Immigration and Asylum: some thoughts from the house bureaucrat…

I note that the latest proposals for debate at Autumn Conference on migration policy have come in for some stick from my editorial colleague. And with good cause, for apologising for what is necessary and appropriate is never a good way to convince people that what you need is, indeed, necessary and appropriate.

But I come bearing something rather more practical, in that I want to talk about what underpins any immigration and asylum policy, regardless of how liberal it is, or otherwise.

For, no matter what your starting point is, you have to administer it properly. So, without actually outlining a policy, here are some thoughts about what you need.

Firstly, you need to differentiate between immigration and asylum, and preferably separate the administration of the two policies. You don’t really have any choice about asylum. Somebody turns up on your shore, or at your international airport, having fled persecution or worse. What are your criteria for acceptance? Does the applicant meet them? Yes, you let them in. No, you send them back.

In terms of what is now known as economic migration – the search for a better life, if you will – you need to set rules. Make them easy to understand (and thus, operate). I come from a family of economic migrants, and clear guidance has made our choice of destination easier (your circumstances determine your options). And, if you really do want to keep out the unskilled, or whatever (and I fully acknowledge that virtually any occupation requires some type of skill), if your criteria are clear, the supposedly undesirable will self-exclude. Why waste money and time on an application that will almost certainly be unsuccessful?

Make sure that you employ enough people to manage your system so that applications are processed quickly, and not lost. One of the tragedies of our current broken system is that so many people have become lost in it, with the human cost that comes with that.

With efficiency comes greater certainty.

And, where cases are marginal, or mistakes are made, deal with appeals with equal efficiency. Agree to meet the cost of appeals, only seeking recompense from those whose appeals are lost (and assume that you may not see much repayment). Bear in mind that the economic cost of appeals should be set against the societal costs of those migrants forced into the shadow economy by their lack of status. Add to that the costs to the economy of criminal gangs who prey on the undocumented and those lost in the system.

Patrol the borders properly, count people in and out of the country so that you know that people have left and can more accurately judge the impact of people coming and going.

Do all of this, and most fair-minded people (and thus potential supporters) will acknowledge that you have an immigration and asylum policy that is at least properly managed, even if they don’t agree with the criteria set.

But, finally, accept that, for some people, you will never be tough enough or win an argument using facts. And, as a liberal, you really shouldn’t be pandering to them…

* Mark Valladares is a professional bureaucrat, and a bit of a process geek. Sometimes, process really does matter…

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10 Comments

  • Catherine Smart 6th Aug '18 - 8:34am

    Firstly, you need to differentiate between immigration and asylum, and preferably separate the administration of the two policies.
    A couple of years ago, Federal Conference asked for ideas which it examined in a “dragons den” type format and i proposed that asylum cases should be taken away from the Home Office and administered by the Foreign Office. This was mainly to separate them from immigration but also on the basis that the Foreign Office was in a better place to judge the situation from which the applicant was fleeing. Also, if figures came from two different places, the tabloids might stop adding them together – might!! The idea was accepted for further examination – then disappeared into a black hole. The ideas format was a one off as well.
    PS Good article – process affects perceptions more than we think.

  • William Fowler 6th Aug '18 - 8:47am

    Asylum seekers are supposed to be dealt with by the first country they end up in… so there is no choice only if the UK is the first country they come to, otherwise need to be returned to that first country asap. Equally, any illegal entry into the country needs to be dealt with in a summary manner, again returning to the country from whence they came. Anything else undermines the law and eventually that leads to chaos and madness (done enough times).

  • Nonconformistradical 6th Aug '18 - 9:58am

    @William Fowler

    “Asylum seekers are supposed to be dealt with by the first country they end up in… so there is no choice only if the UK is the first country they come to, otherwise need to be returned to that first country asap.”

    A rule which was as far as I know devised when the world wasn’t in the grip of the worst refugee crisis since WW2 – and a rule which is now totally impracticable.

    And climate change is only going to make the economic migrant issue a whole lot worse.

  • @nonconformistradical “A rule which was as far as I know devised when the world wasn’t in the grip of the worst refugee crisis since WW2 – and a rule which is now totally impracticable.

    And climate change is only going to make the economic migrant issue a whole lot worse.”

    How do you propose to deal with theses issues. Do you think your proposals are vote winners?

  • Pandering is by definition bad. To be empathetic and understand someone’s different world view and employ arguments to win people round is not. I am per se morally opposed to detaining unsuccessful asylum seekers. But it is a rational argument from rational, sensible, liberal people to say that they have not proved a valid claim and might therefore disappear before they are deported. To these people, you win the argument by point out the huge cost of £500 million and that keeping them in the community has worked in other countries – not by adopting moral outrage.

    I am always haunted to think whether if I was living in the 1930s would have I have done enough to get this country to help Jews escape Nazism.

    I think of the woman that I helped get off her flight half an hour before take off and who went on to establish a valid claim for asylum and remains in this country to this day free from persecution. I think of the gay man that had cigarettes stubbed out on his back by police in Uganda that eventually won a case for asylum. But I know for all these people who escape there are many who go back to torture and persecution because of dire decisions by the Home Office.

    One of my favourite saying is a Chinese one – you can’t eat a steamed bun (which is large) in one bite.

    in Parliament liberal MPs won the case for legalising homosexuality with arguments 50 years ago that are shocking to our ears today. It was “sad” that people were homosexual but equally sending them to prison for a consenting act was not right. But it won the day against a pubic that was opposed to it. It was a flawed law. But it was a step forward and because the sky didn’t fall in it made further steps forward possible. And gradually the law improved. An equal age of consent. Discrimination made illegal. Civil partnerships. Equal/same sex marriage.

    I want to see a better asylum decisions. I want to win over my fellow citizens to it. And I want a powerful force of Lib Dem MPs to enact it. I may not be able to get the perfect policy or win over my fellow citizens by high-minded moral outrage. But not to take further bites of the steam bun is to let down the men and women sent back to face horrible persecution, death and torture. Just as not to move forward with an imperfect law would have been a let-down by our predecessors of LGBT people. Let’s make sure that steamed bun gets eaten by taking further bites out of it.

  • Nonconformistradical 6th Aug '18 - 4:25pm

    @TCO

    “How do you propose to deal with theses issues. Do you think your proposals are vote winners?”

    I’m not aware that I said anything about solutions – I was merely pointing out the problems.

  • Peter Hirst 7th Aug '18 - 12:41pm

    Though there is a different access point, could both types be treated under the same system with a different emphasis, with asylum where they are coming from and why and with migrants where they are coming to and why? As you state, the important thing is to prevent people who are unlikely to meet the criteria from trying to enter the country. I feel humanitarian and political considerations make what seems like an orderly system teem with challenges.

  • @Martin,
    Playing devil’s advocate here, but anything is possible post Brexit. For example we might very well see an asylum system where a Syrian arriving in Britain from a refugee camp in France is only asked to prove that he was oppressed without recourse in France, his more historical situation in Syria being irrelevant.

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