The strangers in our midst

David Miller talks migration, national self-determination and the importance of integration with Spiked Review.

review: Do you feel that ‘the anxieties, resentments and prejudices felt by native citizens toward many (though not all) immigrants’, as you put it, are too easily dismissed by policymakers and academics?

Miller: I think there’s been a lack of understanding of the reasons why people have been concerned over immigration. I think it’s because the direct impact of immigration is very often felt much more acutely by people who are not part of the elite group, which policymakers and academics are largely part of. The impact of immigration is felt by those in places where migrants come in and often take low-skilled jobs, contribute to pressure on housing, schooling, hospitals and so on.

I also think that to some extent the different impacts that immigration has have a cultural dimension. Policymakers and academics will tend to have a cosmopolitan outlook, partly because they’re used to interacting with people from other societies. Whereas I think immigration can be more disturbing for those who are used to things being done in a particular way – the way people live on a day-to-day basis. So they have to adapt to people coming in who have slightly different habits and customs, and that has a different kind of impact for the more rooted than the more cosmopolitan. Sometimes, not always, there is a tendency among cosmopolitan-minded people to characterise people’s reactions as being xenophobic, when actually it may be to do with more practical things like service shortages, pressures on the labour market, housing and so on. So I think, yes, there has been a pronounced underestimation of the impact of immigration on many people’s everyday lives.