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Getting A Grip On Immigration

October 21, 2008

Getting A Grip On Immigration

The government’s immigration policy has resulted in a quadrupling of net immigration since 1997 and the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government said in July that the pressure on resources as a result of this level of immigration ‘increases the risk of community tensions escalating’.As a result, the Conservative Party decided to table their Opposition Day debate this afternoon on the subject of immigration and Mark was keen to share his own experiences of the situation in the constituency.

The following is the full version of the speech Mark wished to make. In the event, it was shortened due to time constraints and you can find the actual speech by clicking here.

“As we saw last weekend, tough talk on immigration is intermittent and generally comes to the fore when quick headlines are required. This reduces the legitimacy of immigration as an important issue to be debated rationally and pragmatically. It leads the government to produce confused and contradictory policies which are too lenient on some or too tough on others and fails to sufficiently address concerns on this issue and the economic needs of our country.

It is time that we accept that tougher measures on immigration are popular only because there are real and perceived fears amongst the British public. Not because British people are racist. Or detest immigrants. Or indeed wish to pull up the drawbridge and become an insular society.

In this year’s mayoral elections in London I was dismayed to see politicians of all persuasions try so vigorously to silence the British National Party. Not only was this approach anti-democratic (we must remember that freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our democracy) but it ignored the reasons for the surge in the BNP’s popularity. This Party only picked up votes because mainstream politicians have patently failed to articulate people’s concerns to the extent that the only outlet for worries about immigration is found at the extremes of the political arena.

Had we always made room for sensible, rational discussion on immigration, the immigration system would have been sharpened and improved to the benefit not just of the indigenous population (black and white), but for those seeking new lives in the UK as well. Those who seek to silence debate on this topic by crying racism should be under no illusion about the current system. It is confused, inequitable, unjust and so administratively chaotic that not only is the British taxpayer being failed but legitimate migrants and illegal immigrants alike are often being mistreated.

Let me give the House some examples. I represent the Cities of London and Westminster constituency in the heart of our capital city. Westminster especially – to most British people uninhabitable as a result of the exorbitant cost of renting or owning property here – is one of the top destinations for immigrants arriving in Britain for the first time. It is a constituency of the very rich and the very poor. An area of incredible hyperdiversity and hypermobility. This causes very real problems on the ground and I spoke about these in this House just a couple of weeks ago as Westminster City Council is experiencing difficulties in providing services for all those unaccounted for in census data.

Immigration is the single biggest issue in my constituency postbag, giving me daily exposure to the chaos rife in the Home Office. The people who write to me are not voters but my staff and I devote enormous amounts of time to helping them deal with the Home Office.

On preparing this speech, I looked at the last week of cases that were brought to my attention. It was a light to medium caseload, nothing exceptional, no out of the ordinary cases. From the replies I had received from the Home Office, there were three cases where the constituent had arrived in the UK many years ago, had been denied asylum, had had numerous appeals rejected and yet was still living here. One in fact had been told that he had no basis of stay and yet he resided (I can only assume mistakenly) in one of our precious social housing properties – heartbreaking considering I get so many letters from lifelong Westminster residents who are being forced to leave as their being employed in low paid work makes them just wealthy enough not to be considered a priority for social housing.

I do not wish to be accused of taking any of the government’s actions out of context in this debate for political gain so I shall simply read the UK Border Agency’s reply to one of the other cases that came in this week. I shall call the constituent Mr A for privacy reasons. It is a letter which speaks for itself in exemplifying just how ludicrous our immigration system is:

“Mr A arrived in the UK and applied for asylum on 15 September 1996. The asylum claim was refused on Third Country grounds on 17 September 1996. On 23 September 1996 it was decided that his claim should be considered substantively, and Mr A’s application for asylum was refused on 11 August 1998. Mr A applied for Further Leave to Remain on the grounds of marriage on 18 July 2000 (the House should note this is two years after being denied asylum. Why Mr A was still here at this point is a mystery but not atypical).

Immigration is the single biggest issue in my constituency postbag, giving me daily exposure to the chaos rife in the Home Office. The people who write to me are not voters but my staff and I devote enormous amounts of time to helping them deal with the Home Office.

On preparing this speech, I looked at the last week of cases that were brought to my attention. It was a light to medium caseload, nothing exceptional, no out of the ordinary cases. From the replies I had received from the Home Office, there were three cases where the constituent had arrived in the UK many years ago, had been denied asylum, had had numerous appeals rejected and yet was still living here. One in fact had been told that he had no basis of stay and yet he resided (I can only assume mistakenly) in one of our precious social housing properties – heartbreaking considering I get so many letters from lifelong Westminster residents who are being forced to leave as their being employed in low paid work makes them just wealthy enough not to be considered a priority for social housing.

I do not wish to be accused of taking any of the government’s actions out of context in this debate for political gain so I shall simply read the UK Border Agency’s reply to one of the other cases that came in this week. I shall call the constituent Mr A for privacy reasons. It is a letter which speaks for itself in exemplifying just how ludicrous our immigration system is:

“Mr A arrived in the UK and applied for asylum on 15 September 1996. The asylum claim was refused on Third Country grounds on 17 September 1996. On 23 September 1996 it was decided that his claim should be considered substantively, and Mr A’s application for asylum was refused on 11 August 1998. Mr A applied for Further Leave to Remain on the grounds of marriage on 18 July 2000 (the House should note this is two years after being denied asylum. Why Mr A was still here at this point is a mystery but not atypical).

He requested that his application be considered together with his application for asylum. Mr A’s appeal against the decision to refuse him asylum was dismissed on 9 October 2001…Further representations were submitted on Human Rights grounds on 30 November 2001 and additional further representations were submitted on 22 December 2004 (note some three years later. Again, what was the constituent doing during this period considering he would not have had permission to work?)

Mr A was sent a family questionnaire for consideration under the terms of the Family Indefinite Leave to Remain Exercise on 8 March 2005. He was found to be ineligible due to an unspent criminal conviction on 5 October 2005. Mr A’s application was reconsidered on 2 March 2006 and he was found ineligible as he had declared that he had a criminal conviction. Further representations were also submitted on 30 June 2006 and a request was made for Humanitarian Protection. Mr A’s human rights claim remains outstanding.

I am afraid I cannot give you an exact date when Mr A’s case will be resolved…the UK Border Agency has established around sixty casework teams to deal specifically with older unresolved asylum cases such as Mr A’s. We continue to make good progress towards eliminating the backlog by 2011 and at the end of May had concluded over 90 000 cases.” Goodness knows how many are left!

This sorry catalogue represents an unexceptional constituency case. But this situation raises many questions. Why, after being refused asylum in 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and 2006, was the constituent not only allowed to stay here but to reapply for leave and have his case still under consideration? What was he doing in between applications? Why after twelve years is this man still in limbo? Why has he not been deported?

By chance, last week’s caseload threw up a deportation case which might reveal why illegal immigrants are not removed more often. A different constituent, we shall call him Mr B, was due to be deported to Somalia last Monday. I had written an urgent letter to the Minister on behalf of the constituent’s family who wanted to know whether the deportation was actually going to go ahead. The Home Office had already made three failed attempts to remove him. The following is a quote from the Ministerial reply:

“Concern has been expressed over the previous cancellation of removal directions set against Mr B. I can confirm that the Border Agency has not in the past been able to enforce removal to Somalia for various reasons and this is regrettable. On two occasions this has been because Mr B was not served with the correct paperwork in advance of his removal.”

I received this letter on 10 October. The constituent was due to be removed on 13 October. That day I got a call from Mr B’s sister. It seemed the removal had not gone ahead and on enquiring with deportation officials, my caseworker was told that once again Mr B had not been served with the correct paperwork. This is madness considering I had been told by the Immigration Minister himself that this problem had occurred twice before!

Bizarrely, whilst we have serious trouble removing people who have no right to be here, employers in my constituency have equal difficulty in securing passage for some of the highly skilled migrants to whom they have offered jobs. Such employers have looked for personnel in the UK but are forced to employ skilled personnel from abroad as the domestic pool cannot fill the role. Consistently applications for leave for these people are beset by delays, mistakes and misunderstandings.

My private office tear their hair out over the system. They have practically given up calling the Home Office’s dedicated MPs’ Hotline as too often they get through to people with a poor grasp of English who can tell them nothing useful about a constituent’s case – although admittedly on the most recent phone call the service did seem to have improved. My staff not only deal with immigration cases on an hourly basis but the ensuing pressure being placed on resources in Westminster, in particular housing.

I am not making politically opportunistic exaggerations. I have no interest in exaggerating. This is the daily truth of what is happening. The system is scandalous and we must be honest about that. But we must also be honest with the public about what politicians can practically do about that.

The easiest option to reduce the overall number of immigrants would be the most ill-advised route. There is an ever-expanding number of non-EU nationals, especially those working in highly skilled global industries, coming to this country to work and boost our economy. A drastic reduction in this group would be neither advisable nor desirable. Similarly we might relatively easily slash the number of non-EU students coming to study here or prevent them from staying on to work for a year post-graduation. Indeed I would prefer to see rights for graduates from abroad to work here after studying extended. Such migrants will most likely return to their homeland as great ambassadors for this country.

Looking at the other groups who come to live here, there is a large number of dependants, relatives and would-be relatives of previous immigrants who often arrive with few skills and little understanding of the English language. I accept that that issue continues to be sensitive and there are strong practical reasons why many of those immigrants will continue to come to these shores.

We could also look to stem the number of asylum seekers who come here as political refugees or indeed try to restrict the major immigration influx coming from the countries of the European Union. We are, however, both signatories to several international agreements and a signed up member of the EU. Short of withdrawing from such treaties and reneging on our duties as an EU member state, there is little we can do to stop such parties coming to our shores.

Given the severe limitations on our room to manoeuvre, it is all the more important that we deal efficiently, swiftly and pragmatically with each and every person who makes an application to live here. I fear that a quota system for immigration will lead to a distortion of statistics, priorities and our economic needs. It is therefore crucial that we tighten up the current decision making process, stand firm once a decision has been made and act quickly to remove any person found to have no basis of stay.

The relatively clement economic picture until recently has allowed us to turn a blind eye to many of the problems I have described. But a continued refusal to get a grip on our immigration system risks causing conflict in British communities that will haunt us in the decades to come.”