Migration - Gain or Drain?

Perhaps the biggest issue in the Brexit process is who should be allowed to come and live in Britain and on what conditions. Should a cap be introduced? Is there a difference between an “economic migrant” and an asylum seeker? Can Islamists be stopped from coming in posing as refugees? This piece aims to help Christians find biblical answers to such questions. 

The ‘grace and truth’ view starts with God’s sovereignty in human history; the fact that global migration is at an all-time high due to major eruptions in several Muslim nations; the fact we are living in a highly interconnected ‘global village’; the fact Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world; Britain’s historic worldwide connections; and its Christian heritage which has fostered a tradition of toleration, welcome and personal freedoms. So it’s little wonder so many migrants – economic or refugee – prefer to make their way past mainland Europe to Britain.

Another ‘grace and truth’ insight is that when British Christians have treated immigrants in a Christly way, it can have a knock-on gospel-effect that is able to reverberate all the way back to the original homelands. For example one church in Birmingham was approached by a Muslim migrant who couldn’t find a mosque and asked permission to use the church hall to pray. The church welcomed and befriended him and said “yes”. The migrant new-comer felt supported at a vulnerable time in his life.

When he eventually visited his Muslim homeland he found a beleaguered Christian community being denied a place to worship and unjustly treated. He campaigned for Christian rights based on the example British Christians had shown him. The generosity of a local church in Birmingham created an inroad for the gospel in the heartland nation of Islam.

This true story is heart-warming but the point is that it challenges the popular narrative which says all migrants (transient and resident) are here to:

  • take our jobs
  • sponge off our welfare state
  • change our culture and take over
  • impose their religion
  • and even plan to physically harm us

Clearly there will be some truth in all of these – and this blog site exists to address all of this and more – the antidote Christly action, such as the church in Birmingham, which chose a biblical narrative, which says allmigrants (transient and resident) are here because:

  • history is driven by divine sovereignty not human whim (Eph.1:11)
  • immigrants living in our postcode are less of a threat and more of an opportunity (Acts17:26)
  • the ‘Great Command’ of Christ to love (Mt.22:37-39) means a ‘neighbour’ must include those among us who are different to us (Lk.10:25-37)
  • there is a difference between an ‘economic migrant’ and a genuine asylum-seeker

As followers of Christ, surely we’re trying to adopt a biblical narrative; commit to truth and therefore recognise a level of truth in the statements above; assess the detail; quantify the problem; support the addressing of the problems; and choose to act in a Christ-like way with those around us.

I notice how immigration was central and divided public opinion during the recent elections (European, Brexit then National). The popular narrative asserted that Britain is seen as a “soft-touch” which has created a magnetic-pull for migrants to come to Britain to take advantage of the government “benefits system”. Clearly we need a fairer benefits system where economic migrants only “take out” after “putting in” for a period of time – “rights” balanced with “responsibilities”.

On the other hand we know migrant workers strengthen the British economy because they are prepared to do jobs indigenous Brits don’t want to do (e.g. agricultural labouring). The NHS says that if they lost their migrant staff it would tip the balance and some public services might even collapse.

  • A Bangladeshi businessman started a curry business that’s now employing 72,000 people with a turnover of £4.5 billion a year in the economy.
  • Semi and unskilled workers (particularly from the EU) are willing to take lower-paid jobs, which has had a knock-on effect of under-cutting indigenous Brits chances of work; depressed wages in sectors such as the construction industry; and created unemployment.
  • Economic migrants add a burden to local authorities who have to provide health care, education, transport, housing, policing, utilities and amenities to the extra people who have come to this   island at the rate of a city the size of Peterborough each year.

The bottom line is that this issue is confusing and not at all straight forward. In the next piece we will examine the wisdom in Old Testament society, which faced similar multi-cultural patterns and the need for legal arrangements for both transient “migrants” and settled “immigrants”. It’s time to think more about migration!

Steve Bell is the National Director at Interserve GB & Ireland. A mission leader, analyst, trainer and author, Steve is a recognised cross-cultural communicator with 35 years’ experience in 100 countries. Steve is author of Friendship First, Grace for Muslims and Gospel for Muslims and co-edited Between Naivety & Hostility. Steve is married to Julia, a senior teacher and they are “owned” by a mentally deranged Siamese cat called Izzy.

You can find Steve's blog at graceformuslims.org