Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)



  Q140  Chairman: Would you say that there is actually some at least broadly objective basis to that difference of treatment, possibly the fact that some countries are poorer than others and, therefore, there is a perception that migration is likely to be too wide with those countries? In other words, the disparity is there, but is there perhaps an objective basis for it?

  Dr Sriskandarajah: Well, before we consider the question of an objective basis, perhaps this highlights better than anything else the inherent tensions in making migration policy. Migration is at once about harnessing economic benefits, about harnessing the benefits of movement of people, so within the OECD there is a crying need to encourage the mobility of people, to tap the economic benefits which that mobility brings, so perhaps within the EU and broadly within developed countries there is a push to make barriers of entry lower and lower. On the other hand, immigration and immigration control in developed countries is often about restricting access and about controlling the numbers of people who can enter, who can work and who can live permanently in a country and perhaps the sort of spectrum of rights and entitlements that different nationalities enjoy in accessing the UK is testament to that paradox. Whether there is an objective criterion or not, I am not sure. I do not think there is any point in questioning whether the UK immigration policy as it stands is racist or unfair. I think on the books the UK has a very good, reasonably fair, reasonably effective system of immigration control. Perhaps in practice there are areas in which that could be improved. Perhaps there are some in the community who would say that racial equality could perhaps be better promoted by making systems of access more equitable, but in principle I think UK immigration policies are objective.

  Q141  Chairman: They are objective and, if I can pursue the point, you have highlighted the contradictions or the tensions in immigration policy, but you are accepting in fact the fact that some countries, some communities face higher and more restrictive barriers to coming here than other countries and that other communities may have some basis in objective problems that the Government is trying to tackle.

  Dr Sriskandarajah: Sorry, can you—

  Q142  Chairman: For example, in practice, if you are trying to come here from Australia or the USA, it is much easier and you are much less likely to be challenged in any part of the process than if you are trying to come here from, say, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is a very straightforward question: does that disparity arise from the fact that there is a reasonable point of view of government that the issues involved are different or, if not, how do you explain it?

  Dr Sriskandarajah: I explain it in the sense that there are different avenues of entry to the United Kingdom and it just seems to be the case that there are some nationalities who have better access to some of those avenues than others do. Perhaps we should not just disaggregate immigrants according to nationality, but we should also go one step further and disaggregate them according to the category of entry. Now, if we were to take, for example, family reunion, which is a controversial issue which has been in the headlines of late, it could, I think, be argued that in some cases access to family reunion is much more difficult if you come from the Democratic Republic of Congo than if you come from the USA, though perhaps if we were to take something like a work permit, the difference or the disparity might be less discernible.

  Sir Andrew Green: There is a basic reason of course that from some countries immigration is in balance, like the whole of the European Union, and from others it is not. If I may, I would just like to widen the debate slightly because I know you want to look at the broader issues. It seems to me that the essential issue about this whole question of immigration and immigration control, which you are going to move on to, is the question of the scale of immigration, its impact and whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. I think it is very important to understand first of all the scale of it because net immigration into this country is relatively new. It is not something that occurred until the mid-1980s and even from 1985 to 1995, we were only talking about 50,000 a year. That has now quadrupled to 222,000, that is net immigration, and that to some extent lies behind public opinion, which has been mentioned, I think, two or three times this morning. However, there is another aspect to that which is even more important, which is that foreign immigration is now at 342,000. You have to look at that in comparison to what has happened in the past. The East African Asians have always been, I think, described as a very successful group of immigrants and I certainly would not challenge that. They arrived over a period of two years, 27,000, and that is a number that is now arriving every month. It is 12 times that amount every year.

  Q143  Chairman: I do not want to cut you off too much, but we will be asking questions about the volume of migration in a few moments, so please do not use this just as a general rehearsal of your overall argument.

  Sir Andrew Green: Well, what I am trying to do is to set out the framework of the scale because I think it is highly relevant, but perhaps we can bring in the other points later.

  Q144  Chairman: Yes, if we could. I just want to pursue this issue which has come up in some of the evidence about the two-tier system and I want to be quite clear about the position that you take. On the question of whether, as seems to be the case, some countries, some groups of people face a more onerous task in getting here than others, I am not quite clear whether your view is that the problem is the numbers of migrants or the countries that they come from.

  Sir Andrew Green: The problem is the number of migrants and, secondly, the impact that that is having on integration, and I would like to say more about that later. To that extent, there is a relationship between who the migrants are, but integration is a major problem. In terms of the immigration system, to the extent that there is a difference, it is because there is an objective difference, as you were pointing out earlier. There are some countries which are sources of migrants and some which are not and what the entry control officer has to decide of course in his ten minutes is whether the person applying is likely to return home or not and he will be guided by the culture, circumstances, economy and so on of the country.

  Q145  Chairman: So, to be clear, to you the issues involved with a white Zimbabwean applying to come here are different from the issues involved with a black Zimbabwean?

  Sir Andrew Green: It is not a question for me, it is a question for the entry control officer.

  Q146  Chairman: But in terms of the view of Migration Watch.

  Sir Andrew Green: Yes, if you are talking about the integration, yes, of course there is a difference.

  Q147  Chairman: So in terms of this issue of the two-tier system, you are arguing for a system that applies the question about some sort of test of integratibility to migration policy?

  Sir Andrew Green: No, I am not saying that. What I am saying is slightly different and let me make the point in that case. If there is anything to be learned from the events of the past year across Europe and even Australia, it is the importance of effective integration. Now, I would say, we would say, that that is linked to the scale of immigration, that if you have foreign immigration of the order of a third of a million every year, it is, I would say, virtually impossible to integrate that number of people effectively into your society.

  Q148  Chairman: We will come to the issue of problems later, but the point I am wishing to establish is that in your view, the view of Migration Watch, the issues involved in a white Zimbabwean coming to this country are different from the issues involved in a black Zimbabwean coming to this country?

  Sir Andrew Green: It is not only a question of black and white, but it is also the case that, as the IPPR Report pointed out, there is a very great difference between the performance of different nationalities in the British economy and also the very great difference in their ability to integrate with the British economy.

  Q149  Chairman: But this is a city—the City of London, which has a very diverse community and where there are established, legal British citizens whose family background is in almost every country in the world and I just find it odd to make the assumption that certain types of people are easier to integrate according to the country they come from than others and I just wonder where that comes from.

  Sir Andrew Green: Well, my main point is numbers, that is the first point. Secondly, you chose a particular case of Zimbabwe where some people have longstanding connections with Britain and others do not, so clearly there is a difference there, but it is a pretty minor point. The major point is the sheer numbers that we have now reached in the immigration situation.

  Q150  Chairman: We will come back to numbers in a moment.

  Dr Sriskandarajah: Can I just take this opportunity to clarify something that was said in our report which was just mentioned. We did a fairly major piece of research late in 2005 which highlighted incredible diversity in the socioeconomic outcomes of the immigration population in the UK. We happened to look at nationalities and how different nationalities and countries of origin perform in the UK. We could have, if we had the data, looked at the linguistic ability, location in the UK, skills brought to the country, length of stay and family status. There are a whole number of factors that are at play in affecting and shaping the integration of an immigrant. To believe in something which I call the `integratability fallacy', that somehow at the point of entry or at the British post 2,000 miles away, within 11 minutes a British official can determine the likelihood that a person will integrate effectively in the United Kingdom is at best unhelpful and at worst deliberately misleading.

  Sir Andrew Green: It is actually completely irrelevant, as you know. The question that confronts them is not anything to do with integration; it is whether he will return home or not.

  Q151  Mr Benyon: It is just an intellectual exercise to say whether some particular ethnic group is more `integratable', if there is such a word. If one starts developing migration policy around that, then you are going down a very dangerous route. Would you agree?

  Sir Andrew Green: Absolutely.

  Q152  Mr Benyon: We can argue about whether a white Zimbabwean can integrate quicker than a black one, but that is not the point, is it?

  Sir Andrew Green: It is not my point either of course. My point is the total numbers.

  Q153  Chairman: Can I just ask, going on from this when you are talking about the actual IND process and moving the discussion on, you said that it is critical to improve the efficiency with which flows are managed. Can you say a little bit more about what exactly you mean by improving efficiency and perhaps highlight some examples of the sort of inefficiencies that worry you at the moment?

  Dr Sriskandarajah: Sure. I think the efficiency of immigration control can be judged in a number of ways. Perhaps the most obvious economic test of that efficiency is whether the right migrant with the right sets of skills is brought into the economy for the right period, to the right job and the right place in the UK, as is economically necessary. I think what we have had in recent years has been a fairly flexible employer-led work permit system and, as has been pointed out before, a rise in the number of work permit applications in the last five to ten years is perhaps best explained by economic conditions and labour market conditions, that we have had high growth, low unemployment, high levels of vacancies and concurrently we have had employers seeking to employ work permit-holders. That, to me, is an example of a fairly flexible and efficient system which delivers what it is supposed to. The proposals that the Home Office has outlined in its Selective Admission document point to a slightly more managed, explicitly tiered system which might take the UK away from an employer-led, flexible, economic migration system to one which has in it some bits of a points-based system in which individuals apply to come to the UK and some parts of which are employer-led, but with different and perhaps more conditions attached to employers who might want to employ foreign nationals. I think one criterion is simply whether the right people are being delivered to the right positions in the economy and another criterion is the ease with which applications are processed. Again it comes back to the onerous, or otherwise, requirements of an individual. I think the best practice examples from other parts of the world suggest that an efficient immigration system is one that requires little or one that establishes a fairly healthy balance in the requirements that are imposed on applicants, employers, and sponsors and indeed the bureaucracy. Creating paperwork for the sake of seeming to have a coherent or robust immigration system can actually be deeply problematic and counter-productive because, one, it hampers the efficiency with which the immigration system can respond to economic need and, two, it might have cost implications that a government in power has then to justify why an immigration system costs so much. I think an efficient system is one that also reduces the bureaucratic burden on the various stakeholders involved.

  Q154  Chairman: On the other hand, in the Migration Watch evidence, it suggests that actually the current system is very vulnerable to bureaucratic shortcutting, though those are not quite the words that Migration Watch use, but they suggest certainly that at certain times of year they are more likely to get a visa than at other times of year, that overseas posts will issue visas in order to meet targets for the efficiency of the system. I do not know whether that is true or not, but there is the one-legged roof-tiler from east Europe, and whether or not the story is true, we have all heard of it. I am quite interested from both of you to know how bad is the system at delivering what we want it to do and is it bad because the policy is wrong and the requirements are wrong or is it bad, as Migration Watch seem to be suggesting in their evidence, because actually there are all sorts of pressures in the system which make it easier for the system not to deliver a proper set of controls? Sir Andrew, have I grasped your evidence correctly on this one?

  Sir Andrew Green: Yes, I think you have. I think it is part of a wider problem. I think we have to recognise that our border controls have been crumbling for the last ten years and that has got much more to do with the growth of immigration than the economic factors that we have mentioned. There have been three major reasons for that. One was the cancellation of embarkation controls by both governments. The second was the growth in the illegal labour market about which almost nothing had been done for years and, with something like two successful prosecutions a year for the last five years, it is humorous. Thirdly, there is the chaos in the asylum system that we all know about and which is also down to both governments. Those three major factors have caused our border controls to crumble. Now, to give the Government its due, it is now putting in place, as you know, a whole series of measures which will improve that, but not yet, not for some five years or so. By the time they have got biometric visas and embarkation controls and ID cards, they will get the thing under control, but our disagreement with the Government is that, despite the fact that the border controls are in extremely poor condition, the Government decided to increase immigration in various ways before it had got the borders under control. That is what has led to these very large increases in numbers which concern us and of course concern the electorate.

  Dr Sriskandarajah: Two questions are raised in my mind. One is: is the system as bad as many people would have us believe? Two is: can the system ever be perfect? I think the answer to the first is that simply yes, there are ways in which the system of immigration control can be improved, but on the whole the UK's immigration system, by international standards, by historical comparison, is a good one. It delivers in the sense that there have been large numbers of people delivered to the labour market at a time when there was an acute need. The asylum system has had trouble coping with the large number of applications that we were experiencing in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but again there are systems in process for making that system more fair and more efficient, so I do not think it is the case that the immigration system is somehow crumbling. Can it ever be perfect? Perhaps not. Even the countries with the longest experience of establishing a robust set of immigration controls, countries like New Zealand, Australia and Canada, would tell you that it is impossible to have a system without imperfections because you can never make clear, objective, bureaucratic, technocratic decisions about the movement of people; there has to be subjectivity involved and perhaps some of what we hear about imperfections in the system relate to that subjectivity. The case of the one-legged roofer is a classic case in my mind of perhaps those contradictions at work. Allegedly, the one-legged roofer was allowed into the country because there were contradictory messages being sent to the immigration control officer. On the one hand, they were being told that the nationality of this particular person was to be encouraged because this was a country which soon was to accede to membership of the EU, so why waste valuable and scarce resource on trying to limit the movement of people from this particular country when, 18 months down the track, they would be allowed in anyway? On the other hand, they were being told to clamp down on the numbers of people coming into the UK. Therefore, we should not expect too much of our immigration control system.

  Q155  Chairman: You have called for more joined-up approaches to policy-making. If we had a more joined-up approach across the Treasury, DWP and so on, what are the practical changes in policy which you think would come about as a result?

  Dr Sriskandarajah: I think we need to move beyond in policy-making and public discourse from an unhelpful focus on numbers of people coming in. Watching migration, in my mind, is not about watching the numbers of people coming in; it is about looking at the economic impacts, looking at the social impacts, managing integration, managing economic dynamism and long-term social dynamism through using migration. A more joined-up set of public policies of migration would, I think, move from being defensive and reactive to public opinion and towards being much more strategic about economic requirements. Again, if we look at countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand, they have identified immigration not just as a way of solving or addressing short-term labour market shortages, but rather as trying to shape long-term population dynamics and demography, not necessarily to answer all demographic challenges, but certainly to shape them, so, to me, a more joined-up set of public policies in managing migration would require far better communication between relevant government departments, including, but not exclusively, the Home Office, DWP, DfES, Treasury and DFID. It would require, I think, much more long-term, strategic thinking about why the UK needs immigration, how to manage the various channels of immigration and making a clear distinction at least in policy terms between short-term, economic objectives, long-term, economic and demographic objectives, between our humanitarian objectives, our family reunion programmes and not lumping them all together and saying, "We are being inundated by a city the size of Birmingham".

  Chairman: I promise you, Sir Andrew, you are not being excluded on the question of numbers and we are going to come to it in two or three questions. I am going to go to Mr Prosser first and then you can pick up your points there.

  Q156  Gwyn Prosser: Sir Andrew, you and your organisation have spent a lot of time telling the British public about what you describe as the "extraordinary, huge, massive increase" in net immigration into this country over recent years and you tend to use, in my view, terms which would just engender fear and alarm into people's minds and into communities, but you spend very little time addressing the fact that, for instance, asylum input into the UK has reduced dramatically over the last four or five years. This morning you have, I would say, compounded your sin by telling us that our border controls are crumbling.

  Sir Andrew Green: Have crumbled.

  Q157  Gwyn Prosser:—are crumbling, and yet I know from where I sit in a south-east of England constituency in Kent, Dover, that border controls have never been more robust and never been more effective and in fact we are under criticism, and when I say "we", I mean the Government, for being too restrictive in the way we control our borders, so I cannot help but detect a lack of balance between the way you describe the situation and the way the situation actually is. I am not going to make comparisons with the remarks you made this morning and the effect of Enoch Powell's remarks, but, thank goodness, in today's atmosphere, today's climate, your alarming remarks do not cause the sort of consternation and reaction that they did in past years. My question really is specifically about embarkation controls. You know that the Government has a clear view to proceed with embarkation controls within its five-year plan and that is supported by IPPR for very practical reasons and by your own organisation. Do you have any concerns about the counter-effects of embarkation controls with regards to practical matters, such as delays through major airports and major seaports?

  Sir Andrew Green: Thank you. Let me answer, first of all, your remarks, I think, about exaggerated language or something. Last year we obtained from the Home Office under freedom of information rules some of the emails that are exchanged about us and I would like to read to you an email sent by a Home Office expert to his colleagues. This is an email within the Home Office by the expert and this is what he said: "I have made this point many times before, but can we please stop saying that Migration Watch migration forecasts are wrong. I have pointed out before that Migration Watch assumptions are often below the Government Actuary Department's high-migration scenario", so let's be absolutely clear that we are not exaggerating in anything we say. We are well within, indeed we stay as a matter of fact on the Government's principal projections, not on their high one, but on the principal one, so let's be clear about that. Secondly—

  Q158  Mr Winnick: Just one person, you have mentioned, in the Home Office? Am I right?

  Sir Andrew Green: He is the expert.

  Q159  Mr Winnick: We will take that as gospel truth, will we?

  Sir Andrew Green: Please do because it also happens to be true. Indeed, if I may say so, the reason that Migration Watch has been a very effective organisation is two-fold: one, that we have actually been setting out the truth; and, secondly, the public have recognised it to be so, and that needs to be borne in mind. You ask about embarkation controls and the practical difficulties. Yes, it will be very difficult at airports and it is not going to be easy to do, but it has to be done if we are to restore control to our borders. I hope I was fair in saying that there was a very severe loss of control under two governments and that the measures proposed by this Government should put it right. I did say that and I am trying to be even-handed. I think it is fair to say both those things.

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