"Strangers into citizens"?

May 04, 2007

The Roman Catholic Church and others are supporting a "strangers into citizens" campaign. This note summaries the case against it.

The Proposal
The proposal is that "undocumented migrants" who have been living (illegally) in Britain for four years should be allowed to earn citizenship over a further two year period during which they would be allowed to work, provided that they paid taxes and had no criminal convictions.The intention is to achieve a balance between a humane approach and "an element of deterrence" to illegal migration.

The Numbers
A Home Office commissioned study, published in June 2005, gave a central estimate of 430,000. However, it was based on the 2001 census. A more up-to-date figure would be between ½ million and ¾ million.

The Financial Cost
The benefit to the Exchequer of collecting tax from ½ million low-paid workers would be about £1 billion per year. However, the cost of thus extending access to the welfare state would be at least £1.5 billion per year.

Other Implications
Once legal, migrants would have the right to bring over their families. They would also be entitled to social housing. This could add ½ million to the housing lists.

Migrants Contribution
Not all illegal migrants pay direct taxes but they tend to do unpopular work for low wages and thus contribute to the general well-being of the rest of society. However, they also undercut the wages of British workers and help unscrupulous employers to compete unfairly against honest ones.

Would "regularisation" solve the problem?
Almost certainly not. It has been extensively tried in Italy and Spain where it has simply made the position worse. Over the past twenty years, Italy has granted five amnesties and Spain six. On almost every occasion the number of applications was greater than for the previous amnesty. In the case of Italy the numbers rose from 119,000 in a 1988 amnesty to 700,000 in 2002 while in Spain 44,000 were granted an amnesty in 1985 but in 2005 this had also risen to 700,000.

In Britain, there will always be people from the third world who overstay their visas or arrive clandestinely and who would be willing to work for what is considered here to be a low wage but which would still allow them to send money home. The prospect of what amounts to an amnesty, followed by full access to the welfare state by themselves and their families could only encourage the growth of illegal immigration.

What can be done?
It has been suggested that an amnesty would "save" £4.7 billion. However, this sum is obtained by multiplying an estimate of the number of illegals by the cost of each forced removal (£11,000). Mass removal is, however, neither feasible or proposed.

The government’s policy, announced on 6 March 2007, is to strengthen measures against employers of illegal workers and to tighten access to health and education services. The expectation is that illegal workers will drift home. This could be assisted by a "free exit period" during which illegals returning home would not be prosecuted on departure.

Illegal working will never be completely eliminated while huge wage differentials with the third world persist. However, the proposals of "strangers into citizens" would make matters considerably worse and might well incur the deep resentment of low paid British workers, particularly over housing.

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