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Migration not a factor in crime rates – research

19 May 20140 comments

migration and crimeCrime rates are not affected by increased migration but by access to economic opportunity, according to new research from the UK.

Dr Brian Bell, a lecturer in Economics at the University of Oxford, in the UK, said that common perceptions that newly arrived foreigners were more likely to commit crime were false.

“The media often talks about crime going up and it links it to increased migration,” said Dr Bell, who has analysed crime rates in Britain and changes to migration over the past three decades.

“But the facts show that migration does not lead to increased crime – what is happing is that as the population increases, so does the crime rate.

“Crime rates – that is the number crimes per head of population – have no links with the numbers of migrants arriving,” he said.

Dr Bell said the economic principle of ‘cost and benefit’ could be applied to come.

“Generally for more people the benefits of working far outweigh the potential costs of crime – so if you can get a job, you don’t go out and commit crime,” he said.

Dr Bell said that access to economic opportunity was a much more important driving factor in crime rates than ethnic make up.

“Migrants have all the same characteristics of natives; some of them have degrees or qualifications and some don’t, some have good labour market opportunities and some don’t,” he said.

“However there can be some links between crime and some immigrant groups if you break them down but this is due to certain groups having fewer economic opportunities.”

Dr Bell said the influx of Polish migrants into the UK in 2004 was a case in point.

“Areas that had high exposure to this inflow of Polish migrants had less crime. The Poles had high employment rates and were more committed to the labour market – after all that’s the reason they came to the UK in the first place.”

He said small increases in crime could be detected among migrant groups that had fewer economic opportunities.

“We saw increases in asylum seekers coming to the UK at the end of the 1990s because of various situations and conflicts across the globe.

“Areas that took more asylum seekers did see small increases in property crime. But we have to remember that these people were forbidden from working – it was against the law for them to work – while their claims were being assessed.

“They were also receiving just half the benefit payments that native British people were entitled to so their legal economic opportunities were small or non-existent – so there was, unsurprisingly, at the margins some increase in crime rates.

He said that similarly, studies in the US showed that Mexican migrants were more likely to commit property crime than non-Mexican migrants because they typically had lesser skills and fewer economic opportunities.

Dr Bell said his research showed that migrants were no more likely to be the victims of crime than natives.