Tue 20th May 2014
Apr 14: Recognising the economic opportunites in cultural diversity
Deeply disturbing statistics were produced last week showing a sharp increase on physical attacks and the insidious intimidation migrants particularly in Belfast. All right thinking people must condemn these attacks as being outrageous, deeply worrying for the people attacked and for the damage caused to Northern Ireland’s reputation.
As a business leader I appreciate in particular the huge contribution that people from all over the world to companies here and the wider economy. Indeed many companies, both large and small and in key export-driven sectors such as engineering, food manufacturing and ICT depend on their skills, commitment and strong work ethic. They are helping to plug gaps in our skills base…and, I believe, we will need to attract more talented people from abroad to help in accelerate the growth in an economy that is now showing growth trends. They are often highly innovative and entrepreneurial.
Studies by influential bodies such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show the positive impact of migration. They come here to find employment and to improve their lives and those of their families. In the US, for instance, 40 per cent of Fortune 500 companies were started by an immigrant, creating 10 million jobs and seven out 10 of the best-known brands!
There are many migrant entrepreneurs who are hyper-productive and helping to transform Northern Ireland into a vibrant private sector-led economy. History also shows that the most productive and successful nations are those, which encourage intellectual and technological ferment stimulated by an open door approach to people and ideas from abroad.
Our universities have long recognized the benefits from attracting talented teachers, researchers and students from abroad. There’s plenty of evidence of teachers and students who have worked here and returned to their homelands to become strong advocates of Northern Ireland. Our efforts to build exports and in attracting inward investment benefit substantially from such support.
Interestingly, research in the UK shows that migrants have made a £25 billion net contribution to public finances since 2000. People from European Economic Area (EEA) countries have been the most likely to make a positive contribution, paying about 34 per cent more in taxes than they received in benefits over the 10 years from 2001 to 2011. Other immigrants paid about two per cent more than they received.
EEA immigrants were also more likely to have a university degree than British people. The research shows that in contrast with most other European countries, the UK attracts highly educated and skilled immigrants from within the EEA as well as from outside.
Our tourism strategy is also based on attracting as many visitors as possible from around the world to experience and enjoy the many attractions of Northern Ireland.
We’ll have thousands of people coming here for the Giro d’Italia cycle races next month. Indeed the Northern Ireland Executive’s strategy is underpinned by attracting visitors to attend worldclass events like the Giro. Are those mindless people behind the disgusting racist attacks saying that we should turn away such visitors, as well as those who come here to find work and make a hugely positive contribution to our economy?
The migrants and tourists almost certainly make a much greater contribution to the economic well-being of Northern Ireland that those responsible for the physical attacks and intimidation.
The message that we must intensify our efforts to communicate worldwide is that Northern Ireland is a progressive and welcoming community that’s open to talented people wishing to work here and ready to give visitors from wherever they come from the warmest of welcomes.