Sir Andrew Green: There should not be an amnesty for illegal immigrants
Sir Andrew Green is Chairman of Migrationwatch UK
The Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi has achieved some headlines today with his call for an amnesty for illegal immigrants. This he describes as a “siesmic shift” in immigration policy, designed to attract ethnic votes.
Two minutes thought should dispose of this idea. An amnesty would make a bad situation worse; it would not be especially attractive to existing migrants who would face competition from the newly legalised workers, and it would certainly enfranchise a large number who, for cultural rather than policy reasons, are strongly inclined to vote Labour.
Experience elsewhere is highly instructive for those prepared to examine it. Italy has conducted five amnesties in the last 20 years and Spain has granted six. On almost every occasion the number of applications increased. This surely suggests that amnesties actually increase illegal immigration and build problems for the future.
They are also very costly. A recent LSE report admitted that the longer-term costs of benefits could be £2 billion a year. Even this huge sum did not include post-retirement costs. Zahawi’s solution of restricting access to benefits would, even if it was legally sustainable, undermine his main purpose.
This is especially true in London where the waiting list for social housing is already 400,000. The addition of several hundred thousand more is unlikely to be welcomed by Londoners, whatever their ethnicity. Indeed there is not much evidence that attitudes towards immigration among ethnic minorities are greatly different from the majority. The 2009-11 Citizenship surveys found 63 per cent of UK-born Indians and 74 per cent of UK-born Sikhs favoured reduced immigration.
As for public opinion generally, a YouGov poll in the Sunday Times last year found that 67 per cent of respondents believed that illegal immigrants should be deported immediately with no right of appeal; this is consistent with earlier polling. The Liberal Democrats promoted an amnesty at the last election and faced hostility to it on the doorstep. They themselves have admitted that the idea was impossible to explain to the ordinary public. The Conservative party would find exactly the same.
What is more, the announcement of an amnesty would, whatever the small print, trigger a flood of visitors and legal migrants overstaying their visas in the expectation that they would eventually benefit from it. As a result, the Conservatives would lose far more votes, especially from the white working class, than they would gain (if any) among ethnic minority voters. There is obviously a case for the Conservatives seeking greater support from the ethnic minorities but this is certainly not the way to do it.