Jacqui Smith’s New Immigration Measures are a pointless Gesture…

Blogging about politics can be a bit of a mixed bag, so we’ll see how it goes. I want to avoid polarising talk, tabloid tactics, and FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt). Instead, I’d like to discuss the latest raft of changes which seek to make immigrants ‘more British’ before offering them citizenship.

Personal Perspective

First, and as a matter of context: I am an immigrant. I was born and raised in Colorado, USA, and have lived in the UK for the last 5 years or so. My national identity, however, is a more complicated matter. I resonate politically better with Britain than the United States. I admire more British personages than American (probably due to the fact that the only great Americans I can think to name are either dead or long dead…). I laugh at British comedians, and listen to Radio 4. I queue. I share the occasional withering glance  with my fellow public transport passengers whenever a tourist declares loudly that something is cute or quaint. I even say: “Oh, excuse me, sorry” when someone else runs into me at Sainsburys, and I say “Cheers” or “Ta” even when someone should be thanking me.

This has put me in an interesting position at times. I have been part of conversations when the other party doesn’t actually know, or momentarily forgets, that I grew up singing The Star-Spangled Banner before watching baseball.

“Well, I think Americans are rude and ignorant”.

“Oh?” I say.

“Yes, they’re always going on about how small everything is and they don’t know where Somerset is.”

“I know where Somerset is, and I have been asked where Shropshire is by Londoners,” I reply.

“Oh, but you’re different. You’re not really American. You don’t have an accent… and you’re don’t think I’m cute.

“Quite”

Immigration in the UK

I get the feeling that many mainstream British ideas are fairly far removed from immigrants as people. There is a distinct themness about immigrants, and I think this notion is exploited by politicians and commentators who have to justify their cynical existences. Over the past five years, I have learned that immigration is ranked among education and health in the national psyche, and politicians who want need to be seen doing something can easily turn to immigration policy for support. This national concern for immigration is baffling.  According to the National Statistics Office, less than 10% of the UK population were foreign born in 2006. (In the US, for the same year the number was nearly 14%). So, less than one in ten people in the UK are foreign born, and even fewer of those have recourse to public funds, yet this ranks among Education and Health?

I can see that there is cause for thought, cause for discussion, but not cause for concern. A study for the OECD stated: “the ratio of immigrants (no matter how defined) has grown steadily in all Western European countries considered, except Belgium.”1 So, immigration is definitely on the rise, and I don’t debate that. However, most of them have the sense not to move to Belgium so they can’t be all bad. The flip side of this is that immigration has actually increased the UK economic growth rate, according to the TUC. There is, I feel, cause for concern in that the general public does not understand immigration all that well as outlined by a brilliant article from the sometimes-inflammatory Independent: “Lies, Damned Lies and Immigration“.

Now, what has really got me angry is the new scheme from Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary, that immigrants will have to work harder to “earn their right to become UK citizens”.  (Press Coverage: Telegraph, Guardian, Times and BBC) and it includes increasing the time before a migrant can be naturalised and an increased fee. Gordon Brown has also mentioned, according to Radio 4 reports and the Times (see link above) that immigrants should have to undertake community service to be introduced to the British Way of Life.

Let me explore that a bit:

Money

It costs a fortune to immigrate to the UK. I am American, and chose to move to the UK for love –my wife is British. I like it here, but it is an expensive place to live. Tax is high, services are expensive, and it is required of an Immigrant to pay large sums of money every few years. I should mention that I have been paying UK income tax  and national insurance despite being unable to access public funds for some of my immigration journey and that I attended a UK university after marrying and immigrating, and paid full fees (during the time, around £9k/year) so none of my education was subsidised by any taxes I have paid.

The cost of visas and fees is high, indeed. There is a cost for the initial visiting Visa to get married (currently £500) which lets you stay here for 6 months, without recourse to public funds. You then must apply for temporary residency (£395) which lasts for a couple years. Then, if you want indefinite leave to remain (and if you don’t, you’ll need to sort out alternative accommodation fast) it will cost you £750. I’ve paid each of them, one after the other every few  months or years. The total: £1645, and I’m still not a citizen. If I want to become one, I still have to pay £9.99 for a book on what it means to be British (Ha!), £34 to take a citizenship test (which most UK citizens can’t actually pass) and a massive £655 for the application. Then I’d be invited to attend a citizenship ceremony at which I will be required to pledge an oath, and I haven’t found out if that costs me more yet… new total? £2343.99, and Jacqui Smith wants more. I see this as a combination of four distinct ideas, blended in a dangerous cocktail:

  • A genuine need for money to run immigration services
  • A cash-cow for a cash-greedy government
  • A political scapegoat for opportunistic political figures
  • A Protection Racket, where people who are legally seeking residence are exploited with the threat of having their life plans crushed

British Way of Life

What, exactly did Gordon Brown mean when he said he was thinking of having immigrants doing more in the community? I am assuming he did not mean most of the plumbing, or supplementing the taxes for an aging population. For clarity, let me say that these proposed changes will have no effect on the most discussed group of migrants: Eastern Europeans. They already have access to the country through the EU and do not need to pay all the clearance fees. So, making all the non EU migrants do community service will help them to understand what it means to be British? I would have thought a crash-course in happy slapping or under-aged drinking would have been more apt. How many British people do you know who do community service?The most illuminating illustration I heard about the preposterousness of this was a commentator on Radio 4 who pointed out that Abu Hamza (hook-handed, one-eyed favourite of the Sun headlines and controversial fundamentalist cleric of Finsbury Park mosque) could have been said to have been active in his community, and undertook volunteer work. Gordon Brown’s government has already implemented a Britishness test (see link in previous paragraph) which is so patronising and oblique I don’t know what it is for. Some of the facts you are expected to know (Taken directly off the test site):

  • Where have migrants come from in the past and why? What sort of work have they done?
  • Do women have equal rights in voting, education and work, and has this always been the case? (What does this have to do with Britishness? Do we need to know that we were tardy giving women the vote, that there is still a disgraceful gender pay gap or that women are under-represented in all aspects of public society? Surely we don’t want Migrants thinking about that too much?)
  • When do children take tests at school? How many go on to higher education? (This changes every couple years, drastically.)
  • Do many children live in single parent families or step-families? (Any ideas? Have a guess…2,672,000 dependent children in single parent families, according to the National Statistics Office. Bet you didn’t know that.)
  • How many people belong to an ethnic minority and which are the largest minority groups? Where are there large ethnic communities?
  • And finally, my favourite: Where are Geordie, Cockney and Scouse dialects spoken? (I’d have said North London, where you can hear quite a few more than that, just on one street!)

Finally, Timing

Is one extra year without citizenship going to make any difference to society? The people who want to become citizens have already been inundated with extortionate fees, made to feel unwelcome, and made to wait for more than 5 years for a passport and the right to vote. These people are already here, and cannot have broken any residence laws anyway. It will not effect illegal immigrants, assylum seekers, EU Immigrants, Non-doms (stupid name that sounds like condom every time a news-reader says it!) or terrorists. They will have been working and paying tax, and are likely to work in jobs not filled by Britain’s workforce anyway (According to TUC report). One more year without representation or a passport  is an easy way for Jacqui Smith to appear tougher on immigration without changing the numbers at all. It is a meaningless gesture, which only benefits a small number of wealthy politicians seeking to look tough and adds months of difficulty for normal people.

1:Labour market outcomes of natives and immigrants: Evidence from the European Community Household Panel”, Franco Peracchi and Domenico Depalo, OECD, 2006, p1, Quoted from TUC paper on Immigration, see hyperlink within text.

14 Thoughts

  1. Wow, my sentiments exactly ! As you have so correctly pointed out, It’s going to be more annoying with the “immigrants will have to work harder (and pay more) to earn their right to become UK citizens” policy !
    Unfortunately it’s becoming more annoying and expensive.

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  2. i think what jacqui is doing is good,no offence but if you look carefully at united kingdom it is swamped with so many people who are from diffrent countrys,if it was up to me i would ban the whole immigration process because it is so not fair on the people who are actually british citizens and who are currently livng here.

    fair enough the prices are going up for becuming a british citizen but its right.if you wnat to live in this countru then you should abide by the rules.

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  3. Great post! You’ve said everything that we non-EU immigrants feel.

    My husband and I are immigrant too. We were born and raised in China, and have lived in the UK since 2000. Our two children were born in UK.

    We both have PhD degrees. I did my Master and PhD in UK and worked here since. We bought home here. We have paid income tax, NI contribution, council tax… but don’t have access to public funds. My children born in UK don’t get child benefits.

    Yet we still haven’t got indefinite leave to remain. Every now and then we have to pay a fortune to extend our visa and be ‘humiliated’ by Home Office if we went there in person trying to get the visa on the same day.

    Once I posted my application with passports to Home Office and waited for 6 months. When my passport was returned I found that I was only granted 6 months Leave to remain, which means by the time I received my passport, my visa would expire again soon and I have to post it to Home Office for another extension!

    I absolutely agree your comments that we are a cash-cow for a cash-greedy government.

    Under UK’s very selective immigration system, non-EU migrant workers are likely to be top-of-the-cream in other countries. As a result, UK has already taken great advantage by luring the top people to contribute in its economy.

    We spent the best ten years in our life (20s-30s) in UK. Our children speak perfect English that you can’t tell from local kids. Yet, we’re still not qualified for indefinite leave to remain. UK government has changed its immigration policy too often and broken its promises to immigrants again and again.

    Now again, Jacqui Smith’s change aims to hard-working high-skill immigrant workers who contribute to the society but not effect illegal immigrants, assylum seekers, EU Immigrants, or terrorists at all.

    This country is becoming greedy and hostile to hard-working high-skill immigrants.

    When it comes ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’, we are seriously consider leaving though it might be difficult for our English-speaking children.

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  4. Reading your comment saddens me, Sheng. I hope you are able to find stability soon.

    I can’t help but think that this will become more common, now that the government is strapped for cash and looking to cut spending wherever it can. It feels inevitable that they’ll make popular-seeming changes which, ultimately, will ruin any chance the UK has to attract top talent. I know of others who are going home, some to other EU countries, others further afield. I wonder what it will look like in another five years, once most of the brightest have gone back or moved on somewhere more supportive?

    With regards to “Anonymouse”, I think you should re-read the article, follow the links to the reference materiel, and think harder before commenting on an editorial again. You’re unlikely to attract esteem by poorly-articulating a call for the abolition of immigration on the blog of an immigrant, don’t you think? Also, how do you mean: “No offence”? Do you think it excuses your position, or merely your decision to comment? If you are not looking to offend, may I suggest you make the decision not to post in future?

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  5. This is so true. I understand that UK is an island therefore cannot expand land/have limited resources, but the immigration measures are just far too much. What beats me is that if I work hard to earn a living, I need to pay for everything including all the fees mentioned above, but if I throw my passport in the bin and shout ‘I am from xxx(insert a favouite poor country that lead by a dictator) and will be procecuted” – then suddenly, I will get every benefit you can think of, have 10 children and pay NONE of those high fees AND lawyer fees!

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  6. Quite right, another immigrant.

    Just saw the news about London Mayor In Favour Of Immigrant Amnesty (http://londonist.com/2009/03/mayorinfavourofimmigrant_amnest.php) which based on five years continuous residency.

    We have been living in this country legally for 9 years and contributing to its economy. Are we no better than illegal immigrants?

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  7. My feelings exactly – i entered the UK and have thus far been on a working holiday visa, a work permit and now a marriage visa. I am currently ‘studying’ the wonderful book life in the UK a journey to citizinship in preparation for the wonderful exam. I dare not add up the costs of all my visas and yet still will not have ‘recourse to public funds’. My husband and I dare not start a family for fear of the costs and implications that too will make on my status in the country. Yet ever time you turn on the TV you hear about these imigrants draining the country – i’d like to know who they are and how the hell they are doing it!

    Like

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