Rampant Deprofessionalisation 122

It is not controversial to say that the UK’s immigration system is utterly broken. The reason is very plain but seldom noted – decades of cuts in which the cheapness of the system is crazily prioritised over the system working.

The costs to the economy of the system not working are simply enormous.

I have line managed the managers of two of the UK’s largest visa departments abroad. Over twenty years I witnessed first hand the systematic deprofessionalisation of the immigration service, which has continued apace since I left.

The plain truth is this: while governments driven by a desire to cut public spending are unwilling to fund the administration of immigration with reasonable levels of professionalism and expertise, it really does not matter what the policy is. The tool to carry the policy into effect was degraded long ago.

It is not that the system has collapsed under the weight of applications. Ever increasing applications are a complete myth. To take asylum applications as an example, do you know in what year asylum applications peaked? 2002. Yes, twenty years ago. 2022 is seeing something of a surge on 2021, but that surge will take 2022 to about 50% of the levels we were seeing twenty years ago.

The problem is not increased volume of applications. The problem is the wanton destruction of the machinery to cope with them.

When I first worked closely with immigration officers, in the British High Commission in Lagos over thirty years ago, this was the system:

All visa applicants had their case initially reviewed by a member of locally employed staff, but still a UK government employee of UK nationality. They would carry out an initial sift. Obvious visa grants – people who had previous visas and had never overstayed – would be put in a pile for rubber-stamping. All others would be granted an interview.

There were 22 visa officers to do the interviews, half from the Immigration Service and half from the Foreign Office. They would interview the applicants who required it. These officers were all well paid and well housed, enjoyed diplomatic status, and were highly trained and frequently very experienced. They would serve three or four years in the country and many took real pains to develop expertise in its culture. There were two Chief Immigration Officers in charge.

I remember one wise CIO impressing on their staff to judge the person in front of them. You give a visa to an individual, not to a document. Paperwork could be forged, or a genuine applicant may have difficulty getting the mound of papers together. Conversing with the individual and asking them questions, making due allowance for nervousness, was the most important part of the process.

The system had not substantially changed when I was Deputy High Commissioner in Accra 20 years later, except that rather more responsibility was given to the locally engaged staff, and the FCO insisted that we should no longer employ British local staff but could hire much cheaper Ghanaian staff for the initial sifting.

I viewed this as crazy; the pressures brought on local Ghanaian staff by extended family and friends over visa issue was immense, and it was pretty well socially impossible for them to avoid what we would view as corruption.

Now the system has changed completely. It has been privatised – almost everywhere in the world, Visa departments are outsourced to private firms with a slim layer of official management. Most visa decisions are taken by very low paid agency staff working through a computer checklist. Very few applicants get interviewed at all – it is done almost entirely on the documentation.

There are no appeals against refusal of a visit visa. If you are turned down, you are turned down.

Businesses in the UK suffer massive damage from important export customers being inexplicably refused visas, with no right of appeal. Equally very large numbers are allowed in on the basis of entirely fraudulent applications and forged documents. We liberals are not supposed to admit that side of the equation, but it is true.

Furthermore the number of visa departments abroad has been radically reduced. Visa decisions are now often taken by a minimum wage person, working for a private company, operating from a computer checklist in a completely different country to the home of the person being judged. The person taking the decision almost certainly knows nothing about the education system, economy, social systems or corporate structures of the country the applicant is applying from.

Rational, evidenced decisions are simply impossible in this situation. The excuse for cutting back visa departments to “regional hubs” was – wait for it – the cost of the machines that print out the high technology visas. This is symptomatic of the crazed accountancy of the whole system – for the price of about £3 million in capital expenditure the UK abandoned all local knowledge and expertise in its visa issuing process.

Let me give you an example of the effect of this. Visas for Uzbekistan are now processed in Istanbul. Two years ago I was shown an instance of a visa refusal where the minimum wage drone writing the reason for refusal, believed Tashkent to be in Turkey.

The UK Immigration Service I used to work alongside was a service, regulating immigration. That was abolished in favour of the “UK Borders Agency”, a title more suited to the privatisation agenda. It then got changed to the macho “UK Border Force”, a paramilitary sounding body that conjures images of lantern jawed heroes holding back Suella Braverman’s “invasion” of foreigners.

The Tories change the name regularly, and I am not sure what it is this week. But all the time the administation is sliced and cut, farmed out for profit, and run on cheaper and cheaper lines, with contempt for any notion of professional expertise.

There are still experienced and good immigration officers in the service of the Border Force, but these are now heavily concentrated at UK ports of entry. When there was a professional and competent visa service operating abroad, the visa officers at ports of entry had a relatively easy task, looking out for forged visas and passports, or applying intelligence material on smuggling etc.

Now, however, the person arriving from India with an entirely valid visa in his entirely valid passport, is being scrutinised at Heathrow for the very first time by somebody with skills and experience; after being given the visa by a 18 year old at a private company who never laid eyes on them.

The immigration officers at ports don’t trust the visas their own government has issued in its crazy cheap system. So in effect you have immigration interviews being conducted at the arrival airport desk, while thousands of passengers are queued up behind. That is the reason for periodic immigration chaos at airports – and results in immigration officers effectively being instructed not to do their jobs. Morale is at an all time low.

Asylum is a related but different issue. The Observer today reports that Home Office staff are being recruited to decide asylum cases in the UK who have no relevant experience and have come straight from working in supermarkets or cafes, being empowered to decide cases after three days of training. The report confirms that the grade of such staff has been reduced to Executive Officer, again to save money over using more senior staff.

The UK does not receive disproportionate numbers of asylum applications. Asylum applications per head of UK population are just half the level of the EU average. This from a UK parliamentary library briefing:

In 2020, 72% of all asylum applications were accepted as genuine at first decision by the Home Office. About one third of the remaining 28% were accepted on appeal. So 81% of all asylum applications are ultimately judged genuine. The Patel/Braverman line that most are “economic migrants” is a plain lie.

The mass arrival of Albanian citizens by boat is a relatively new phenomenon. I am sceptical that the numbers are as large as being put out. It seems to me wildly improbable that 2% of the adult male population of Albania is crossing the Channel in small boats. But it is worth noting that over 40% of Albanian asylum applications are accepted as genuine at first decision by the Home Office. The shameful painting of all Albanians as criminal is plain wrong.

Let me again upset some of my “own side” by saying that the Home Office is so denuded of well paid, expert staff that the bad decisions are not all one way. There are horrible instances of refugees being returned to torture and death after a bad asylum decision. But equally, there are bad decisions the other way, with frauds and criminals also gaining asylum.

The government simply refuses to pay for the degree of knowledge and expertise to make good decisions. I represented (without fee) a number of asylum applications at Immigration Appeals Tribunals – and never lost a case. The reason that so many appeals succeed is that the tribunals are before a real judge, and the Home Office officers have an embarrassing lack of basic knowledge and expertise, often depending for country information on publications or – very frequently – denials of human rights abuse by the particular despotism in question. It just does not cut ice with a judge.

Personally I am pleased that the system in general errs towards generosity to asylum seekers, once they get out of the hideous limbo of years of waiting for the application to be decided, frequently effectively in prison, and even when allowed into the community denied the right to work and support themselves.

It is now illegal in UK domestic law to arrive in the UK for the purpose of claiming asylum – contrary to international law and the UK government’s obligations under the Refugee Convention. At the same time, there is no provision to claim asylum outside the UK. In effect, the Conservative government has made it impossible to claim asylum other than by the desperate measure of pitching up in a small boat.

They then claim astonishment that people pitch up in small boats.

There is nothing in either the 1951 Refugee Convention nor its 1967 Protocol that stipulates that refugees must claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. That is a peculiar right wing canard. There is an obligation to treat refugees humanely, assist with housing and allow to find employment. The UK is failing in all of these duties.

At the risk of diluting the impact of this article on why the UK’s immigration system does not function, I cannot refrain from noting that this is part of a much wider trend in neoliberalism.

Twenty years ago a visa applicant facing refusal would have an interview with a real, experienced and properly paid immigration officer. Now the decision is taken by a low paid employee with a computer checklist who does not see the applicant.

This is for precisely the same as the reason I cannot normally see my GP as I would simply have done twenty years ago, but have to explain my symptoms instead to somebody with little or no medical qualification working their way through a computer checklist.

It is precisely the same reason I cannot see a bank manager, in the branch I have used for forty years but which no longer has a manager, about a loan for my company. Instead I have to speak to a low paid person in a call centre working their way through a computer checklist that simply applies a formula related to historic turnover and profit, with no experience or understanding of start-ups and investment periods.

We have had decades to get used to the replacement of the skilled working class through automation. What we see now is the replacement of the professional middle classes through automation. Be they local bank managers, immigration officers, or GPs a computer checklist and unskilled operator is cheaper.

In all cases, the delivery of the service which is the reason for the process is massively undermined, but that is ignored in favour of very short term financial benefit.

I expect this trend will attack higher education soon, with the need for face to face interaction with students denigrated and mass redundancies among lecturers in favour of computer learning. That is one of my dystopian predictions for the next couple of decades.

To return back to immigration, the Tories have destroyed the system meant to implement their flailing policies. The policy levers have no viable implementation mechanism at the end of them. It could be fixed, by substantial investment, reversing privatisation, and re-establishing a worldwide expert immigration service again.

If you add that to a genuine and effective legal mechanism for accepting and processing the European average of refugee applications and a sensible policy to admit the workers the UK economy desperately needs, the benefits would far outweigh the cost. But in a mad universe where all public spending bar defence is effectively viewed by the Tories as loss, it will not happen.


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122 thoughts on “Rampant Deprofessionalisation

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  • Kimpatsu

    Craig, what do you think about how the USA, Japan, South Korea (and, shortly, the EU) push arount the UK with their racist border fingerprinting and the UK is so weak it doesn’t push back?

  • Alf Baird

    England at least has control over its border, however mismanaged. Scotland has no control over its border. A country lacking border controls and subject to increasing immigration from a much larger populated country is unlikely to survive. One assumes this is why all sovereign nations have border controls. Scots are a sovereign people but with no border controls to protect and maintain its sovereignty.

    Perhaps a connection here with the census results still being kept secret? As New Caledonia found, and Auld Caledonia may soon discover, once the indigenous natives fall below 50% of the population, a pro-independence vote becomes less likely.

  • Andrew H

    In response to Alf Baird above:

    Who is sneaking into Scotland? English visitors are always mostly welcome (in my experience – even in downtown Glasgow at night!), however, it is always a little edgy (got to whisper in a bar) and although scenic – not a place large numbers of English would voluntarily settle in.

    The Scottish population has risen from 4.74 million in 1910 to 5.4 million today (basically no increase in over a century), so mass immigration of foreigners doesn’t, on paper, appear to be a Scottish problem.

    • Alf Baird

      After a century of little growth, over the past 20 years the Scottish population has increased by around 10% from 5m to 5.5m. According to census data the Scottish birth rate is now the lowest on record, hence Scotland’s population is only growing through in-migration, mostly from England.

      The reason this matters considerably is because, according to post indyref14 survey data, those holding to a rest-UK identity are the least likely to vote for Scottish independence or, as the UN call it, decolonization. This also fits with postcolonial theory which tells us that an independence movement depends on the solidarity of the oppressed ethnic group, in this case the Scots, and mainly Scots speakers – peoples in self-determination conflict always being linguistically (and culturally) divided.

      ‘A peoples’ culture and language are what gives us them their identity and national consciousness and are critical factors in any quest for national independence and liberation from oppression (economic, political, cultural and more). This explains why the Scots are nivver taucht thair ain braw Scots langage thay aye uise at hame an whit gies thaim thair naitional identity.


      • nevermind

        well said Prf. Baird, our Andrew does not seem to have an understanding of facts and the actualities are important to Independence.
        For it is long overdue and there must be an end in sight to the colonial repression and graft.

        Andrew would do well to reflect on the ne’erdowells down south than to spread malady and confusion.

      • Stevie Boy

        Need to get breeding then, those babies aren’t going to make themselves ! Or maybe it’s because the poison dwarf has banned natural procreation?

      • Andrew H

        Fair enough Alf. According to this report:

        Scotland will reach peak population in 2028 (Figure 13 also interesting – shows how the forecast keeps being revised downwards). Yes, you are probably right that the Scottish population is becoming increasingly diluted and I suppose from a purely ‘we want independence’ point of view that has negative consequences. Even in England, the population is becoming increasingly mixed.

        Birth rate these days is way down (good for planet earth). A little immigration helps to slow the affect of an aging population so is good for the economy. Accept it. Even in Ireland, the fertility rate is pretty low, so going Catholic isn’t a solution.

        • Alf Baird

          “A little immigration helps to slow the affect of an aging population so is good for the economy. Accept it. ”

          Not quite. A significant element of in-migration from England to Scotland is retirees and people close to retirement age. This does precisely the opposite of what you suggest.

          • Andrew H

            So if their pensions are paid by the UK government then its not such a problem? (they probably spend their pension in Scotland bringing money into Scotland – unless they shop exclusively south of the border). In the case of an independent Scotland would the responsibility for paying the pensions of in-migrated pensioners fall on the Scottish government? Blocking immigration into Scotland from England could really only be done after independence – but that would hurt the economy since retirees from outside Scotland bring in money [and if it changes their domicile also substantial death taxes on the inevitable consequences of cold and misery]

            Most in-migration into the UK is in the family category (now that the EU doors are closed) – is there actual evidence that this is not also the case in Scotland? I’m skeptical about your assessment that the majority of in-migrants into Scotland are retirees (any more than the majority of immigrants into the UK are refugees landing in boats at Dover). House prices are not so vastly cheaper in Scotland than the more Anglo-friendly North of England so I don’t see the retiree benefit (I get it if you already have family connections, but otherwise not).

          • Andrew H

            Alf: “a significant element of in-migration from England to Scotland is retirees and people close to retirement age”

            Perhaps, by this you mean Scots like Craig Murray who spent much of their working life in England but retired to Scotland (possibly in some cases with English/foreign spouse)?

          • Alf Baird

            “majority of in-migrants into Scotland are retirees”

            That’s not what I said, is it? I said: “A significant element of in-migration from England to Scotland is retirees and people close to retirement age”. You then focus primarily on economic assumptions for some reason (why not health service, housing, voting), when my main point was that a population changing its identity (the objective of colonial cultural assimilation) may be expected to result in reduced support for national independence.

            The census also tells us that, pre-Brexit, immigrants to Scotland from non-UK countries were mostly in the younger age groups. i.e. there is a difference between the two groups.

          • Lapsed Agnostic

            Re: ‘House prices are not so vastly cheaper in Scotland than the more Anglo-friendly North of England so I don’t see the retiree benefit’

            Free adult social care will have been a big one, Andrew – though that should become less of driving force with the recent rule changes in England.

            P.S. I think our excellent host moved to Edinburgh when he was in his mid-forties.

            (Great article on Yours for Scotland, Prof – thanks for posting. I hadn’t realised that migration to Scotland from the rest of the UK had been so high these past 20 years)

          • Andrew H

            Alf: “You then focus primarily on economic assumptions for some reason…”

            Yes, I understand that your primary concern is one of Scottish identity. (I was initially caught off-guard when you suggested that Scotland also needed stronger borders – others earlier were arguing that foreigners illegally coming into UK were taking British jobs – something I strongly disagree with).

            The issue of how cultures can preserve their identity in the face of globalism is certainly worthy of debate. However, I would argue that border control is not a solution. There has always been some mixing of populations, but in the past people rarely travelled more than a few miles to find work or a partner. Today there are essentially no distance restrictions and indeed many people want to travel to experience new cultures and see the world. It is counter productive to the human race to try and stop this – and will also fail.

            Culture dilution is happening throughout the world and many people have concerns. In France they worry about excessive use of English words. In the USA/Canada native Americans are trying to preserve their unique cultures. In the USA Caucasians are concerned about all the in-breeding with African Americans and Hispanic. Also in North America there are many religious sects with unique cultures (Mormons, Doukhobor etc). In England there was a piece in the Guardian a few months ago suggesting that Multicultural London English (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multicultural_London_English) would eventually be the dominant language in England. There are potentially going to be a lot of upset English complaining about loss of English culture (I understand Scottish don’t think the English even have culture). What’s to be done about this? I argue against doomed immigration/emigration controls.

          • Andrew H

            One final thought: It is unreasonable to expect the majority of people in any culture to be interested in trying to preserve that culture. People have lives. In the Scottish context this means most Scots are not willing to make major concessions with regards to their life choices to preserve Scottish culture. (By life choices I mean where to work and live, whom to marry, if to have children, etc). Preserving culture is a noble goal, but those trying to do this should not impede the life choices of others including with regards to immigration/emigration control.

          • Lapsed Agnostic

            Not sure that Multicultural London English will become the dominant dialect in the UK (or what’s left of it) in the near future, Andrew, as it’s largely based on Jamaican Patois and, whilst the black (and mixed-race) population of London town is around 15% (though there’s now more people of direct African ancestry, rather than African via the Caribbean), it’s only around 1% in the rest of the country – and that’s very much concentrated around specific locales: inner-city Birmingham & Bristol, Chapeltown in Leeds, Moss Side in Manchester, Toxteth in Liverpool, and parts of Nottingham.

            I reckon it will largely depend on whatever kids are watching and listening to on t’internet. So if they’re all glued to ‘Top Boy’ they will likely be speaking some version of MLE; but if they’re binge-watching ‘The Wire’, they’ll be sounding like they were raised in the Baltimore projects. For example, despite having a Spanish (non-biological) mother and a father from North-West England and being brought up in one of the less-touristy areas of Sarf London, my 5-year-old nephew seems to have developed a strong West Country accent (far stronger than his grandad who was born and raised in Exeter). None of his friends from nursery sound like that apparently. However, even though I doubt whether he’s seen one in real life, he also really likes tractors, and spends far more time on his tablet than his parents were initially envisaging: “He’ll only be havin’ 15 minutes screen-time a day” seems to have gone the way of “I’ll have this mortgage paid off in 5 years”. Now the biting is beginning to make sense.

      • Bayard

        “This explains why the Scots are nivver taucht thair ain braw Scots langage thay aye uise at hame an whit gies thaim thair naitional identity.”

        The Welsh bring up their children speaking Welsh and those children learn English at school, becoming bilingual. Do Scots not do the same?

        • Alf Baird

          No, the Scots language, which was spoken by 1.6m Scots (under 30% of the population) according to the previous 2011 census, is not taught in Scottish schools, and is not part of the curriculum. The Scots language is not even provided for in Scottish government translations, which are offered in another 17 languages. This implies that a large majority of Scots are now Anglophone, which is probably the opposite of the situation say 40-50 years ago.

          The other indigenous language in Scotland, Gaelic, was spoken by just 50,000 people according to the 2011 census and is now taught in some schools mainly in Gaelic speaking areas thanks to the Gaelic Language Act of 2005. Gaelic translation is also provided in government documents, plus a TV channel BBC Alba, a Gaelic college, Gaelic language degree, and Gaelic Language Board, with overall Gaelic language spend by government of around £50m per annum.

          However Scots speakers are still awaiting a Scots Language Act and the Scots language being taught in Scottish schools plus all the other aspects that would come with a funded Scots language medium policy, which is oor human richt tae wir ain langage, yet aye a human right deprived.

          • Bayard

            “No, the Scots language, which was spoken by 1.6m Scots (under 30% of the population) according to the previous 2011 census, is not taught in Scottish schools, ”

            That wasn’t the question I asked. If you have to teach your country’s language in school, you have already lost the battle. The place to learn your native language is in the home, when you learn to speak. It is English that the children should be taught in school. Children all over the world grow up bilingual, it seems it is only in this country that they have to choose which single language they are going to learn.

          • Alf Baird

            If a language is not taught, it will be lost. Have you never heard of Linguistic Imperialism or the relationship between language and independence? Think of Ireland, Ukraine, Catalonia, New Caledonia etc etc etc

            “The most urgent claim of a group about to revive is certainly the liberation and restoration of its language. Only that language would allow the colonized to resume contact with his interrupted flow of time and to find again his lost continuity and that of his history. To this self-rediscovery movement of an entire people must be returned the most appropriate tool; that which finds the shortest path to its soul, because it comes directly from it.” (Albert Memmi)


          • Alf Baird

            ” If you have to teach your country’s language in school, you have already lost the battle. ”

            Try telling that to the Danes, Norwegians, Finns, Dutch, Estonians, Ukrainians, etc etc. These peoples are mostly bilingual however the native language always holds official status and is compulsory in schools.

            It is only in enduring situations of ‘the torture of colonial bilingualism’ that the native language is given no authority and is deemed invalid (by the dominant culture) and where ‘the language of my education is not the language of my culture’.

          • Bayard

            “If a language is not taught, it will be lost. Have you never heard of Linguistic Imperialism or the relationship between language and independence? Think of Ireland,”

            I am thinking of Ireland, where the language is taught in schools and hardly anyone speaks it. The vast majority of the world’s population learn their language when they learn to speak and continue to speak it throughout their lives. It is not necessary to be taught your native tongue in school to continue to use it. If anything, being taught a language in school will put children off it. If a language is to survive it must be a native tongue. Children don’t care about linguistic imperialism or the relationship between language and independence. If they are taught a language in school that they do not use day to day, they will quickly forget it. Ireland shows this. However, if their native language is not English and they learn English at school, a language that they can see being used regularly outside their home, they will be bilingual in both languages and both languages will be used. The responsibility for the continuation of the Scots language rests solely on the shoulders of Scots-speaking parents, not the government.

            “Try telling that to the Danes, Norwegians, Finns, Dutch, Estonians, Ukrainians, etc etc. These peoples are mostly bilingual however the native language always holds official status and is compulsory in schools.”

            Coincidence is not causality. The Danes, Norwegians, Finns, Dutch, Estonians, Ukrainians etc. are bilingual because, when they learn to speak, they learn to speak Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Dutch, Estonian, Ukranian etc., not because it is compulsory in schools.

          • Alf Baird

            “Coincidence is not causality. The Danes, Norwegians, Finns, Dutch, Estonians, Ukrainians etc. are bilingual because, when they learn to speak, they learn to speak Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Dutch, Estonian, Ukranian etc., not because it is compulsory in schools.”

            These peoples are all taught their indigenous language by law, which is a human right. They therefore have and value a literature and intellectual discourse in their mother tongue. They then have respect for their national identity which is based on their culture and language.

            Whit langage dae ye think A lairnt tae spik in ma hoose fae ma ain mither an faither? An efter, tae anely hiv Englis garred doon ma thrapple in the schuil, whiles aw us bairns aye spoke Scots in the playgrund.

            In regard to ‘coincidence’, as many colonies found, and not least India where the process arguably began, the prioritisation and domination of ‘English Studies’ forms the basis of social and cultural control which then enables and facilitates a peoples economic and political exploitation under colonial rule. This is why an oppressed people are deprived of their own languages – once you take away a peoples language, their identity soon follows, and we end up with the ‘I’m Scottish and British’ false persona; false because one identity is natural whilst the other is manufactured, or as Dick Gaughan described it, ‘a cultural illusion’.

  • Ian Smith

    There seems a complete disconnect in logic in arguing for half the article that governmental decision making is now farmed out to intellectual plankton, without the capacity to make an intelligent analysis; yet then to pivot to the fact that 40% of Albanians being accepted for asylum demonstrates that their claims were valid.

  • louise

    Funny that Knighted Blair, unspeakable Cameron, BAE Systems, even Thatcher, Nato, are never mentioned in this connection.
    Their blatant and venal sovereign state destabilization endeavors birthed much of the migrant crises.

  • Roy Matola

    Actually the fact that many applications are accepted doesn’t mean they are valid.
    Most of these applicants toss away their identification on purpose
    Too many have been caught lying about their ages, pretending to be children and then be allowed to pray upon teenagers, and its not a right wing canard.
    And the argument that the migrant should apply for asylum on the first safe place comes from the dublin agreement, which was something that was later changed post 2020 to share migrants across the EU – a place that the UK is no longer part of.
    And what these economic migrants are doing is jumping the queue, I had to go through the queue, everytime I want my mother in law to visit I have to jump through hoops and pay a good amount of cash for this to happen.
    These migrants are coming for the free ride and the promise of greener pastures, but right now its free money.
    And like Germany has found, it will be hard to integrate these people, after 10 years of a migrant crisis, only 30% have found employment that actually pays for their subsistence.
    Just the other day as an EU migrant I was analyzing the migration briefing report from 2016

    And even now the levels of skilled migrants for EU nationals has dropped, so as before we had a mild positive impact to GDP, now we are a net liability to the UK because most of us are actually not highly skilled, most EU migrants are low skilled and earn less than 30k

    So if the average EU migrant is already of a low quality, now compound this with very low education, no language skills and other problems such as some of these migrants might be criminals in their own countries

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