 1996 cut Federal welfare programs to categories of authorized and unauthorized immigrants.

The rate of immigration peaked in the United Kingdom 10 years later in 2010.

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In 1993 the Maastricht treaty extends free movement of people from economically active to the economically inactive, unemployment rate is at 10.4%.  2004 The EU8 (Czech Republic Estonia Hungary Latvia Lithuania Poland Slovakia and Slovenia) plus Malta and

The two rounds of EU enlargement in 2004 and 2007 which involved ten CEE countries were unprecedented for a few reasons. Firstly, the differences in income levels and labour market opportunities were much larger than in case of previous accessions. Secondly, all of these countries were still in the process of socio-economic transition. Thirdly, at least a few of them had faced serious barriers to mobility in the past and thus had not experienced large migration prior to the EU enlargement (Brücker et al. 2009; Kahanec and Zimmermann 2009). Download PDF here

Other European countries exercised the right for transitional arrangments in order to manage the accession of new member states. The UK did not:

According to many authors the British government’s decision not to impose TA resulted from careful economic considerations (Wright 2010; Currie 2008; Consterdine 2014). The idea, expressed among others by David Blunkett (Wright 2010: 165), was that the EU enlargement was seen as an opening of new opportunities for trade and labour market flexibility and as a possibility for the economy to grow without risk of inflationary pressure resulting from insufficient labour supply. This stance was clearly supported by the British Treasury. Consterdine (2014) argued that the decisions of the UK government are to be seen as a part of a broader strategy concerning migration (‘managed migration’). Moreover, the series of reforms labelled as such stemmed from departments other than the Home Office. Specifically, the most influential body for this approach was the Treasury which perceived migration as a part of the economic growth strategy. In fact, due to very good economic prospects at the time of the 2004 EU enlargement, the risks for the UK labour market were perceived as minor when compared to other EU15 countries (serious labour shortages were rather a concern).

This was coupled with a relatively modest increase in government spending on public goods, a ‘grand bargin’ of sorts existed, a toleration  high level of immigration to feed economic growth (unemployment remained low at 5%) which funded modest spending on public goods which helped mitigate some of the impacts of immigration on public services.

After the 2008 crash a Coalition government was elected which promised to cut immigration down to the tens of thousands and cut government spending on public services. This included cuts to legal aid which undercut individuals ability to challenge, in practice, discrimination. New restrictions were placed on non-EU immigration, EU rules meant that EU immigration is protected. Immigration remains in the hundreds of thousands.

David Cameron sets off to negotiate with the EU in order to extract concessions on the free movement of people, he is broadly perceived to have failed and consequently loses the referendum on EU membership which featured prominently in the ensuing debate.

Whilst both the US and the UK have had their respective immigration crisis (2000, 2010 respectively), Canada has consistently higher rate of immigration than its peers.

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In the late 19th century Canada had a formal ‘open door’ policy, but in practice opened immigration offices in European countries in order to target white immigrants. The continued in the period between the two World Wars and up into the 1950s the immigration policy was geared towards preferential treatment to immigrants from Europe, United States and Asian immigrants who with family members already in Canada.

In the 1960s the vibe shifted to a more inclusive attitude, as limiting immigration also throttled the supply of labour in the growing economy which immigration policy was increasingly tailored towards skilled labour. The 1975 Green Paper also saw a role for immigration to increase population levels in more remote areas. The Immigration Act introduce a ceiling on immigration.

More recently Canada has moved towards a system which permits more temporary workers and less Permanent Residents. UIt is very hard for low-skilled tempory workers to gain permanent residency, and they can only stay for a maximum of four years before having to return home. Traditionally, temporary workers consisted of seasonal agriculture workers. Since 2000 the number of temporary workers has more than tripled and 2006 was the first time in Canadian history that people entering the country as tempory workers outstripped those who took the pathway to permanent residency.


With UK, US, Canada we have a continuum from laissez faire to controlled immigration. In the UK case, despite being an island nation they are currently unable to exercise any restrictions on the movement of people from inside the EU, only retaining the ability to set limits in the case of non-EU immigration. In the case of United States, a hypocritical stance exists of employers relying upon illegal immigration whilst directing a crack down on immigrants themselves. Canada, unlike the US, has a prosperous neighbor to the south (in which Canada is a net exporter) and is otherwise surrounded by sea and ice which limits the opportunity for illegal immigration.  Immigration levels whilst still high by historical standards, are declining. Immigration peaked in 2000 for the US and 2010 for the UK, yet featured prominently in an election and a referenda years later. Something has taken place in our political space which has broken the electoral consensus, which had previously elected a succession of governments that are cut from the same cloth on both sides of the Atlantic. Pitching  national and sub-national groupings in competition with each other, a “level playing field” where cheap Chinese labour can compete directly with expensive Amerian and British labour. The shadow of the 2008 crash and its slow recovery looms large, challenging ‘third way‘ competency of economic management.



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