The immigration motion still needs improvement

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It has not been easy to come up with a response to the party’s immigration motion and paper.

There is much in the paper that we are very happy with; but there are also areas where we feel distinctly let down. We’re grateful to the Working Group for their positive attitude in communicating with us and doing what they could to improve the policy.

After a lot of soul-searching and discussion, we have come up with four amendments that we feel the motion needs in order to demonstrate the liberal values we share.

1. Means-testing of families

The situation now: A UK resident must have an income above a certain threshold before they can be joined by their spouse or dependent children.

The motion proposes: A partial return to pre-2012 rules. The fixed threshold will be abolished but the UK citizen may still not be joined by their family unless the family as a whole can demonstrate a certain level of affluence. Should they fall on hard times in the first five years, the spouse or children will not be liable to any support from the state.

We propose: Return to pre-1999 rules. No financial test limiting a couple’s right to live together and with their dependent children; and the family is entitled to support in the case of hardship, rather than being left to suffer or required to leave the country.

We do not think that a return to 1999 rather than 2012 rules should be controversial. Should we really be trying to position ourselves as “more liberal than Theresa May, but less liberal than David Blunkett and Jack Straw”?

Visa costs

The situation now: Extortionate fees for all kinds of visa and status applications. These are effectively being used to punish and deter immigrants.

The motion proposes: Fees reduced to cost-of-administration for registering children; fees being waived for registering children when the applicant cannot afford fees. Review of costs to be conducted for other applications.

We propose: *All* applications for visas, residence permits, leave to remain, or citizenship to be reduced to cover the cost of administration. Fees to be waived for those UK residents (or relatives applying for a family visa) who can demonstrate that they cannot afford the fees.
We feel that it is not appropriate for the Government to treat administration fees as a source of profit, especially when paying the fees is the only route to obtain many civil rights.

Many immigrants are going without rights to reside, to vote, to have the security that most take for granted, purely because they cannot afford the staggeringly high fees, which can run into many thousands of pounds. We welcome the proposal to reduce fees for children, but cannot see any principled reason that adults should be required to pay over the odds.

Immigration Enforcement (IE) and Border Force (BF)

The situation now: IE and BF are both underfunded, but also regularly showing a shocking disregard for the rights of those they come into contact with. They have recruited heavily among ex-military personnel, which may have contributed to their history of excessive use of force and other behaviour inappropriate to a civilian environment.

The motion proposes: Massively increase funding for IE and BF. Specify the need for culture change.

We propose: Increase funding for IE and BF, but conditional on their being restructured as National Special Police Forces (along the lines of the British Transport Police or the Civil Nuclear Constabulary).

We feel that this will not limit the effectiveness of the organisations, but will give them more appropriate oversight and accountability.

Rhetoric in the motion

The motion proposes: that we “listen and engage with those who link pressures on public services and housing to immigration and reject the argument that merely labels such people as racist”

We propose: that we “challenge the misconceptions of those who would blame immigration and immigrants for the very real social, infrastructure, and financial problems caused by economic change, government indifference, and underfunding; and provide workable solutions to these problems.”

We accept — of course! — that not everyone who is making this assertion is themselves racist. But the fact remains that the assertion is itself fundamentally objectionable and we see rebutting it as more important than soothing the feelings of those who may have been duped into accepting it.

We feel that these amendments, along with the amendments proposed by Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary and LGBT+ Lib Dems, will — if passed — give a motion that, if not perfect, is good enough. As we say above, there is much to be pleased with in the motion, and we would not want to see that thrown away.

We realise that the number of amendments that there will be time to debate is limited, and therefore if these amendments (or close equivalents) are not selected for debate, we will reluctantly call for the motion to be referred back to Federal Policy Committee, not to erase it, but in order that the party have another chance to refine it, to produce a policy that is as humane and as fair as possible to all those who have chosen to come to live in the UK.

* Liberal Democrat Immigrants exists to represent those members of the Liberal Democrats who have chosen to come to live in the UK from elsewhere. It also seeks to represent the interests of immigrants to the UK in general and to highlight those issues that disproportionately affect immigrants.

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19 Comments

  • Andrew Daer 31st Aug '18 - 8:52am

    The final point, about the rhetoric in the policy paper, raises an important point. A great many people in Britain are worried about immigration; fear of immigration is the sole reason the country was able to be hijacked by the right-wing politicians behind Brexit. We need to engage with those people.
    The difference between “engaging” with them and “challenging their misconceptions” is that proponents of “engaging” realise we need to genuinely understand why they feel the way they do. The implication of the suggested re-wording is that we need to inform listeners that we occupy the moral high ground, and then help them to become less misguided. We won’t change minds with that strategy, which frankly sounds a little pompous – as does telling supporters of the policy paper as it stands that we might not all be racists.
    We need to deal with the fundamental problem about our immigration policy, which is that while we might dream of an ideal world in which everybody is kind and compassionate, and regard it a noble cause to try to move voters in that direction, making it part of our manifesto would be electoral suicide. Some of us suspect that the strongest objections to the immigration policy document come from people who don’t mind if it makes us unelectable, as long as we make ourselves beacons of moral purity. That would be fine for a religious faith group, but ridiculous for a political party.

  • George Potter 31st Aug '18 - 9:36am

    Very well said. I cannot see any reason how on earth we can propose, with a straight face, an immigration policy less liberal than that of Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Michael Howard.

  • Alisdair McGregor 31st Aug '18 - 10:13am

    As an FPC member who was in the minority of the Committee who voted against this paper and motion appearing in its current form, I’m very glad to see these sentiments against the paper appearing. I definitely hope that the Motion will either be heavily modified or else it will need outright rejection

    Could I also draw everyone’s attention to this piece by Andrew Hickey which highlights how the discourse on immigration has moved towards the far right, such that we’re now proposing changes to the Right of Michael Howard as a Liberalisation of the system? https://andrewhickey.info/2018/08/30/the-howard-rule-a-modest-proposal/

  • James Baillie 31st Aug '18 - 11:36am

    This is an important intervention and one I agree with entirely. The abolition of NRPF is a requirement to even fulfil the rhetoric that Ed Davey gave in his recent newspaper interview; it should never have been in a paper that made it as far as conference. I of course hope that all these amendments will be accepted, but as this seems unlikely it does seem that a reference back is the best option available.

  • Lorenzo Cerin 31st Aug '18 - 1:36pm

    I endorse every one of the policies. Excellent work, it is correct to highlight how Liberal Democrat the Sir John Majors f this country are, his government beyond reasonable doubt better on immigration and the humanity needed, than subsequent governments. However, freedom of movement then was limited to a handful of similar countries, the inclusion of small impoverished ex communist ones changed everything, we should have anyone here with no hideous rules, who marry a uk national, but economic immigration should be limited to essential services. That was and is my view, the EU freedom of movement is a free for all amongst big businesses who do not want to pay well, it is not pro immigrant to exploit them in hoses of ten plus on mattresses.

    I disagree with the to my way of thinking, patronising tone of the change in the motion, from, listening to challenging, how about both.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 31st Aug '18 - 3:03pm

    My name for some reason not accurately typed, should be Cherin

  • I am minded to support this amendment from LDI – although I actually prefer the wording on the “rhetoric” in the original motion – for me as has been said LDI’s wording is too confrontational.

    For me as I have said before I would not support the motion without LD4SOS’s amendment – particularly on restoring proper legal aid – having helping asylum seekers and seen the appalling deterioration in legal aid.

    For me – constituting the Border Force as a Police Force might be a good idea but I can’t get too worked up about it in practice. I am not sure that national police forces outlined have much democratic accountability – indeed until today I didn’t know the civil nuclear constabulary even existed! Personally I think this is covered by other proposals in the policy paper such as a proper high-profile parliamentary debate on an inspector’s report on the operation of the asylum and immigration system.

    On visa costs I appreciate the point but the paper does propose a review.

    The point therefore comes down to the rules concerning spouses’ visas. Let me be clear if I was PM tomorrow I would revert back to the 1990s rules. I am not aware of our 2001, 2005 or 2010 manifestos proposing such a reversion but I may be wrong. It is always a good rhetorical debating point that you are less liberal and to the right of Genghis Khan – or pick your favourite bogeyman.

    My EXPERIENCE over 15 was that officials being over-pernickety about the rule on people being in “a genuine and subsisting relationship for two years” was the real problem with spouse’s visas. And significantly better legal help and better decision making will help with that.

    I would support the policy even if LDI amendment was not passed as the spouse’s visas are in IMHO “not unreasonable” – and see my defence of that in the last comment on the previous thread. And I am sorry if that makes me a nasty illiberal person to the right of Genghis Khan!

  • David Evans 1st Sep '18 - 9:29am

    Geoffrey and Andrew are absolutely correct. Sadly there are so many here who still think that the way to build a free open and fair society is to carry on making all the same mistakes that we have made over the last eight years. A period that destroyed 50 years of hard work building a force that at last had a chance of us building that free open and fair society.

    Sentiments like ” we see rebutting it as more important than soothing the feelings of those who may have been duped into accepting it,” or “We prove to them that they are wrong,” accompanied by only referring to racists in our comments is precisely the way to ensure that most people will not vote for us. I just wonder how many of those people have changed their opinion because someone proved they were wrong.

    You don’t make society more liberal by lecturing people about how wrong they are in the expectation that they will totally simply change. You make society more liberal by making people just a little bit more liberal 1% at a time, through building dialogue, trust and sheer hard work.

    That is how we built our party up over those 50 years. Those who believe it is just a matter of being right are the ones who have helped squander those 50 years of making Britain a bit more liberal one step at a time. They have a lot to answer for.

  • William Fowler 1st Sep '18 - 11:38am

    Whatever the laws, under Brown/Blair the ability to get partners visas to come to the UK was a lot easier than in previous govn’s, now it is a mixed bag with non-immigrant visas easier and marriage visas harder. Post Brexit things will probably get tighter yet.

    Whilst the sentiments expressed are good-hearted they do mean that there would be little chance of Leavers voting to remain in a second referendum unless the residence rules for immigrants were tightened to a level that would make LibDems eyes water, so am interested to learn which is more important, EU membership or allowing easy access for immigrants to social housing, benefits, tax credits etc… they are mutually exclusive if you want to win a second vote.

  • Peter Hirst 1st Sep '18 - 11:40am

    I think the fundamental message we need to get across is that while welcoming immigrants, they must be able to contribute to our society. If they can then the obstacles to becoming British citizens should be minimised, i.e. low visa fees, generous family entitlements. If not then the onus of proof must be on them to show they are fleeing violence and family entitlements should be tougher. I like the idea of restructuring the border force so it is more accountable and transparent. Obviously, preventing those who are are unlikely to be accepted before they land here is best as is processing prospective immigrants overseas.

  • Peter Hirst 1st Sep '18 - 12:31pm

    The misguided should be shown compassion and given the tools to become wise.

  • Peter Hirst 1st Sep '18 - 12:34pm

    References back are generally showing us as a reflective rather than proactive Party. We should allow motions on motions passed sooner, even the next conference. What is achieved by a reference back apart from navel gazing?

  • Nigel Jones 1st Sep '18 - 10:03pm

    I hope FCC will allow huge amendments to the motion; they normally do not which is a shame. I had a similar experience with the Education motion last Spring; it seems obvious to me that the same has happened to this immigration motion, i.e. not enough time spent by FPC discussing the wording of the motion with people across the party before it was put into print and unwillingness by FCC to hear the relevant voices and substantially change the wording before it is debated at conference.

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