by Sir Andrew Green
At last the LibDems have noticed that we have a problem over immigration. For years they have been in denial but yesterday’s conference debate is their first tiny step toward reality. They even have a big idea. Unfortunately, it is an extremely foolish one.
They are calling for ‘an earned route to citizenship’, beginning with a two year work permit, for people they call ‘irregular migrants’ who have been in the UK for ten years.
Who exactly are these people the LibDems are suddenly championing? They are men and women who entered our country illegally on the back of a truck, or came as visitors or students and stayed on illegally. To these must be added the hundreds of thousands of rejected asylum seekers whom the Government has failed to remove. In total they amount to at least half a million.
So is ‘earned citizenship’ the answer?
Of course not. The immigration lobby likes to suggest that these people have been doing us a service by ‘doing the jobs that the British won’t do’. In fact, the opposite is the case: they have been doing us serious harm and in two ways.
First, they have been undercutting the wages of British workers. London is the most expensive city in Britain but unskilled wages are the lowest in the country – for the simple reason that there is a huge supply of illegal immigrants ready to work at, and often below, the minimum wage.
Secondly, these workers are enabling unscrupulous employers to undercut honest employers who provide decent pay and conditions for their staff
It must be wrong in principle to reward such behaviour – but not in the Alice in Wonderland world of Human Rights. In that world the longer you break the law, the less penalties you face and the more rights you acquire.
And what about the cost to the taxpayer of what would amount, in practice, to an amnesty? The truth is that it would be astronomical.
A Left-leaning think-tank claimed last year that the Treasury would ‘net’ £1 billion from an amnesty – a claim taken up by a campaign under the banner Strangers into Citizens and supported, naively, by the Roman Catholic church.
The LibDems have even made the absurd claim that the Treasury are ‘losing out’ on up to £3 billion a year in tax revenue – if these migrants earned their citizenship, the Lib Dems argue, they would be paying tax like everyone else.
But surely it is obvious that to admit up to a million low-paid people into the full benefits of our welfare state would be extremely expensive. We, in MigrationWatch, have done a full calculation of the cost to the Treasury based on a cautious estimate of 430,000 illegal migrants earning their citizenship.
Not only would there be no financial benefit, it would actually cost £1 billion a year just in the early stages. In subsequent years, these people will begin to have families and claim a wider range of benefits. Updating the numbers to a realistic 625,000, their net cost to the taxpayer would then be up to £5 billion a year.
A further consequence is that those granted an amnesty would have the right to go on the lists for council housing. They would also have the right to bring over their families and thus move up the priority list for housing. In England, the housing lists have already increased from a million to one and half million in the past five years, partly as a result of immigration.
What would all this achieve? Would it solve the problem of immigrant workers being exploited? The answer is an emphatic no.
There will always be people from the third world and the poorer parts of Europe who will stay on illegally and replace those granted an amnesty. With wages in Britain between five and twenty five times higher than in their home countries they are bound to give it a try.
The amnesty lobby claims that it would cost £4.7 billion to deport all the illegal workers now in Britain. At the Government’s estimate of £11,000 a head, it probably would. But nobody is proposing that
It is essential that we simplify and streamline the process so that we can remove significant numbers of illegals at a reasonable cost. However, it is hardly feasible to march half a million or more people on to an aircraft and fly them home – they would, in any case, simply be replaced by others.
This is exactly what has happened to other countries which have gone down the amnesty route. Italy has granted five amnesties in the past twenty years and Spain has granted six.
On almost every occasion there have been more applications than the previous time. There could not be clearer evidence that amnesties simple attract more and more illegal immigrants, as common sense suggests.
The answer lies elsewhere – in cracking down on employers of illegal labour. If the jobs are not there people will not stay. It is hard to believe but there have been less than a dozen successful prosecutions of employers in the past five years. The Government has recently strengthened the law and increased the penalties. Now they must actually enforce it.
This action then needs to be reinforced by effective controls on access to the National Health Service and to education, both of which are wide open to people who have no right whatever even to be in this country.
The LibDem home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg says that we should not ‘pander to fear’. Indeed we should not. But it would be a good idea if he were to pause to think.
There is now huge concern throughout the country about the impact of mass immigration, legal and illegal, on our society. The major political parties must respond with firm, practical and effective measures. By this yardstick, the Liberal Democrats have a very very long way to go.