What the Chunnel Crisis Reveals About Immigrants

The tunnel under the English Channel connects two nations with markedly different economic situations and government policies. Which would appeal more to immigrants?

Great Britain has one of the hottest job markets in the developed world. Unemployment is at a 10-year low and labor force participation is at a 44-year high. Meanwhile, the size of government and the availability of benefits have been contracting for the past 5 years and are slated to do so even more in the future.

France in contrast has rising, double-digit unemployment, and a regulatory climate that makes starting one’s own business extraordinarily challenging. But under the Socialist government, the state is massive and benefits are generous.

Which side of the Chunnel would you expect thousands of immigrants to be risking their lives to reach? If, consistent with stereotype, immigrants were spongers by nature they would be clustered on the British side, ready to risk everything to run from a job rich-economy and into a skyver’s paradise. But in reality they are on the French side, desperate to get to the employment opportunities that could await them on the other side of the Chunnel. Indeed, some of them have died trying to flee from a land of government benefits to a land of work.

From that, draw your own conclusions about the values and dreams of immigrants.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

5 thoughts on “What the Chunnel Crisis Reveals About Immigrants”

  1. No offense, but I don't feel a need to have a single opinion about all immigrants. And if I did, this wouldn't help. I doubt the French just sign you up for bennies just for showing up. And a lot of the difference is that the UK rejected the euro, is it not? (Though just now I forget if the UK is doing the austerity thing.) Not this whole regulations-are-bad-for-business thing. You're better than this.

    Plus, it doesn't really work to try to dress things up. Many immigrants that I see in the news these days really are economic migrants. This isn't necessarily a knock against them, but how is it helpful to try to tell me that Turkey is soooooo awful that people are desperate to leave? Why not… try to fix Turkey? Why not ask Turkey to treat them better? Obviously there isn't going to be a magic solution, but this seems like an obvious thing to try.

    1. So, sorry if I was too cranky the other day. But I am having an issue with people (not you, particularly) trying to tell me we *must* help all immigrants, when on the other hand they/we are deporting Central and South Americans right and left. You know, people from regions whose issues we *caused.* (At *least* partially. But, since we supply the money and guns, well…)

      We have 12 million already. Why don't we deal with that first?

      Meanwhile, I'm also not comfortable with the idea, pushed by some on the left, that we have to make room for every domestic violence victim in the hemisphere. Really? It's gonna get crowded, for one thing.

      So as you can see, this entire topic has me very irritated, especially since of course one wants to help. But how exactly?

      1. "Meanwhile, I'm also not comfortable with the idea, pushed by some on the left, that we have to make room for every domestic violence victim in the hemisphere. "

        Reading the belated news from Europe, (Belated because it was spiked at first.) don't you mean, every domestic violence perpetrator?

  2. "If, consistent with stereotype, immigrants were spongers by nature they would be clustered on the British side, ready to risk everything to run from a job rich-economy and into a skyver’s paradise. But in reality they are on the French side …"

    Sorry, but this argument seems very unconvincing as it disregards the fact that it is much harder to reach the UK in the first case. Even if 90% of recent immigrants wanted to stay in France and only 10% desperately wanted to go to the UK, you might still see those 10% piling up at the Chunnel if there is no other way to get to the UK. You need to take geography into account and the fact that the UK has been quite successful at closing its borders.

    I agree with the general assessment. Yes, most immigrants want to work. But the argument does not work.

  3. "According to the UNHCR, the EU countries with the biggest numbers of recognised refugees at the end of 2014 were France (252,264), Germany (216,973), Sweden (142,207) and the United Kingdom (117,161)". Note that France and the UK have comparable populations.

    Also, people do try to get to where their families or friends are, not just to any old place.

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