'This would only make a bad situation worse' Commentary

By Andrew Green
Chairman of Migration Watch UK
The Daily Telegraph, London, 08 May, 2007

Welcome to Great Britain - the softest touch in the world. That is the message sent out by yesterday's demonstration in Trafalgar Square. It may have been well intentioned - but it was also deeply misguided.

The immigration lobby, together with some church leaders are proposing that illegal immigrants who have been here for four or more years should be admitted to a " two year pathway" to full legal rights. This would entitle them to access to the welfare state and citizenship eventually. They could also bring over their families.

This is an amnesty in all but name.

There are somewhere between 500,000 and a million illegal immigrants here. Some arrived on the back of a truck, some overstayed their visas. Others are failed asylum seekers the Government has failed to remove. Many are being exploited by their employers. The Chinese cockle pickers drowned in Morecambe Bay are the most obvious example.

This hidden labour force holds down wages for all unskilled workers and enables unscrupulous employers to undercut honest ones. It also damages the reputation of legal immigrants.

An amnesty will be pointless if those who are legalised are simply replaced. Some 70 per cent of illegal immigrants are brought here by people-smugglers who will be the first to spot a new market.

Others will be tempted to overstay on visitor or student visas to work at less than the minimum wage but for more than they could earn at home.

Even now migrants are lining up in Sangatte for an opportunity to get to Britain. The prospect of an amnesty will attract even more. Italy and Spain have each granted five or six amnesties in the last 20 years and almost every time have faced even more applications.

An amnesty would be expensive for the tax payer. The immigration lobby is claiming a net gain to the Exchequer of between £500 million to £1 billion. This takes no account of the extra cost of adding 500,000 people to the welfare state.

More immediate is the effect on housing. Once granted Leave to Remain, these migrants will become entitled to social housing. As single people they would join a waiting list. If their families arrived they would move up the priority list.

There is already a sense of unfairness among the indigenous working class. They feel that they have paid into the system for many years while new arrivals immediately claim benefits. Indeed, 76 per cent of the public oppose an amnesty. The Government ignores such strong feelings at its peril.

So what is the alternative? First, we must restore control of our borders, including checking people in and out by name. This is now planned but it will be years before it is in place.

Second, we need to bear down on employers of illegal workers. The Government has spoken of heavy fines, the use of the Proceeds of Crime Act and prison sentences for company directors.

However, in the last five years there has been only a handful of successful prosecutions. Even now there are only about a dozen officials devoted to this task.

The third step is to permit illegal immigrants to leave Britain without risk of arrest. Some have been imprisoned after being arrested for an immigration offence on their way out.

A departure amnesty would make sense, especially combined with tighter regulation of the job market and restricting access to our education, health and welfare state.

The prospect of an amnesty will only retain the illegals we have and attract more. It will shift the exploitation to another group of victims and will perpetuate the undercutting of honest employers and workers. In reality, it is foolishness. It would make a bad situation worse.

Sir Andrew Green is a former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Syria.

© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green
The Daily Telegraph, London, 08 May, 2007


We use cookies to help us improve the website.

I Understand About Cookies



Keep up with the debate: If you would like us to keep you informed about the immigration debate, please subscribe here to receive regular updates.