Opinion: Amnesty for 120,000 illegal migrants

During the 2010 general elections, I campaigned in Barking and Dagenham, where the BNP concentrated much of their electoral effort on the back of council seats they held there.

Our policy of offering families, who have been here for years and want to pay taxes a route to citizenship (provided they want to work, speak English and want to commit to the UK in the long term) came under attack not just from the BNP, but Labour and Tories as well.

It is, therefore, with some irony that I read last week that an effective amnesty for tens of thousands of illegal immigrants has been brought about by the inability of the UK borders agency to manage the backlog of cases built up during the Labour years.

Coming on top of the damaging restrictions imposed on businesses seeking to recruit skilled professional and managerial staff (and Universities endeavouring to enrol overseas students), the coalition immigration policy, designed to meet the Tory pledge of net migration in the ‘tens of thousands’, is unravelling at the seams.

The Labour government’s record on immigration was an unmitigated disaster, as John Cruddas MP for Dagenham and Rainham now acknowledges. Every developed country in the world needs to maintain robust and efficient border and immigration controls. The Labour government declined to take advantage of the seven-year transition period available when the countries of Eastern Europe were admitted to the European Union. Also, exit checks are yet to be re-instituted, without which there is no way of knowing how many temporary visitors and residents have over-stayed their Visa.

Our 2010 Manifesto proposed to tailor immigration policy regionally to housing and employment resources, as they do in Australia and Canada. This regional points-based immigration system was designed to ensure that immigration is targeted on areas that are under-populated and want more immigration, like Scotland.

We advocated making the asylum system, for those fleeing real persecution, fairer by taking responsibility away from the Home Office and giving it to a Canadian-style independent agency, with the aim of substantially reducing the number of decisions overturned on appeal. We also proposed to allow asylum seekers to work while they were going through the process of immigration clearance to eliminate the situation where such immigrants remain dependent on welfare benefits for very long periods of time.

So much of these sensible and pragmatic proposals have been side-lined by an undeliverable Tory commitment, based around a short-term populist approach that undermines Britain’s historically liberal approach to immigration.

Vince Cable and David Willetts have fought a valiant rearguard action to curb the most damaging aspects of current immigration policy. Surely, it is high time that overseas students and staff temporarily resident here are removed from net migration targets altogether.

We will need a robust, liberal and pragmatic immigration policy, competently managed, that promotes economic growth (as advocated by the Economist) going into the next election.

The current coalition effort will not suffice.

* Joe Bourke is an accountant and university lecturer, Chair of ALTER, and Chair of Hounslow Liberal Democrats.

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  • Shaahin Nazmie 26th Nov '12 - 11:21pm

    Actually, Im one of those who waiting for granting to be supportive for my family in the right way. My wife is English and we have 3 year old daughter together and few time claimed for my status but answered. No

  • Richard Dean 26th Nov '12 - 11:30pm

    I certainly agree that the system seems in dire need of repair. Much of what is being said here seeme nice, liberal, and a little impractical, even damaging and vote-losing.

    Doesn’t much of the existing population NOT want more immigration? While many of us don’t mind small amounts of immigration, many people have reservations about large numbers – which is why the BNP and other extreme parties have followings that are not limited to extremist voters.

    Are there really areas of the country that want to encourage immigration from abroad, as opposed to from other parts of the UK? Scotland seems a particularly odd choice – any kind of significant immigrant numbers from abroad will certainly change local culture quite a bit, but Scots seem to have a very strong idea of Scottishness. So forcing immigration is just going to store up problems, isn’t it?

    Let me try to assemble these random thoughts a bit better… Immigration undoubtedly distresses some parts of existing society. We don’t surely have a right to cause that distress, even if we think it’s unfounded? And that distress turns into serious trouble if a government pushes too hard – do we have a right to cause that trouble?

    So, sorry if this is dumping you in it a bit, but what are the principles on which we should base a LibDem immigration policy?

  • Richard,

    I will start with using Boris Johnson’s advice to the government today ‘don’t do things that are going to cause unnecessary alarm and prejudice against the UK”Boris Johnson warns that UK is losing foreign students.

    On the question of Scotland’s attitude to immigration it appears to be “We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns.” How many is too many?.

    The migration observatory has produced a good report on the subject Britain’s 70 million debate? and makes some policy recommendations:

    “While the government cannot limit EU immigration through immigration controls, there are a number of policy changes that could be made aimed at reducing the demand for EU (and other) migrant workers, especially in lower skilled occupations. These policy changes include, for example, more and better training of British workers (e.g. in sectors like construction where the lack of a comprehensive training system fuels the demand for experienced East European migrant labour), changes in welfare policies to encourage more British workers to join the workforce (something the government has already begun to do), and better wages and conditions in some low waged public sector jobs.”

    Few people will have concerns about multi-national companies bring in technical and executive staff from overseas branches or bona fide university students coming to study in the UK. Asylum seekers are a small % of total immigration.

    Integration issues arise from large numbers of poorly educated men and women coming in principally from Pakistan and Bangladesh for family arranged marriages with British citizens.. Not having grown up here or come over at school age, lack of English language and relevant employment skills make it very difficult for them to assimilate into British society.

    Illegal migration from Afghanistan, the Indian sub-continent and Africa remains a challenge that is yet to be effectively controlled. London is the principal reservoir of illegal migrants and it seems likely that in-country monitoring and regulation will need to be introduced if we are to get on top of this problem., as I belive the general public would like us to do.

    A route to citizenship for families, who have been here for years and want to pay taxes (provided they want to work, speak English and want to commit to the UK in the long term) could be provided, if it is accompanied by a general tightening up of procedures to identify and locate inelgible illegal migrants residing here.

  • There is surely no doubt about the validity of the policy. Unless I am mistaken it was supported before the election by all parties.
    The mistake was to include it in the manifesto unlike the other two parties who were too savvy. I believe that Brown & Cameron latched onto it halfway though the leader debates and hit Clegg with it.

  • Libdem proposals for Scottish home rule and a federation of regional assemblies have recently been outlined by Menzies Campbell Home rule Although, immigration policy would continue to be determined at the Federal level, individual regions could establish quota and skill shortage requirements for their respective territories.

    In the US, the dream act looks likely to come into effect in 2013 providing a pathway to permanent residence/citizenship for undocumented residents entering the US before the age of 16. As in the UK, political jockeying has delayed the introduction of this US legislation for several years. We need to grasp the nettle here and ensure that our amnesty proposals are accompanied by effective measures to curb further illegal immigration. These may include reintroduction of entry and exit checks; validation of work permits by local police stations; increased use of border agency checks on premises regularly employing immigrant workers e.g. construction sites, hotels and restaurants, farms etc. Documentation should always be required for access to welfare benefits, school registration and non-emergency health care. Deportation should be automatic for single unattached illegal immigrants convicted in the courts upon completion of sentencing.

    International students are of great benefit to the UK. Students pay fees and contribute to local economies through their living expenses. They also take their expertise when they leave which benefits their home country. Once home, they are more likely to do business with Britain. If students and staff brought to the UK for temporary work assignments are excluded from net migration figures, we can get much closer to a balanced migration target.

    There can be no question of interfering with genuine marriages but arranged marriages with overseas partners should not be permitted if there is an element of coercion on one of the parties to the marriage. Existing measures to prevent sham marriages should also be tightened. Language requirements should be raised to facilitate better integration. All applicants wishing to come to the UK for marriage should be interviewed to ensure that the marriage is genuine. The sponsor must also be able to demonstrate a minimum income to ensure that the taxpayer does not foot the bill.

    Work skills training needs to be made available through job centres and government sponsored programmes for non-EU family reunion migrants in jobs where there is substantial demand for migrant EU labour. Support also needs to be provided for charities and social enterprises in assisting newly arrived migrants with continuing English language training and basic civics orientation.

  • Richard Dean 28th Nov '12 - 9:46am

    It is liberal to cause people distress? Wow! There’s something for the other parties’ to use in their campaigns!

  • “Our policy of offering families, who have been here for years and want to pay taxes a route to citizenship ”
    I suspect that all immigrants who have effectively settled would say this particularly if the alternative is to uproot and go back to somewhere less comfortable…

    Yes Labour did the country a serious disservice with its immigration policy and relaxation of border controls, particularly as through the 1990’s we had a relatively stable population, which given the level of immigration/emigration could of quite easily been capped at it’s 1998 level and greatly assisted us in achieving the Kyoto obligations that Labour signed up to. What is inexcusable now is the continuation of these lax practices, so why hasn’t the coalition re-introduced stringent entry and exit checks and controls?

    >2010 Manifesto proposed to tailor immigration policy regionally to housing and employment resources
    So since there is a long-term national housing shortage and long-term high levels of unemployment with no obvious end in sight, this effectively means no new immigration … So in practice, the effect is the same only the rhetoric is different.

    >Surely, it is high time that overseas students and staff temporarily resident here are removed from net migration targets altogether.
    Agreed, it is very irritating to try and have an informed debate with only a single total figure rather than a more nuanced breakdown, that would naturally flow from having better border controls. We also should try and maintain similar figures for emigrations. This would enable this element of our population to be better managed, which given the UK population projections and the amount of growth that is being attributed to immigrants is something that needs addressing sooner rather than later.

    As for an amnesty, I’m all for an amnesty, but only one that doesn’t reward illegal activity such as deliberately overstaying a tourist visa (question how does an ‘illegal’ immigrant evidence that they have actually been continuously resident in the country for 5+ years say and not 5 days?). So perhaps we need to offer civilised and favorable consideration only to those who come forward and a stick to those who wish to remain hidden…

  • “Why hasn’t the coalition re-introduced stringent entry and exit checks and controls?” A very pertinent question, Roland. The old system of embarkatiion and disembarkation cards was notoriously difficult to control. However, with the rapid advances in IT technology in recent decades, a modernised system should prove more efective than our past efforts. Even if we do return to a card system – better this than nothing at all.

    As regards a regional policy there are obvious weaknesses in what was originally proposed, that were highlighted during the leadership debates. It is however, a policy that has been applied, with good effect, in Australia and Canada and might have some application in under-populated areas like Scotland.

    “How does an ‘illegal’ immigrant evidence that they have actually been continuously resident in the country for 5+ ears say and not 5 days?” Also a pertinent question. I was living in California in the late eighties after the Reagan amnesty in the USA. There was a brisk trade in forged telephone and utility bills that illegal immigrants needed as proof of residency for an amnesty application. Where eligibilty is restricted to family units, it is somewhat easier to corrobate claims with employment, health and school records.

    “Perhaps we need to offer civilised and favorable consideration only to those who come forward and a stick to those who wish to remain hidden.” Agrreed!

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