Sunday, December 8, 2019
Home News A mass amnesty for illegal immigrants would bring more pouring in

A mass amnesty for illegal immigrants would bring more pouring in

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IN Fraser Nelson’s Spectator editorial of 9 November and then in a Daily Telegraph column on 15 November, he calls for a mass amnesty for illegal immigrants who have been in the UK for at least ten years (good luck establishing that with people who have no documentation and of whom, for many, there is no record of arrival, Mr Nelson).

He argues in effect that hundreds of thousands of those who came here illegally or stayed on when their leave expired should be able to regularise their stay.

They would have full access to the welfare state and the right to bring those they claim to be dependants. Would this not be rewarding illegality?

If the folly of this is not self-evident, new estimates published by Pew Research should surely make it crystal clear. The Pew report suggests that the number of illegal migrants in the UK in 2017 was between 800,000 and 1.2million – the largest number of any EU country.While shocking, it is not unexpected. We at Migration Watch UK have been pointing to the significant number of illegal immigrants in the UK for years. Our most recent paper suggested a figure of around one million (an estimate similar to those by former top Home Office staff). We also estimated the illegal migrant population to be growing by a net figure of at least 70,000 per year.

This will be alarming to many given that we are an island nation whose natural sea defences should help deter the phenomenon of irregular migration which has seen nearly two million people cross illegally into Europe from Asia and Africa since the start of 2014. 

Yet when one considers a range of factors, not least ministers’ failure to resource border security properly, as well as increasingly feeble efforts at enforcement (with removals falling by a third over the past decade), it is not at all surprising.

Clearly, bringing in a new and well-publicised amnesty would not ease this crisis, but only make it more difficult to handle.

We need only to look at the impact of previous amnesties in Spain, Italy and France. A Home Office study found that these had led to more illegal immigration. Italy, for instance, granted five amnesties in recent decades, yet saw the number of applications for regularisation more than double, from 119,000 to 308,000 between 1987 and 1998. Spain also granted multiple such amnesties. Similarly, the number of applications for regularisation there more than doubled between 1991 and 2001, from 135,000 to 314,000.

In 2005, the French Interior Minister said that further amnesties were out of the question. His German counterpart said that ‘wide-ranging campaigns to legalise illegal immigrants such as in Spain mean more illegal immigrants are drawn to Europe’.

The call for an amnesty, which Boris Johnson himself has proposed, clearly flies in the face of extensive evidence. And yet the government refuses to rule it out. In its mealy-mouthed response to our petition – signed by tens of thousands of people by the time it was closed because Parliament was dissolved – the implication was that it could well happen. Perhaps Mr Nelson is flying kites to see what the reaction might be?

The impression being conveyed by the half-hearted efforts at removal that have taken hold since 2018 can only encourage others to attempt to get here by any means possible. Mr Nelson argues that there would be little effect on the current influx provided that only those who have been here for a minimum length of time are eligible to apply. Yet it is a simple matter of logic that, if there is already a considerable draw at a time when the prospects of regularisation are limited, an offer of amnesty after a period of years can only increase that draw; it cannot possibly decrease it.

Meanwhile, the illegal immigration problem continues, with 30,000 recorded attempts to enter the UK illegally from northern France in 2017 and with authorities being called out every few hours to deal with incidents involving people making dangerous bids to get here in dinghies.

Earlier this month, for example, one patrol intercepted a small boat carrying 22 individuals. In total, about 2,000 people have already attempted to come there this way in 2018 and 2019 so far (while just 6 per cent of those who arrived from the safe countries of Northern Europe since last December have been returned – see this Sky News report). The Home Secretary is seeking to work with the French to deter these hazardous attempts from occurring in the first place. Her efforts would be seriously undermined by an amnesty.

The idea that an amnesty has only a financial upside makes little sense. We already know that immigration is an annual net fiscal cost to the country (£4.3billion in 2016/17). In 2011, the Home Affairs Select Committee said that an amnesty involved ‘considerable cost to the taxpayer’. 

On the contrary, illegal migrants would gain full access to health services as well as to social housing and social security. As already mentioned, an amnesty would mean hundreds of thousands being granted access to services that are already stretched by rapid population growth of over 400,000 per year, four-fifths of which has been related to immigration (see our paper).

Many who came here legally from overseas will find the prospect of an amnesty for illegal behaviour deeply unwelcome and damaging to the reputation of immigrants generally. What kind of message about the authorities’ regard for the rule of law would it send to the vast majority of those who take the time and care to play by the rules and go through the correct channels? 

Illegal immigration is a serious concern to 77 per cent of the public, according to a Project28 poll.  An amnesty would further increase the gap between the public and politicians and their backers. It would also add insult to injury. Over the past nine years, the Conservatives have failed to deliver on repeated manifesto promises to reduce immigration.

Priti Patel last Thursday said a Conservative government would reduce overall numbers with an Australian Points Based System (PBS) – the first time since Boris Johnson became PM that the Tories had spoken of reducing immigration. Hurrah. But in the course of the day, they all appeared to row back even from this half-hearted commitment.

An Australian PBS in itself would not be sufficient to reduce or even control immigration. On the contrary, the Australians have used it to increase their population. Let’s hope that the Conservatives, should they form the next government, will not be looking to pull the wool over our eyes again.

Let me end with what I believe is the most serious potential consequence of an ill-considered amnesty. It risks spurring yet more dangerous journeys, encouraging people attracted by what they believe to be a land flowing with milk and honey to risk their lives by putting themselves in the hands of evil traffickers who don’t care two hoots about the safety of human beings. 

Let us hope that the Conservative Party leadership sees sense and holds back from committing to such a foolhardy policy.

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Alp Mehmet
Alp Mehmet
Chairman of Migration Watch UK, former British diplomat.

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