I’m a British citizen, and have lived here all my life, but I’m also the first male member of my family not to be forced to leave his home in several generations. My father and grandfather left France in 1940; my great grandfather left Berlin; my great-great grandfather left Posen/Poznan, now in Poland. Like many second generation immigrants, I was raised in the expectation that the time could come when I’d have to leave, too. It’s a tribute to British tolerance that the occasion hasn’t arisen.
That makes it all the more distressing to see the British government engage directly in actions designed to shake the security of any immigrant. One aspect has been the vans going round London, threatening illegal immigrants with deportation. (Yougov reports that 61% of the population think that this is not racist.) Another has been the process of ‘spot checks‘ by stopping people who look ‘foreign’ and demanding papers.
There are, of course, more efficient ways of checking status than spot checks and advertisements. The government could get people to wear a visible external symbol, in a nice bright colour, so that checks could be done at sight. It might even encourage some of them to leave the country. And I’d probably want to go too.
David Cameron’s much-trailed diatribe against migrants is taking the shape of something else. He declares: “We cannot have a culture of something for nothing.” He is proposing time-limiting benefits for EU migrants – which cannot be done legally without time-limiting benefits for UK residents as well. He declaims: “as a migrant, we’re only going to give you six months to be a jobseeker. After that benefits will be cut off unless you really can prove not just that you are genuinely seeking employment but also that you have a genuine chance of getting a job.” No evidence has been given to suggest that people are coming to the UK to claim long-term-benefits; quite the reverse, because migrants are far less likely than others to claim anything at all. (The benefit they are most likely to receive is Child Benefit, because that is also a tax allowance.) However, if Cameron has his way, this reform will introduce time limits to income maintenance benefits, and the Vulcan tendency in the Conservative party has been pushing for time-limited benefits for years. This seems to have more to do with that policy than anything to do with migration.
Time limits would have only a limited effect on unemployment in Britain, unless the periods were very short indeed; nine of out of ten unemployed people are back at work within a year, small numbers (less than 1 in 25) for more than two years and and hardly any are unemployed for as many as five years. But they would have a devastating effect on long-term support for disability and incapacity, because those are the people most likely to need long-term support before they reach retirement age.
I have signed a petition to the UK Border Agency at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/amnesty-for-international-students-at-london-metropolit.html. It reads as follows:
We believe that it is completely contrary to natural justice that students should be punished for problems emanating from their University.
We therefore demand that the UK Border Agency agree to an immediate amnesty for the international students at London Metropolitan University affected by the Agency’s decision to revoke the University’s ‘Highly Trusted Status’. This would enable them to continue their studies while the problems at London Met were addressed.
We believe that the UKBA’s decision is a disproportionate reaction to a situation that could be addressed without the recourse to such drastic action. The UKBA’s decision punishes thousands of students who are entirely innocent of any alleged immigration breaches and sends a disastrous message to the rest of the world that UK higher education is not accessible to international students. Its actions threaten the immediate futures of thousands of London Metropolitan students, as well as the future of the University, and casts a huge shadow over the very valuable contribution that international students make to the culture and sustainability of UK higher education.