Newspaper article International New York Times

In Britain, Not So Warm a Welcome

Newspaper article International New York Times

In Britain, Not So Warm a Welcome

Article excerpt

Britain's efforts to restrict immigration have become a hot issue as elections approach.

John O'Keefe, a neuroscientist at University College, London, brought pride to Britain this week when he was awarded a Nobel Prize for his discovery, in rats, of the brain's "GPS" system. But Dr. O'Keefe, American-born, had some unwelcome criticism for his adopted country.

Britain's efforts to restrict immigration have become "a very, very large obstacle" to hiring the best scientists, he said. "We should be thinking hard about making Britain a more welcoming place."

That is precisely the opposite of the current mood in Britain, seven months before an election, where immigration, the economy and the health service are the hottest issues.

Before the elections in 2010, David Cameron, now prime minister, had vowed to reduce net migration to less than 100,000 a year by 2015, including migrants from within the European Union, which has a fundamental principle that all citizens may live and work in any member country. Home Secretary Theresa May wants to reduce the figure to tens of thousands.

But there is a long and awkward way to go. While the government has set targets, it has little control over the variables. In the year ended March 2014, the government reports, 265,000 non-European Union citizens moved to Britain, ending a steady decline since the recent peak of 334,000 in 2011. Net immigration to Britain from the European Union rose to 130,000 in the year through March, up from 75,000 two years ago.

Total net immigration in the year through March was 243,000. That is back up to the 10-year average of nearly a quarter of a million people, said Andrew Green, chairman of Migration Watch UK, which advocates restrictions. "If allowed to continue," he said, the population will increase by 12 million -- two more Scotlands -- in 20 years. "That's huge," he said, arguing that three-quarters of British voters "want to see it reduced."

So immigration is a fertile topic for the right and for the nationalist U.K. Independence Party, which is squeezing Mr. Cameron, and it is so sensitive with voters that even the opposition Labour Party has little to say about it. …

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