It was reported in Friday’s Times that Nadhim Zahawi, a Tory MP and party loyalist was calling for the Prime Minister to consider an amnesty for the 500,000 or so illegal immigrants currently estimated to be in the country.
One can understand the superficial attraction of such a scheme, but what a smack in the mouth it would be for the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have obeyed the rules and often been refused on technicalities, or even by simple error on the part of the immigration authorities.
Simply rewarding those who have behaved worst potentially sends a really bad message. Any solution to this problem needs to be addressed in tandem with a solution to the continuing and nationally humiliating way that legal immigrants are dealt with: the massive backlogs, indifference and secrecy on the part of the authorities as identified by the Home Secretary when she split the UKBA and brought it back under Home Office control. However, the jury is out on whether this moving of the chess pieces has had any effect after the interim Director of Immigration Control briefed the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in June on the scale of the problems still existing.
So what can be done? On illegal immigration, a starting point might be to reintroduce the 14-year rule abolished last year which gave some illegal immigrants the opportunity to qualify to stay. This was an effective compromise, recognising that after such a long period there were benefits to allowing them to do so, but not giving a free run to everyone and acting as a deterrent to short term illegals.
And at the same time do more to sort out the legal immigration system. This is not just an organisational issue. It requires resources. Until these are committed, in the shape of extra people to make the system credible again, we will continue to read horror stories in the press about how badly the immigration services performance is and more backlogs will continue to identified as more stones are turned. There is currently a surfeit of young lawyers without jobs as well as military personnel made redundant under the latest Defence cuts. Both would provide a source of capable manpower – a task force to help make the current immigration system credible again and get rid of the backlogs.