Monday 16 March 2015

Fact-checking Nigel Farage: Do most countries ban migrant children from state schools?

Steve Peers
I was planning to wait until after Easter to comment in detail on the EU law issues in the UK’s general election. But yesterday’s reported comments by Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, demand an immediate short reply. In his view, the children of migrants should not have access to state schools or health for a number of years after their parents’ entry. He stated that this was the norm for most countries, and in particular that his children could not attend state schools if he was in the USA on the basis of a work permit.  

Is this true though? In fact, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights say that primary education should be free to all without discrimination. Perhaps it’s UKIP policy for the UK to denounce these treaties; but if so, we surely should be told. In practice, the numerous studies on migrant children’s sometimes difficult educational performance certainly don’t suggest that they are only allowed to attend private schools in most countries. For the USA in particular, a few seconds’ searching will show that not only are immigrant children allowed to attend state school, this even extends to the children of undocumented migrants.  How else could the USA have become a melting-pot for millions of immigrants over many decades, if their children were limited to attending private schools?

It’s instructive to examine the interplay between Farage’s comments and the latest version of UKIP’s immigration policy. By itself, that policy is coherent, and contains some very good elements – notably the exclusion of counting migrant students, and the absence of any numerical quota or target for overall migration. Rather, the policy would admit in only skilled workers who achieve a certain number of ‘points’ in the system; nurses would be exempt from the points requirement. This is similar to the system in several other wealthy countries.

Yet those other countries usually allow in family members straight away, whereas Farage states explicitly that there would be a lengthy delay before admitting dependents. In contrast, the EU’s Blue Card rules, which aim to attract highly-skilled migrants, waive any waiting period for family members, because such a forced split up of families obviously deters migrants from moving. The EU rules simply copy the standards in other wealthy countries on this point.

How many nurses – or skilled migrant workers – would move to the UK if it meant years of forced separation from their family? How many nurses could afford private school fees for their children, when they were finally allowed family reunion under Farage’s plans? His statements are not simply inaccurate, but render his party’s immigration policy incoherent.

On a personal note, Farage’s assertions rang false immediately for me, because I was a child in another country (Canada), and there was no difficulty gaining admission to state school, where I had classmates who had just moved from the (then) Yugoslavia. How else could Canada take a huge number of migrants every year, with a historically small private education system? Farage, on the other hand, attended private school. Undoubtedly some migrants (who can afford to do) send their children to private schools, for linguistic or cultural reasons, because developing countries cannot afford to offer high-quality state schooling, to ensure that their children get the right certificate for university entry back home, or due to simple personal preference for private education.

So probably Farage met some foreign students as a private schoolboy. But he has overgeneralised his own experience into a universal norm, without even checking basic facts. UKIP styles itself as ‘the People’s Party’; but Farage has just reminded us that he is about as working-class as Marie Antoinette.


  1. In the Netherlands everything is blocked for persons who do not have a legal stay. Everything? No. There's one main exception: every child, regardless of his status, has the obligation to attend school (primary and secondary education).