Welcome to Britain - entry just £150
By Andrew Green
Chairman of Migration Watch UK
The Daily Telegraph, London, 01 August, 2006
Confidence in the Government's immigration policy - insofar as it has one - is at rock bottom. The latest revelation was buried in a threat assessment issued by the Serious Organised Crime Agency yesterday. It revealed that the cost of a clandestine passage from France to Britain is now just £150.
This is highly significant. It punctures many of the claims the Government has been making about its success in restoring control of our borders. We have heard endlessly about the closure of Sangatte and the juxtaposed immigration controls in France. But people smugglers are in it for the money. If they charge a mere £150 to smuggle someone into Britain, that can be only because it is remarkably easy to arrange.
Clandestines are only one part of the illegal population. The others are those who arrive legally as visitors or students and stay on after their visas expire. The Government has no idea of the numbers involved. There are no checks on foreigners as they come and go. But fear not. The Government has announced it is going to re-impose embarkation controls - although they will not be fully in place until 2014.
The plain truth is that our border controls have been crumbling for 10 years and it will take another 10 to restore them. Meanwhile, the people smugglers have noticed. Welcome to Britain - and to our open welfare state - for the princely sum of £150.
To be fair to our new Home Secretary, he has made no secret of the shambolic state in which he found our immigration system. What he has not yet recognised is that the Government has blundered into massive levels of immigration to no useful purpose.
Work permits have been quadrupled to 160,000 a year and, even without Eastern Europeans, nearly 300,000 additional foreign citizens arrived in 2004.
On top of this, the Government decided, alone except for Ireland and Sweden, to open our labour market to the new Eastern European members of the EU from the day they joined in May 2004.
This decision was based on its estimate of net immigration of up to 13,000 a year. We described it at the time as "divorced from reality and almost worthless". We did not know how right we were.
Nearly 400,000 have registered to work already. Others will not have bothered and the self-employed don't need to. Nobody knows how many have gone home.
The economic and social impact of these massive levels of immigration is no longer confined to our city centres, but is being felt all over the country. This is partly the result of flight from the cities - 100,000 people leave London every year - and partly due to the fact that Eastern Europeans are spreading into rural areas.
Behind its fatuous claims of "managed migration", the Government is starting to worry. A leaked document by a Home Office minister warns that a "step change" in the level of immigration could place public services under growing strain.
Departments have been asked to produce contingency plans for schools, housing and health, and local councils are calling for more money to cope with the extra demands on their services.
Perhaps worse, the document suggests the present restrictions on entry to the welfare state may be struck down by the courts. In response to concerns about welfare tourism, the Government imposed a requirement that immigrants from the new member states must work for 12 months before being granted full access to the housing and benefits system. Immediate access would attract even larger numbers.
All this comes just as Romania and Bulgaria loom on the horizon. They are due to join the EU in January 2007, or possibly 2008. Their combined populations of 30 million have a standard of living even lower than Poland.
The Government claims that we need this immigration to fill 600,000 vacancies. This is demonstrably false. It said this first in 2001. Since then, we have had net immigration likely to approach one million and the level of vacancies is - guess what - about 600,000.
The reason is that immigrants also create additional demand: to argue from vacancies is to argue for an endless cycle of immigration. Perhaps this is the real intention.
Whether immigrants from Eastern Europe are a good or bad thing depends on who you are. They are good for employers. Cheap, hard-working, often over-skilled workers are good for profits. They also hold wages down and so are good for inflation and interest rates. This is not so good if you are among the low paid.
As for the host population generally, all this is fine if you live in Islington. There, you benefit from cheap restaurants and plenty of plumbers and nannies.
For the rest of us, the impact on income per head is trivial. Robert Rowthorn, professor of economics at Cambridge, wrote recently that "the Government's claim about the economic benefits of immigration is false... all the research suggests that the benefits for the existing population as a whole are either close to zero, or negative".
We have reached a turning point. The public has finally seen through the Government's falsehoods about "managed migration" and its supposed benefits. People are deeply concerned that the numbers are out of control and are having a huge impact on our society.
The Government must now take concrete steps to restore confidence.
First, it must declare that it will not open our labour market to Romanians and Bulgarians until our EU partners do so too.
Second, it must make a determined effort to overcome the legal barriers to removing those here illegally. This also means a hard look at international conventions drawn up 50 years ago. Immigration control is only as good as our ability to remove.
Third, it must undertake to manage immigration levels sharply downwards before social tensions develop any further.
Sir Andrew Green is a former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Syria.
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green
The Daily Telegraph, London, 1 August, 2006