Immigration – Removing the emotion

Immigration UK

Let’s take the emotion out of the immigration debate: it’s time to let the robots help

Immigration is common sense, when the conditions are right. I’ve had many discussions about the immigration system this year with Londoners from all walks of life. And most people I speak to are in favour when immigration supports our economy. After all, why would you block someone coming here who could provide you and others with jobs? Or who’ll contribute tax revenue to our economy which could pay for schools and hospitals?

On the other side, people tell me they’ve had enough of unrestricted immigration from the EU. Some want to reduce it from around the world too. But what they are opposed to is immigration which they see as putting a burden on, or even damaging, their lives and their country.

We need to restore confidence in our immigration system. So that employers can get access to talent from around the world (not just the EU) when they really need it, and workers can feel that they’re getting a fair deal.

To do that we need a system that isn’t driven by emotion, or based on the loudest voices from lobbyists and activists. We need a smarter immigration system, reflecting the real needs of our economy.

With the best will in the world civil servants cannot sift through data on every single industry and every single job

The problem is with the best will in the world civil servants cannot sift through data on every single industry and every single job on a regular basis. They have no choice but to listen to the voices of lobbyists and activists on both sides. Both of which will inevitably skew the facts to their point of view. But I think there is a solution.

Computer systems make calculations every day in the financial markets which are incomprehensibly complex, in fractions of a second. Did you know many shares these days trade on average every 22 seconds! This is not humans doing that but software. Forget the days of the old noisy trading floors, all you have now is the hum of servers.

Computers can scan jobs boards, university application data and economic performance data in fractions of a second and assess whether we really do have a skills shortage in an area rather than basing it on hearsay.

I’m not saying this would be without problems. But wouldn’t it be better to base decisions on real data?

Smart automated systems can also make complex tasks much simpler. Such as today’s labyrinthine application systems for visas, often still designed for an age of filing cabinets and paper forms. Today, we can access academic qualifications online. We can look at whether someone’s personal history is real or not. Did they really live where they say they did? In some countries, people even scan Facebook for credibility indicators to issue credit cards. If someone is willing for their references to be checked we can increasingly do that.

And better, more credible data would also make explaining immigration policy easier. Instead of crude targets we could show how industries which need genuine support are being given the staff they need to help our economy.

We need to be throwing open the doors of government.

I’m not suggesting we should hand over every decision to the robots. Politics is not about raw economics but also about how we feel as people. Smart algorithms would have to be adjusted to suit the country’s views. And human beings would always assess the data and make the final decisions.

Our immigration process is begging to be disrupted. And London is full of tech talent. We need to be throwing open the doors of government. Rather than some tech companies complaining about their inability to attract the best talent, why don’t they become part of the solution and let more brilliant minds start building the systems that new technology makes possible. Great work is already underway and we must keep up the pressure to make sure this happens.

With both too much emotion and not enough information confusing the immigration debate, it’s time to be bold.

Let’s stop arguing so much about crude targets. Let’s get the data which is out there and use it to create a new system that supports our country.

Let big data experts help us all think smarter on immigration.

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