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06/03/2014 | Webreality

Can Jersey really afford to pick and choose its immigrants?

picking and choosing

It's always nerve-wracking, wading into the public debate about population and immigration in Jersey.

Everyone who lives in Jersey likely has a view on whether the island's population can grow further without risking unwelcome impacts on infrastructure and the Jersey way of life, although it seems that opinions vary dramatically on what those risks might actually be. 

There is little public discussion of what the risks might be of NOT allowing free immigration, which is especially dangerous at a time when the island's jobless figure remains stubbornly high and the economy struggles to return to growth.

And it also seems that heat has been added to the debate by the fact that the island's population is nearing the strangely emotive 100,000 number. 

In the midst of the States of Jersey's hand-wringing about how to balance economic growth with the political need to be seen to exerting some control over total population, a piece of UK research has provided a valuable perspective on the economic growth side of the equation.

UK think tank the Centre for Entrepreneurs, and Duedil, a company that specialises in supplying data about companies, have published research that shows that companies in the UK founded by migrants are responsible for 14% of jobs in the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector.

Adding weight to this finding, the Daily Telegraph says in its report on this research, "According to recent data from the Office for National Statistics, while only 10.4pc of those born in [the UK] go on to start businesses, entrepreneurial activity stands at 17.2pc for migrants.

Anti-immigration sentiment in the UK and Jersey is often stoked by assertions that immigrants typically move to Britain to benefit from more attractive welfare provision.

Intuitively, it seems to make more sense to favour the idea that people who have risked everything to move their life (and sometimes family) to a new country are more likely to want to work hard and take some entrepreneurial risk when they arrive.

The newly-published research seems to support the latter view.

And, contrary to Jersey's stated policy, no-one in the UK government was predictively selecting the successful entrepreneurs ahead of their entry to the UK.

Can Jersey afford to disregard this data, especially at a time when economic diversification and the drive for digital industry growth are high on the policy agenda? 

We will never grow all our own entrepreneurs, just as we'll never grow all our own nurses, teachers, engineers or bankers.

And to pretend we can pick the winners by selecting the 150 heads of household allowed in each year is to misunderstand the chaotic and organic process of business and job creation.