A COMMON POLICY ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION
Commission Communication on a common policy on illegal immigration.
|Document originated:||15 November 2001
|Forwarded to the Council:||
|Deposited in Parliament:||17 December 2001
|Basis of consideration:||EM of 3 January 2002
|Previous Committee Report:||None
|To be discussed in Council:||No date set
|Committee's assessment:||Politically important
11.1 This is one of a number of Communications related
to the comprehensive asylum and immigration policy called for
at the Tampere European Council in 1999. We have already considered
the Communications on a Community immigration policy
and on a common asylum policy.
A Communication on returns is expected shortly.
11.2 The Communication is divided into two main sections.
The first sets the context and parameters for addressing illegal
immigration; the second consists of a draft Action Plan.
11.3 The first section opens with a brief description
of the different types of illegal immigrants, drawing a broad
distinction between those who enter the territory of a Member
State illegally and those who enter legally but then "overstay".
It calls for further in-depth analysis of the phenomenon.
11.4 The Communication then reaffirms Member States'
obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and
the Geneva Convention on Refugees to protect those genuinely in
need of international protection. It suggests that Member States
should explore ways of offering rapid access to protection (including
resettlement schemes) so that refugees do not need to resort to
illegal entry. The document also calls for increased co-operation
with both the countries from which illegal immigrants come, and
those through which they transit. The first section closes by
emphasising the importance of enforcing existing rules and providing
11.5 The Action Plan identifies the following key areas
under each of which it proposes initiatives:
- infrastructure for information exchange and analysis;
- operational co-operation;
- advanced role of Europol;
- aliens law and criminal law; and
- returns and readmission policy.
The Government's view
11.6 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the
Home Office (Angela Eagle) generally welcomes the Communication,
although she considers that several points need clarification.
She briefly describes each of the areas in the Action Plan and
comments on them.
11.7 In relation to visa policy, she says:
"The Communication calls for the further harmonisation of
visa policy; further improvements to the security of visas; the
setting up of joint visa posts, and the establishment of a European
visa identification system (EVIDENT). The Government would have
some problems with the further harmonisation of visa policy, having
decided not to participate in the new Common Visa List. We are
keen to see improvements to the Uniform Format Visa. We have no
objection in principle to the idea of EVIDENT and are happy for
a feasibility study to go ahead. A decision on whether to opt
in to such a system could be made at a later stage. There would
be resource implications. The proposal for Joint Visa Posts would
only work for Schengen visa issuing countries."
11.8 On information exchange and analysis, the
Minister tells us:
"The Communication identifies two areas where it sees a need
for improvement to the information on illegal immigration already
available detailed information on the phenomenon of illegal
immigration to provide a better understanding of the problem;
and immediate exchange of information via the early warning system
(EWS). The Government supports the need for greater and wider
dissemination of information within the Community. We also support
an effective early warning system, and recently proposed changes
to the system which have much improved it. It follows that we
would also be supportive of further initiatives to improve its
efficiency, including the development of a secure intranet site.
The Communication proposes the establishment of a European Migration
Observatory, and the Government is in favour of this idea so long
as the purpose of the Observatory can be clearly defined and that
the financial costs are proportionate to the benefits to the Community."
11.9 Turning to pre-frontier measures, while the
Minster welcomes the Commission's proposals to build on the existing
network of immigration and airline liaison officers, she emphasises
that the national interest must not be over-ridden. The role and
expertise of liaison officers should, in her view, be determined
in accordance with the needs of their Member States. She fully
supports the call for assistance to countries of origin and transit,
and campaigns to raise awareness of the problems and risks associated
with illegal immigration.
11.10 On border management, the Minister tells
us that the Commission considers that close operational co-operation
(including harmonised training of Border Guard officials and the
establishment of a European Border Guard School) will be necessary
to ensure effective external border controls. As the Communication
makes it clear that such co-operation is not intended to threaten
national sovereignty, the Government can endorse it.
11.11 In relation to operational co-operation, the
Minister reports that the Government can support the establishment
of a permanent technical co-operation support facility as long
as it does not get in the way of more informal, ad-hoc links with
11.12 The Minister then discusses the role of Europol.
"The Commission calls for Europol to be given more operative
powers to enable it to work together with national authorities
on trafficking or smuggling of human beings. The Government agrees
that Europol has an important role to play in the fight against
illegal immigration but does not envisage an 'operative' role
for Europol. The Government is fully supportive of Europol's participation
in joint teams, co-operating fully in the continuing discussion
of how joint teams will operate and the status of Europol members
who will support those teams. The Commission invites Europol to
consider the establishment of agreements with transit countries
to foster the operational exchange of information. At its recent
meeting, the Europol Management Board decided that discussion
on a further list of third countries and organisations with which
Europol could enter into co-operations was premature, and Europol
should concentrate on the list adopted by the Council. The Government
feels that this approach is the correct one."
11.13 Under its heading, alien law and criminal law,
the Commission discusses a range of relevant instruments.
The Minister singles out four issues for comment, as follows:
" a call for work to be completed to harmonise
Member States' penal legislation against people smugglers; swift
ratification of the UN Convention against Transnational Organised
Crime and the two accompanying protocols; and speedy ratification
of the Convention on mutual legal assistance and its protocol.
None of these is problematic for the UK.
" advanced warning that the Commission is to present
a legislative proposal on short-term residence permits for victims
of trafficking that are prepared to co-operate in investigations
and criminal procedure against their exploiters. The Government
recognises the importance of protecting victims of trafficking
and ensuring that safeguards are created within which they may
feel confident to give evidence against those who trafficked them,
but do not believe that this should extend to a guarantee of automatic
right to remain in every case. There already exists a discretion
to grant exceptional leave to remain outside the Immigration Rules
in appropriate cases. We believe that such a system is sufficient,
and that a system based on an automatic permit would lead to abuse
" a call for consideration of the need for more
harmonised regulations with regard to carrier liability and an
in-depth discussion with all interested parties: Member States,
the Commission and the transport industry. We welcome the idea
of such talks and participated in the first round of them in November.
But Member States have until 11/02/03 to start complying with
the current Directive so again it seems a little premature to
start looking at further harmonisation before the existing legislation
has had time to settle.
" a suggestion to harmonise sanctions against
illegal employment, including minimum criminal penalties. The
Government is currently examining further measures to tackle illegal
employment in the UK. The Commission's proposal will be considered
in light of the findings of the Government's inter-departmental
Ministerial Group. While consistency in employer sanctions may
be valuable, as important is achieving an appropriate balance
between legal entry routes, in country controls and removals."
11.14 Finally, the Minister strongly endorses the view
expressed in the Communication that returns policy is a crucial
element in the fight against illegal immigration, and supports
the call for greater co-operation at Community level.
11.15 While this Communication properly focuses on
illegal immigration and ways of tackling it, we are pleased that
it begins by reaffirming Member States' obligations under the
European Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention
on Refugees. We also welcome the recognition that "overstaying"
is as problematic as illegal entry, and support the call for further
research and analysis of the phenomenon generally.
11.16 We note that the Minister's welcome for the
Communication is tempered by the Government's wish to ensure that
national sovereignty is not threatened by the proposed actions.
We also note, and support, the Government's continuing intention
that Europol's role should not become directly operational and
that it should not over-extend its activities.
11.17 We thank the Minister for her full and helpful
Explanatory Memorandum. Although the Communication is an important
document, it is not a proposal for legislation, and, while it
covers a broad spectrum of issues and actions, few of them are
totally new. We therefore clear it.
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