If you examine recent history, you will notice that whenever there's some crisis in any country, the foreigners are inevitably used as the boogeyman most often than not. I guess they are easiest and most convinient target to place the blame on. This has happened in India, in Malaysia and now in the UK as well.
It has probably been shimmering below the surface for some time but it has just come out into the open now. Or should I say forced into the open after the BNP made immigration THE issue (they always have) and suddenly they got an audience. Now the Conservatives and Labour both acknowledges that it is an issue of concern in the UK as well. Now foreigners are blamed for almost every problem ranging from unemployment, crowded school places, housing issues, NHS problems, crime and maybe the banking and financial crisis as well. It sounds ridiculous until you realise that a large number of people do really believe that foreigners are the cause of all these problems in the UK.
Who are the foreigners?
I am not really sure what people mean by "foreigners". I assume they mean everyone from outside the UK but talking to people and reading comments on articles, realise that there is a wide range of views. Officially, the term refers to people from outside the EU. They also lump those who are here legally and illegally along with the asylum seekers.
Moreover, reading comments on any article on immigration, you can see that a lot of people actually mean "South Asian and African". Though a lot of people don't admit it but clearly colour of skin and country of origin, is an issue. Hardly anyone talks about Americans, Eastern Europeans, Australians, etc. And if you read all the comments you will find at least one or two comments talking about the rise of Muslim population in the UK.
From time to time, the authorities do try to correct the picture but they are not really doing a good job.There is a need to clear some of the misconceptions.
So are foreigners really taking away the jobs of locals (read EU)?
I seriously doubt it. I know personally how tough it is to get a job here in the UK. You won't get a job unless you are really good and there's no local to fill the job. Of course there are those unscrupulous employers who employ foreigners because they can get away with paying minimum wages (sometimes less) and a lot more. Citizens from other EU countries can travel and work freely here in the UK without the need for any visa and vise-versa of course.
Many foreigners are students
A large proportion of the non-EU foreigners entering the UK legally are actually students. They pay almost three times as much as the students from the EU countries and I do believe that the education Industry is one of the largest foreign exchange earners for the country regardless of economic climate. Like the US, British universities have been able to attract the brightest brains from all around the World (some countries like India and Malaysia is trying to reverse this brain drain to varying levels of success).
Students are allowed to work part time for a few hours every week (one of the attractions of working in the UK) but the jobs include waiting staff, translators, cleaners and the like if you get what I mean. I was fortunate to get a job as a web developer and later as a part time teacher in the University of Warwick but as I mentioned earlier, depends on your capability and if there's no local around to fill the post. Some students do eventually settle down here and contribute to the intellectual capital and economy of the country (I mean most end up paying taxes and not on the dole). But it getting much tougher after the Government introduced the points system (copied from the Australians?)
Foreigners protecting local jobs
Actually foreigners have created jobs by rescuing or taking over failing British businesses. Talking about failing British companies, they are the main cause of unemployment not foreigners but many don't see it that way. I guess they need to blame someone and the global economy is too vague to blame. Thank God for the welfare state here or there would have been serious problems. The economy is improving but the country is not really fully out of it yet. Hopefully people would be less negative once businesses start thriving and unemployment starts falling.
Anyway, I recall that a number of people here were unhappy when Malaysian car company Proton took over Lotus but I hope they now realise that Proton actually rescued Lotus and saved British jobs in Norfolk. They have recently brought back the British marque back into the Formula 1 with a little help from the Malaysian Govt. There were a lot of snide remarks as well when Tata of India took over Jaguar and Land Rover. With minimum job cuts, they actually made a profit - something Ford had been unable to do in the past. Jaguar Land Rover announced a net profit of £55m (US$140.7 million) end of last year. There are more examples.
Some unsolved issues
I am not saying that there is no immigration issue because there is. The hundreds of illegal immigrants waiting in France to cross over across the channel is an indicator of the problem. For every one caught I am sure a few get through and they are here somewhere. Another issue is that of the asylum seekers. I recently read an article about how many of them (several with families) were left in limbo for several years, unable to work and no certainty about the future. The Govt. definitely needs to look at these issues.
What I hope is that people here would realise that foreigners are not really the source of the problems.