Angela Smith on the Coalition’s deeply flawed approach to managing immigration
With the Second Reading of the Immigration Bill in the Lords today it’s very clear that this is a Bill more about spin than substance. We know that there is considerable public concern about immigration and we appreciate that at times the pace of migration has been too fast. The government however, has sought headlines – to be seen to take action, even if that action isn’t always effective or in the best interests of the UK.
Even though we support some of the measures, this Bill doesn’t tackle the issues that could really make a difference and a number of the measures fail what could be called the realm of ‘unintended consequences’ in that they have a significant and disproportionate impact on law abiding British citizens, legal visitors and visa holders who are an asset and contribute positively to our country.
The Coalition’s policy of managing and reducing migration is deeply flawed. Its net migration target isn’t targeting the right things. So highly qualified UK professionals who leave to work abroad is seen as success by the government. As is fee paying students, including those studying for doctorates and undertaking valuable research; who no longer come here but now pay fees to study and develop research in other European countries. Meanwhile, illegal immigration is getting worse. That’s not our definition of a well managed immigration policy.
The number of foreign criminals deported has fallen by over 13%. And between 2009 and 2012, the number of businesses fined for using illegal workers was almost halved. Plummeting by almost half to 1215 from 2269. So under this government, the number of people stopped from entering the UK at our borders has halved, the number of people removed for breaking the rules is down by 7%, and only half as many businesses have been fined for employing illegal workers.
Either the extent of the problem has been vastly reduced – or the Coalition has been incompetent in managing our borders and addressing the problem of illegal immigration. Yet its response with this Bill is not to look at tackling the problem at source, seek to effectively manage borders and combat people trafficking. It is to outsource responsibility for illegal immigration to landlords and nurses.
Where are the measures to really make an impact on illegal immigration? Where are the measures to protect workers from being undercut on wages or put at risk from lax working conditions? Where are the measures to stop gang masters exploiting the weak and desperate to work?
The government claims its measures to tackle illegal immigration, by in effect co-opting landlords as immigration officials, will reduce the housing available for illegal immigrants and therefore increase the number leaving the country. But it also admits that the costs exceed the benefits it can quantify and has no idea how many illegal immigrants would be affected.
As conscientious as law abiding landlords will be, Ministers know that it’s possible to get it wrong – to make a mistake. When former Immigration Minister Mark Harper employed his cleaner, he was confident that he had undertaken the appropriate checks. He’s an intelligent man, and knows the law. He would have done his utmost to comply with it. But he made a mistake. How many landlords could make a similar mistake?
So if a government Minister – a government Minister responsible for the Immigration Bill – can so easily get it wrong, how does the Coalition think that each and every landlord in this country, whether renting one property or 100, is qualified to act as an immigration official? Good legislation is about more than headlines. It needs workable practical policies.
Baroness Angela Smith of Basildon is a Shadow Home Office Minister in the House of Lords
Published 10th February 2014