Sunday 9 August 2020

Britain must be firm but fair about migration

There has been quite a lot of attention recently to people crossing the Channel in dinghies, but the story needs to be put in perspective.

In 2019 612,000 people moved to the UK (immigration) while 385,000 left the UK (emigration). There were 34,000 asylum applications. So far this year about 4000 people have arrived by crossing the Channel. The number of people arriving by sailing in dinghies across the Channel is therefore the same as the number of people who arrive at airports over the course of one or two days. It amounts to the difference between 612,000 and 616,000.

While most people think Britain has a duty to help some people who are persecuted abroad, we clearly cannot help all of them. How many people in China are persecuted? It must be billions. How many people in the Middle East or Africa could make a case for being persecuted in some way or another? How many lead horrible lives in poverty? Likewise, it must be billions. We cannot take all of them.

The biggest problem with asylum however is that we have no way of verifying if someone genuinely is fleeing persecution or whether they would simply prefer to live in Britain. Asylum seekers frequently come from or claim to come from places where human rights law forbids us to deport them. The result is that once a migrant sets foot on a British beach or airport it is practically the case that they almost certainly will be allowed to remain.

But this situation applies not merely to asylum seekers it applies also to anyone who arrives legally with a visa and chooses to stay. It is almost impossible to find these people living illegally in Britain and even if we do find them it is almost impossible to deport them for living in Britain illegally.

If the population of Britain grows by means of immigration by more than 200,000 a year, the gap between immigration and emigration, it will mean that in ten years our population will grow by two million and in one hundred years by twenty million. It has already grown by nearly twenty million since 1945.

There is already a great deal of pressure on our small island. Public services, such as healthcare and education are already struggling, and it is difficult to find enough quality housing for those who are here already.

There are lots of safe, pleasant countries around the world that have almost no immigration and very few asylum seekers. Examples are South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Poland and Hungary. Britain has a duty to help poor people who fear persecution, but we have no more duty than any other country that could give them refuge. But the problem is not primarily to do with asylum. If the only immigration into the UK were 34,000 asylum seekers, we could manage that quite well.  The problem is the method by which asylum seekers arrive, which is dangerous to them and unfair on those people sitting in refugee camps around the world who perhaps have a still greater need of Britain’s help.

Britain should offer asylum to a few thousand asylum seekers each year, but those people should arrive here legally rather than illegally. People who arrive in Britain from a safe country like France must be immediately returned to France. Instead we should find the most deserving cases in unsafe countries and refugee camps who after interview could be flown directly to Britain.

But even if it were possible to arrange asylum in this way, it would still make only a trivial difference to the problem of over 600,000 people arriving in Britain each year. The problem here is to do with visas.

When my Russian husband moved with me to the UK, he needed a visa. It was hugely expensive, and I had to earn enough money to guarantee that he would have no need for public funds. Getting leave to remain and eventually a British passport required him to sit an English test and a “Life in the UK” test. The whole process was difficult and cost thousands of pounds. Russian tourists must demonstrate either that they have a very good job and property in Russia or that they must have a sponsor in the UK. Only the children of very rich Russians can afford to study in the UK.

But somehow the visa rules that apply to Russians do not apply to other countries round the world, if they did people from poorer countries than Russia could not possibly afford visas to visit Britain or to study here.

This then is the solution. British consulates around the world should normally only offer visas to those people with enough income and property that they won’t be tempted to extend their stay in Britain beyond the length of their visa. The requirement that you can prove that you have had extensive contact with your fiancĂ© and that you know and love him or her should apply not merely to Russians, but to everyone.

UK immigration law is incredibly strict and expensive for those who go down the legal route, but it is incredibly lax and cheap for those who go down the illegal route. It is this that encourages illegal forms of entry.

We have a duty to other human beings, which also includes a duty not to encourage them to risk their lives in dinghies or in refrigerated lorries. Only by being firm and fair will we be able to limit immigration and keep our island a pleasant place for everyone who lives here.