by Andrew Scott
On the 10th October, the Coalition government introduced a new immigration bill, with its main aim of tackling illegal immigration. It aims to make it easier to identify illegal immigrants by extending powers to search for passports, to examine fingerprints and to implement embarkation controls. The bill will cut the number of decisions that can be appealed and extend the number of non-suspensive appeals so that it is easier to remove illegal immigrants. It also intends to make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to live in the UK by requiring the tenants of private landlords and driving license applicants to give evidence of their immigration status, as well by prohibiting banks from opening current accounts to illegal immigrants. As well as seeking to address illegal immigration, the bill also demands that temporary migrants, including international students, contribute towards the National Health Service. Ultimately this bill's purpose is to 'make the UK the least attractive destination for illegal immigrants, reinforcing the measure that we welcome legal migrants who contribute to our society and economy.'
It is true that mass immigration is a cause of concern in this country. Although the current government boasts of cutting net migration, this may rise next year when Bulgarians and Romanians gain new opportunities to work here. Removing illegal immigrants may seem to be sound advice and the government has received support from influential organisations. Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch said that 'the Government should be commended for their determined approach to tackling illegal immigration. Illegal immigrants add to the pressure on public services and undermine the wages of British workers. It is part of a properly functioning immigration system that those that have no right to remain should leave.' This bill may fulfil the government's aim to cut immigration, but does it acknowledge the factors which have caused immigration to be the issue that it is today? And does this bill harm the 'legal migrants who contribute to our society and economy', which the government wants to welcome?
One problem relating to immigration is that migrants struggle to participate in British society. Some countries have a much higher proportion of migrants, but they are well integrated and there are a few problems. However in Britain, the native and the foreigner are often alienated by one another, living in segregated communities. The love affair which politicians once had with multiculturalism as a means to promote foreigners and natives living side by side has failed. We need to create the conditions whereby migrants can integrate properly into our society that also respects the cultural values of this country. This bill is arguably a quick-fix solution in which the government wants to cut migration for the sake of it without pursuing policies which will heal the broken relationships which have caused immigration to be an issue.
Another problem is that the British public have a rather hazy definition of the 'migrant.' Several establishments in the media offer a negative depiction of migrants as welfare scroungers. But research from University College London suggests that migrants in 2008-9 paid 37% more in taxes than they received in benefits and from public services, while Britons paid 20% less than what they received. This implies that many migrants pay more taxes and collect fewer benefits than British citizens. However, equally there are 600,000 EEA migrants who are unemployed. The illegal migrant is often portrayed as one that sneaks into the country in a lorry. Rarely do we think of illegal migrants as those who overstay their visas and asylum seekers who can no longer appeal. Overall, it is difficult for the British public to respond to immigration because the facts are distorted or poorly nuanced.
Not all migrants arrive to the detriment of our country, but some do not contribute to our society and economy. Equally, not all illegal migrants are as dangerous as we suppose. This implies that this immigration bill fails to create policy that protects all those in need or defies all those who do not contribute towards society.
Also, this bill risks harming migrants who do not abuse the welfare state or undermine wages. For example, students will be disadvantaged because of this bill because they will be expected to make a contribution towards the NHS and they will have a much longer process for them to find accommodation. There is no evidence that students abuse the welfare system and they tend to leave the UK after their studies. Students, the most numerous category of migrant, make a significant contribution to the economy and education system. The money which they spend whilst in the UK creates jobs in sectors varying from tourism to academia. According to the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKICSA), if this bill leads to a 5% reduction in international students coming to the UK, Britain could lose £500m.
Although this part of the bill has caused upset to bodies like the UKICSA, the bill is right to take these steps on students. Firstly, if we are to treat students as native Britons, it seems fair that international students contribute towards the NHS. Previously they had access to the NHS for free, whilst Britons finance it through taxes. Secondly, it may be necessary to delay accommodation bookings in order to ensure that private accommodation is not abused by those who do not want to contribute to society.
Overall, this immigration bill may reduce net migration but it fails to address the critical issues of rebuilding relationships between natives and foreigners and of creating an inclusive society that respects the cultural foundations of this country. It fails to grasp why people are migrating: Are they migrating because they are in genuine need of support? Or are they migrating for their own gain at the expense of others? Can we categorise all legal migrants as contributors and all illegal migrants as offenders?
As Christians it is vital that we remember that God freed us from the slavery of sin, just like he freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. And because of this, we are to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.